A Tour Through Shenandoah County’s Wine Country

A Tour Through Shenandoah County’s Wine Country

The beauty of the Shenandoah Valley can only be matched by the quality of its wineries. Combine the two and you have an ideal getaway to the quiet, peaceful retreat of Shenandoah County, Virginia where you’ll find the largest concentration of wineries in the Shenandoah Valley.

The climate and the soil here is unique, which enables the terroir to influence the grapes, resulting in delicious wines. Try some of these wineries yourself.

Cave Ridge Vineyard & Winery

Randy Phillips took early retirement from the U.S. Forest Service to live out his dream of owning a winery, and calls upon his background in agriculture to create his wines. He, and the rest of the county winery owners, claim that Shenandoah County has a unique microclimate that is ideal for growing wine grapes. It is the driest region in the Valley due to its positioning between the mountain ranges and has a high-enough elevation to stress the grapes. “It also has the perfect pH for European grape varieties,” Phillips said.

Cave Ridge is a European-style winery, opened in 2005 by Randy and Karen Phillips, and joined by their daughter Megan as business manager. As an estate vineyard, all grapes are grown on site across 25 acres. “We produce about 7,000 cases per year,” Phillips said of the farm winery. His best seller is his hybrid Chardonel, but you’ll have to choose your own favorite. He also offers sangria, a RP Cuvée Select sparkling white wine, and a port-style wine.

Phillips’ next venture is the creation of a wine cave in an existing cave on the property, located 35’ down and standing 3’ tall. He predicts this will help him enhance his wine production. “Wine in barrels evaporates at a rate of about 4-5 gallons a year; in a wine cave, you only lose one gallon.” Phillips also still has his iconic Bubble Decker double-decker bus tasting room, located in Marshall, VA.

Unique Aspects: European-style garden outdoor settings, wine cave and Bubble Decker bus

Muse Vineyards

Husband-and-wife owners Sally Cowal, a retired Ambassador, and D.C. lawyer Robert Muse began planting vines in 2006 and opened their French-inspired tasting room at Muse Vineyards in 2016 to offer hand-crafted, classically-styled wines inspired by the Domaine wineries of France and Italy, where every grape used in wines is produced on the estates. As each have lived in various locations around the world, they grew to appreciate the elevating experience great wine can offer, and reproduce that feeling in Shenandoah County.

Visitors can select from several flights and a food menu as they enjoy the tasting room situated alongside the vineyards. “Here, you are aware of the vineyard—you’re in it,” Cowal said.

At their small-batch estate and farm winery you’ll find the Marsanne, a noble white grape, and Roussane, both French, and Terrolodego, a deeply-colored red grape from Northern Italy, among their plantings. Popular here are the brightest young reds, their blush wine and their Blanc de Blancs. Their Clio 2013 won a double-gold in the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition. 

Muse’s great interest in wine is evident by the thousands of books in his wine library. “He’s read every one of them,” Cowal noted. “I believe the highest-quality wines are yet to be realized in Virginia,” Muse added. “I’d also like to see wine become part of the eat-local culture and not just be a tourist-oriented experience.”

Unique Aspects: Setting among the vines, hiking trails through vineyards and forests, a swinging bridge, Farmhouse stays

Star in the Valley Estate Winery

Travel up the mountain to Star in the Valley Estate Winery, located 1,350’ high on the foothills of Little North Mountain. Husband-and-wife owners Cara Mroczek and Shane Waller, both attorneys, chose this location due to its beauty and serene views, which they use to host stargazing adventures several times yearly.

The couple started Star in the Valley in 2008 as a small batch winery and opened the modern tasting room March 2019 on a formerly a vacant farm. Mroczek is a fourth-generation grape grower, and grew up in a vineyard, so opening a winery was a natural choice. She boosted her knowledge with viticulture and sommelier training. 

“We love to travel. It gives you a sense of place. And we love that wine can remind you of the wonderful time you had in a place,” Mroczek said. “Visiting Shenandoah County wineries, you get a more authentic experience than you do, say in Charlottesville or Northern Virginia. You come here to get away, enjoy the tranquility instead of a crowded tasting room, and meet the winemakers themselves.” 

Unique Aspects: Mountaintop views, stargazing, yearly Christmas market, two Southdown Baby Doll heritage sheep that help tend the wines

North Mountain Vineyard and Winery

Krista Foster, owner of North Mountain, grew up in Bavaria and was thrilled to find this property with its European farmhouse that serves as both a home and a tasting room. From wide decks, visitors enjoy the beauty of the rolling hills and colorful gardens planted and tended by Foster herself. The first vines were planted here in 1983, and the Fosters came to own it in 1998. She runs the winery with son John Jackson, the winemaker, and his wife Kelly.

To honor her German heritage, Foster grows a number a German-style grapes that, as she says, “Lend themselves to Mosel-style wines and Glühwein.” All grapes are estate grown and wines are estate produced. For something different, try their Grüner Veltliner (white) or Zweigelt (red). North Mountain also private labels wines for places like Shenandoah and Luray Caverns, Mt. Vernon, and Hotel Strasburg. 

“Visitors here can take a mindful breath and experience a respite in times of anxiety,” Foster said. “We want them to see, smell, and taste the wine, and not feel like they have to rush through quickly.” Treating visitors as family, associates try to remember each visitor’s name and preferences.

