Sep 24, 2023 - News

The small town upping Virginia's wine game

Crimson Lane Vineyards. Photo courtesy of Greg Powers

Two scenic wineries recently opened an hour from D.C. in Linden, Virginia — perfect for a fall day trip into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Why it matters: Linden's tiny town is now a wine destination thanks to pioneering Linden Vineyards that put Virginia on the wine map nearly 40 years ago, also family-owned Fox Meadow, and boutique newcomers Crimson Lane and Capstone Vineyards.

What's new: Crimson Lane, which is all about the wine and wind-down experience, last spring opened its hilltop tasting room with sweeping mountain views.

  • Reservations are recommended for the fire-lit lodge and terrace lounge, with tastings starting at $45 and $90 per guest for private rooms overlooking the vines. It's all designed by a famous Napa winery architect.

Yes, but: Don't call the wine Napa-style. "Virginia wine is unique," winemaker Dominick Fioresi told me. The 200-acre property, built from the ground up over the course of a decade, started producing wine at Virginia's Early Mountain in 2018.

  • Crimson makes whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño), reds (Nebbiolo, Syrah), and prestige red blends.
  • "What's good about Virginia wine is that we're not defined — we're striving to define it."
Four vineyard workers sort grapes at Linden Vineyards
Linden's Jim Law (close left) sorts grapes for wine. Photo courtesy of Linden Vineyards

What they're saying: So what makes this tiny Virginia town so special for winemaking? "Linden is much cooler than the rest of Virginia," Linden Vineyards winemaker Jim Law tells Axios.

  • "Grapes ripen with a good natural balance of flavor, sugar, and acidity during the 'sweet spot' when nights are chilly and days are warm under low humidity. This affords winegrowers the ability to make wines without manipulation in the cellar."

Catch up quick: If you don't know the name Jim Law, aka "The Godfather of Virginia Wine," you haven't been sipping local. The vineyard's 68-year-old founder has poured his life's work into Virginia wine, mentoring and collaborating with generations of local winemakers to nurture the region's industry and reputation.

  • Law's style — studious, thoughtful, motivated by quality over quantity and notoriety — is one that's exemplified by his many acolytes, including Fioresi and Capstone winemaker Theo Smith, who both studied and worked under the master.

Zoom in: Capstone, which Smith took over and revamped last year, is a small yet serious 12.5-acre vineyard which, like Crimson and Linden, credits its views and quality wine to "killer location" — think high elevation and a "rad mix" of soil that's like a balm for weathered vines.

  • Smith, formerly the winemaker for more than a decade at nearby Rappahannock Cellars, offers a tasting of five wines for $25.
  • "It's educational and personal and lasts for about an hour," he says. Highlights include bold 2016 red blends from Capstone's first vintage and sparkling wines made in the Charmant and Champagne method.
Tables with wine glasses at Crimson Lane overlooking mountains
Crimson's hilltop tasting room and terrace. Photo courtesy of Genaveve Davis

The intrigue: Unlike a lot of crowd-pleasing wineries, you won't find crowds at this Linden trio. The reservation-centric wineries aim for a serene, personal experience for small groups, no kids or pets.

  • Crimson serves cheese and charcuterie boards and light snacks. For lunch in Linden, country store and restaurant Apple House makes satisfying sandwiches and apple butter doughnuts.

Pro tip: Linden and Crimson offer membership clubs with access to scenic private areas for relaxing over a bottle.

What we're watching: Drought conditions are worsening in Virginia's Shenandoah region. But while dry spells may be bad for farming, it's good for grapes, concentrating their flavor.

  • "Because it is a drought year, we will have an exceptional vintage here in Virginia," Fioresi tells Axios.

Bottom line: "In the long term, a changing climate is requiring us to rethink our growing techniques and experiment with new grape varieties," says Law.

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