Grayhaven Winery: A Hip Slice of Country Life

Hello Friends,

I recently revisited the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail in Central Virginia to drop in on Grayhaven Winery which I missed during my last visit on the trail. The Heart of Virginia Wine Trail consists of four wineries: Cooper Vineyards, Lake Anna, James River Cellars, and, of course, Grayhaven Winery. All four wineries can be reached in a day with a very early start. The wineries on this trail are within 30 minutes of the Richmond, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg areas, and once you visit one, the others are within a 20-30 minute drive through rural and sometimes windy country roads.

Grayhaven Winery

Grayhaven Winery is a small family run winery located in Gum Springs, Virginia that is owned by Charles and Lyn Peple, whom, I might add, were growing and selling wine grapes in 1979 to local wineries of which there were few back then. Sixteen years later they constructed a tasting room, started making wine, and have been attracting wine lovers to their slice of “country life” ever since. Nowadays, daughter Max Peple and husband Deon Abrams, who is also the winemaker, assume day to day operations.

Mona - The Winery Dog

Waiting at the door to greet me when I arrived was the tail-wagging and friendly winery dog, Mona. Mona, as you will see later in this story, is quite the entertainer. Of course, the farm’s horses would not say that, but I give the little doggy the benefit of the doubt. Into the tasting room I strolled where I was warmly greeted by winemaker Deon Abrams and invited to the tasting bar.

Deon Abrams - Winemaker

While chatting with Deon, I learned quite a bit about the small farm winery’s background and his winemaking philosophy, as well as the fact that he was from South Africa and made wine there before settling here in the Old Dominion. Even though Deon is the chief winemaker, he explained to me that winemaking at Grayhaven is a true family affair, stating that, “a lot of our winemaking takes place at the dinner table where we'll try the new vintages and make group decisions as to how to proceed.” As my eyes perused the rustic, yet charm-filled tasting room, Deon’s South African influence is noted in the gift shop that has a number of unique artisan gifts and food items made by local crafters, as well as imports from South Africa. The true tell-tale is Grayhaven’s flagship wine; no, not Cabernet Franc, Norton or Viognier, but a grape variety developed in 1925 at Stellenbosch University in South Africa from crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsaut. This South African wine goes by the name of Pinotage.

Wine and Fine Nibbles

Grayhaven specializes in small lots of hand-crafted wines made from vinifera, French-American hybrids, and other unique grape varieties. Varietal wines offered such as Seyval Blanc, a rare Rkatsiteli, Touriga, Cabernet Franc, and Chambourcin are leaner wines with subtle flavoring and good balance. These easy drinking wines make for nice sippers or accompaniments to a number of food dishes since the flavors are not over powering, but complimentary. The exception to these leaner bodied wines would be the flagship wine, Pinotage, which is also the crowd favorite. Deon tells me that their Pinotage ripens beautifully with high brix levels and the results are much different than the rustic Pinotage examples I have come to expect out of South Africa, and even some of the more refined and “cleaned up,” as I call them, examples out of California and New Zealand. There is no distinct Virginia Pinotage style; however, this example is fuller- bodied with big red fruit flavors and spicy notes – a good wine for a hearty meal and a nice example of what the grape variety can do in Virginia soil.

Someone is Horsing Around - Guess Who ?

Following the informative and enlightening tasting with Deon, I chose a bottle of the light and refreshing Rkatsiteli with a local cheese spread, as well as a warm French baguette. As I made my way out to sit by the pond and enjoy the serene country setting, I noticed my little pal Mona, the winery dog, out in the fields entertaining harassing the horses. For a toy-sized doggie, Mona either thinks she is a very big dog, or the horses are very small. Either way, Mona rules the roost, and what is better than playing with horses is following a winery visitor who has a warm French baguette in his hand out to the pond. Needless to say, Mona followed and was quite the companion, even taking a splash in the pond while I basked in Grayhaven’s hip slice of country life. Time flies when you are having fun, and it was nearing time to say good-bye to a very relaxing day and return to the hustle and bustle of life in the city.

I'm Dezel, see you on the Wine Trail!

In closing friends, a relaxing country atmosphere, attractive surroundings, horse pastures, nice picnic areas (picnic baskets are welcomed here!), Southern (and South African) hospitality, and several unique Virginia wines are very good reasons to visit Grayhaven Winery on a beautiful summer day. Check their calendar for winery and event information. Their most popular event, the South African Food & Wine Festival, takes place at the winery on July 11th, 12th and 13th – click here for further information. When you visit Deon, Max, Mona, and family, let them know you saw them here on Dezel’s Virginia Vine Spot.

Winery Info: Grayhaven Winery, 4675 E. Gray Fox Circle, Gum Spring, VA 23065, Phone: 804.556.3917

  • Stay tuned friends ... More to come !!!

Also, for more on Pinotage, visit my pal Peter May at The Pinotage Club.

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