Unique Aspects:Garden setting with elevated decks & expansive lawns, Oktoberfest and Solstice events

Wolf Gap Vineyard and Winery

Husband and wife owners Willie and Diane Elledge spent years in military service and served as CIA trainers before fulfilling their dream to be winery owners. Having lived in Germany and South America, they came to love good wines, and put an emphasis on Bordeaux Reds and light, fruity white wines in their own winery.

The first planting on the 48-acre estate was in 2005 and the small-batch boutique winery opened its tasting room in 2008. “When we first started planting, we ordered 800 Cabernet Sauvignon vines. We were advised against it because in most of Virginia, they wouldn’t thrive. However, the Shenandoah Valley has a unique microclimate, with more sunshine and clay soil that is good for wine grapes,” said Willie, affectionately known as “Wolf Gap Willie.”

Wolf Gap bottles approximately 1000 cases per year, and is known for its Mariage, a dark Bordeaux-style red, and Viognier-Traminette blend white wine. A number of semi-sweet wines include the popular Blueberry wine and Lobo Loco sparkling rosé.

Unique Aspects:Bluegrass music, 2 picnic shelters, gazebos, trails

Third Hill Winery at DeMello Vineyards

Husband and wife owners Ed and Wendy DeMello were high school sweethearts who grew up in California, although her roots were back East. They met a couple from Woodstock who purchased a property with a small vineyard, and got the idea to do the same—mostly for their own consumption. They purchased the property in 2005, and planted in 2006, although at that time, knowing nothing about viticulture or wine making. Ed was in precision sheet metal and Wendy was a surgical tech for labor & delivery. That evolved into building a winery, and they commuted to their CA jobs before finally settling here in 2009.

Their dream was to not only grow and make good wines, but to build a relaxing, comfortable and homey place in which to enjoy them. With a two-story tasting room, wrap-around porches and a pavilion, they succeeded. 

“We create a peaceful and serene experience here that feels like you’re 100 miles away,” Wendy said. You’ll feel like you’re “on the farm” as you cross the double cattle guard and say hello to the neighbor’s cattle on the way in.

In creating the tasting room, Ed sourced a lot from the Valley. “I’m always on the prowl for old wood and farm tools that represent local and use my skills to craft new uses.” Much of the tasting room contains repurposed materials and décor. Currently the winery serves 3 reds and 3 whites, with their best seller being their Chardonel (white).

Unique Aspects: Weekend entertainment, outdoor pavilion, “speakeasy” tasting room with numerous “little spaces”

The Winery at Kindred Pointe/Life is Hard Cider

Another pair of high school sweethearts, Bruce and Amy Helsley, purchased Kindred Pointe in 2005 because she had horses. At time it was nothing but cattle pasture. 

The first planting occurred in 2008, and the winery opened in 2011. And although Amy studied viticulture and oenology at UC Davis and interned with Michael Shaps Wineworks to learn about the industry, Bruce is the winemaker/vintner. In 2012, the barn was converted into the tasting room, which opened October 2013. The barrel room and pavilion was added in 2016. In the winter, guests can relax by the fire with a glass of hot mulled wine. The couple grows mostly reds, with the exception of Seyval Blanc.

Of note is their historical wine series featuring labels of artwork of local historic significance by John Paul Strain. Bruce likes to collect this art, and reached out to the artist, who gave his permission. Each wine is named for one of the paintings, and features a hand-dipped wax seal.

This winery also produces Hard Luck Ciders, with a variety of lightly-carbonated and refreshing options. Their must-try is the Cherry Bomb—cherry flavored with a habañero finish—winner of Best in Class at the Indianapolis International Wine Competition.

When asked about the winery’s name, Amy replied, “We both love Anne of Green Gables, and took the name from her mentions of ‘kindred spirits,’ and like Anne always emphasized that her name was spelled with an ‘e’, we added the ‘e’ to the word ‘Pointe’ to create Kindred Pointe.”

Unique Aspects: Former horse farm, cidery, cornhole, Frisbee golf, ping pong, walking trails, can accommodate large events

Shenandoah Vineyards

Noted winemaker Michael Shaps’s latest venture is the purchase of Shenandoah Vineyards in 2018, the oldest winery in the Shenandoah Valley and the second oldest active winery in Virginia. Recognizing the vinicultural potential of the limestone soils and drier growing conditions of the Valley, he looks forward to revitalizing the 32-acre vineyards and adding Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc to the existing Riesling vines.

The tasting room and winery are housed in a Civil War-era barn on a bucolic farm setting. Their latest offering is Wine in a Can from Michael Shaps Wineworks in Red, Rosé and Viognier.

Unique Aspects: Open vineyard-to-mountain views in a country setting

Get Away to Shenandoah County

Shenandoah County begins just south of the intersection of I-66 and I-81, not an hour and a half’s drive away from Northern Virginia. Nestled between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, nearly a quarter of the county is covered by the George Washington National Forest, offering ample opportunities for hiking, camping, horseback riding, float trips, fishing, hang gliding, skiing, and other outdoor fun. v

COVID-19 Message: Please check with each location to view their COVID-19 restrictions and policies, upcoming events, food availability, and entertainment schedules.

All photos credit: Linda Barrett


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