Owner(s): David Lawson
Winemaker: David Lawson
Open to Public
Mon thru Sat 10am to 6pm
10439 North Reservoir Road; Wise, Virginia 24293
Mountain Rose Vineyards Profile
Written by Brian—Sep 21, 2015
I have said this many times, but you just never know what to expect at some of these small, secluded boutique wineries. I recently made the very long drive from Charlottesville to Wise, Virginia. It is in the far southwestern corner of the state near the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. It is the lone winery in that area and I had previously heard nothing about Mountain Rose Vineyards. I only knew that it existed and I was determined to visit. It turned out to be an unexpected little gem tucked away in the mountains. Wow!
So the story goes something like this. David Lawson was interested in agriculture from an early age. His parents pushed him toward engineering, but he switched majors and took up viticulture. His family did not drink and rural Wise County had only recently changed the law to allow purchase of mixed drinks. It was not a particularly alcohol-friendly area. David was able to win over his family and convinced them they could learn to drink wine. As the story was related to me, his mother discovered that she has an amazing palate and has since become his biggest supporter. I am told that the wine descriptions on the tasting menu can all be attributed to her.
Now David may have won over the family, but Southwestern Virginia is coal country and that has been the primary industry for generations. The Lawson property actually sits on reclaimed coal mining land. In addition, the closest winery is nearly an hour away. Curiously, however, prior to coal mining Wise County was the largest apple growing county in Virginia. The conditions necessary for fruit trees are very similar to those needed for viticulture. Furthermore, the mineral-rich soil rests on top of limestone much like the Shenandoah Valley. These conditions bode well for grapes.
The property sits at over 2600 feet in elevation, which makes it the highest vineyard in the state. This certainly means harsh winters and it can be very damp in the summer, but the vines seem to be thriving. David began planting in 1996 and Mountain Rose currently has ten acres in Wise and another ten a little further north in Castlewood. Between the two locations, there are a total of nine varietals grown. For the first few years the fruit was sold to other wineries. In 2004 the winery opened for business and currently produces about 1800 cases annually. An interesting note is that most of the eleven wines produced are named after local coal seams, which were or possibly still are being mined.
The entire story of Mountain Rose is simply fascinating to me, but of even greater interest is the quality of the wine. Who would have thought that a winery so far removed from the the bulk of Virginia winemaking could produce wines of such high quality. I tasted seven and I was left reeling at the unexpected excellence of what I sampled. The Riesling is one to write home about. It is done in a German style and is easily the best of that varietal that I have encountered in Virginia. It will compete with any Riesling coming out of the Finger Lakes. It is a wonderfully crisp, balanced wine with a silky mouth feel and rich pear and citrus notes. The Traminette and Blair White were equally fabulous.
Among the reds, there were a couple blends that were very well done. I am a sucker for Cabernet Franc and the Mountain Rose example was simply amazing. It is a wine with a distinct beginning, middle and end. It has layers of complexity, structured tannins and big berry notes. I am typically less crazy about Chambourcin, but David Lawson nailed it with his rendition. The “Dorchester” is done in an off-dry style, which makes all the difference. The hint of sweetness mingles with the cherry notes to balance the acidity that often ruins Chambourcin for me. It is one of the best I have tried, but all of the wines are superb. There just are not enough superlatives to describe them.
I felt like everything about my visit was first rate. Elizabeth “Opie” Booth conducted the tasting and she is a pro. We had a great conversation and she was able to fill in details about the wine and winery while simultaneously helping other customers. The tasting room is small, but well organized with ample seating inside and out. I just published a list of must-visit Virginia wineries and without exaggeration, if I had waited another week, Mountain Rose would be on that list. It really is that good and I encourage you to go there, even if it is out of your way. When you do, please let me know what you think.
Owner(s): Brian and Donna Allison
Winemaker: Brian Allison
Open to Public
Mon-Sun 10 to 6
5418 Thompson Valley Road; Tazewell, Virginia 24651
email: No available email
Plum Creek Winery Profile
Written by Brian—Sep 29, 2014
There may be shorter routes, but none of them offer the breathtaking vistas. Virginia Route 16 is a famous drive known as “Back of the Dragon.” It takes you past Hungry Mother State Park and then over Walker, Brushy and Clinch Mountains. It’s thirty-two miles of endless curves, but completely worth every minute of the stomach-twisting journey. As you crest Clinch Mountain and look down into the valley, with its rolling hills and farmland, you’ll be glad you made the drive. There are jaw-dropping views along the way, but this final panorama is simply amazing and this is where you’ll find Plum Creek Winery.
As you might imagine from my description of the route, Tazewell County is pretty rural. It’s part of the Heart of Appalachia Wine Region, which is the most remote in the state. Because it’s so far from my base of operations, I had to make a special effort to plan my visit, but I was very interested in checking out the area and I was not at all disappointed.
Plum Creek Winery sits in the shadow of Clinch Mountain and it’s here that Brian Allison has been making wine for about six years. It started as a hobby. How many times have I heard that story? Making wine for personal consumption is the “gateway drug” that leads to commercial production. So in 2013 Brian and his wife Donna took it public. Donna runs the tasting room and Brian makes the wine. He makes wine out of just about anything that will sit still long enough to be fermented and he grows all of it on his property.
There are a couple of grape wines made from Muscadine and Concord and twelve fruit wines, which include pineapple and kiwi. Yes, he’s growing pineapple and kiwi. It’s a farm winery, with emphasis on the word “farm.” Brian doesn’t stop with wine. He’s making molasses, maple syrup, jam and honey. All of it is for sale in the tasting room. One has to wonder where he finds time for all of this production and what else is on the drawing board? He’s so excited about all of his projects, that it’s almost contagious.
Now I’m not typically a fan of sweet wines and most of the Plum Creek offerings tend to be on the sweet side. Having said that, I completely enjoyed each wine that was poured. There was no cloying, sugary sweetness. The wines were balanced and infinitely drinkable. According to Brian and Donna, this is a typical reaction. Visitors turn up their nose at the idea of fruit wine and end up leaving with a case. So don’t be too quick to judge.
I enjoyed my visit so much that I ended up staying much longer than I’d expected. As a result, I had to rethink the rest of my agenda, but I had no regrets. You could not ask for nicer hosts than Brian and Donna. Their enthusiasm is contagious and the beauty of the place is off the charts. Despite their remote location, they are actively trying to form a sense of community among the other rural wineries and that deserves our support. So I’m now president of the Plum Creek Fan Club. Get over there and check them out. You’ll be glad you made the drive.
Owner(s): Vincent and Betsy Gilmer
Winemaker: Vincent Gilmer
Open to Public
Mon-Sat 11 to 6
2313 East Main Street; Lebanon, Virginia 24266
email: No available email
Vincent's Vineyard Profile
Written by Brian—Sep 23, 2015
There are only three wineries in the Heart of Appalachia Wine Region. One of these is Vincent’s Vineyard located on the edge of Lebanon, Virginia. Most of the approaches to the region lead you along twisting mountain road into a long series of valleys. From north to south there is significant distance separating the wineries, so a tour of all three might make for a very long day, but there are a variety of other activities to attract visitors, so a visit should extend over at least a weekend, but more on that in a minute. I am here to tell you, first and foremost, about the wine.
Vincent’s sits at the foot of Clinch Mountain on land that has been in the Gilmer family since they settled the area in the early 19th century. It is land that was once devoted to tobacco and cattle. Vincent and Betsy Gilmer decided to plant grapes as tobacco went into decline in the 1990s. They started planting vines in 2001 and sold their fruit until they opened the winery in 2008. Today they have 3.5 acres under vine and produce somewhere between 800 and 1200 cases annually.
Vincent apprenticed at Abingdon Winery, which is the largest producer in the area. He is still mentored by the winemakers at that iconic winery, but he has clearly forged his own path and produces excellent wines in his own unique style. I was able to taste all seven of his offerings during my visit and I can say with some candor that there is not a runt in that litter. Some sweet wines are included to cater to local palates, but there are dry and off dry wines on the tasting menu, so something for everyone.
Do not discount the wines simply because the winery is located in a rural mountain location. I found some excellent options on the menu. Sadly, the Cabernet Franc was killed during a recent freeze, so you will need to stop in and sample this offering soon. This lightly oaked red is filled with dark fruit and a very nice finish. The vines will be replaced by Steuben, so I will need to return to sample those wines at some point in the coming years. I really liked a pair of the off dry whites. The Chardonel and Traminette were excellent. The sweet option really caught my attention was a Chambourcin. I do not typically point to this varietal as one of my favorites, but the sweetness was perfectly balanced against the grape’s considerable acidity. Served slightly chilled, this is a gateway red that can potentially attract wine drinkers typically not fond of red.
Wine may be central to your visit, but consider some of the other options. Artisan trails abound in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. I counted a total of fifteen and you will find all the details at www.roundthemountain.org. The backroads of the region are perfect for exploring on a motorcycle. There are six defined routes and dozens of destinations available at www.spearheadtrails.com. The area is literally teaming with hiking, camping and paddling opportunities. For bluegrass aficionados, The Crooked Trail—Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, twists its way through the region. The list just goes on. It is an area that just screams to be explored. So consider building some of these options into your visit, but don’t forget about the wine.
In the middle of the region and easily accessible on two or four wheels, you will find Vincent’s Vineyard. It is an important regional destination and a must for anyone trying to understand Virginia wine. So make it one of your stops. When you do, please let me know what you think.