Virginia Vine Spot’s Q&A with Grayhaven Winery

Hello Friends,

This post continues the new feature to the Vine Spot blog called “Getting to know your local industry.” As mentioned before, what I have found while touring Virginia wine country is that behind every Virginia winery are generally some very down-to-earth and passionate people. My plan with this feature is to periodically have a Q&A session with some of the industry locals and post it to the blog so you, my wonderful readers and friends, can get to know the local industry a little better.

Deon Abrams - Winemaker at Grayhaven Winery

In this post, I feature Max, Deon, and Chuck Peple of Grayhaven Winery, a small family run winery that is part of the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail in Gum Springs, Virginia. Grayhaven has been in the wine business since 1979, when Virginia wineries were few and far between and grape growing was a matter of trial and error. Read on, friends, and enjoy this informative Q&A session with the family behind one of Virginia's oldest operational producers, Grayhaven Winery.

Dezel: Was there one special bottle that initially got you into wine? If so, what was this serendipitous find?
Max: I was 9 years old the first time I assisted in making wine. My parents drove me and my sister out 30 miles to a large pasture in the country and dropped us off with a couple of plastic trash bags. Our mission was to pick all the dandelions we could fit into the bags so that my folks could try their hand at making dandelion wine. Six months later we popped open a bottle and I got to taste the fruits of my labor. It was horrible. And I don’t just mean that because my 9 year old pallet was not yet ready to appreciate wine-it was just bad. My parents had neglected to read the line in the directions that said to remove the stems – this snafu resulted in a bitter taste one might expect from turpentine. Several years later (1978) my family moved out to Goochland County where we would begin our adventures in grape-growing and winemaking. As we were packing up, we found a case of that dandelion wine long relegated to the back of a closet in the basement. We were all feeling brave so we popped a bottle and tried it. The mystery and magic of time had worked wonders and the wine had actually developed into something quite drinkable. I remember the sense of amazement and wonder that something bitter and unpalatable could so transform. That for me will always be my most memorable wine. It serves as a reminder to me to focus on producing good fruit, be reserved in cellar tinkering, and let time do its part.

Dezel: Tell us a little bit about Grayhaven Winery; I know I was surprised to find out that you have been on the Virginia wine scene since the late 70’s.
Max: Grayhaven is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery in Gum Spring – about 30 minutes west of Richmond. My parents, Lyn & Chuck Peple purchased the property in 1978, moved here from Richmond with me and my sister Mallory. Chuck was a longtime Recreation and Parks administrator (first in Richmond, then 30 years in Henrico) with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. Before retiring in 2006, he was responsible for publishing and illustrating some of Henrico’s historical books such as the Henrico County Field of Honor, which focused on the Civil War era. Lyn was a teacher, now retired, for the Richmond Public School systems and coach of many sports, including field hockey and tennis. As a family, we cleared land and planted grapevines originally with the thought that they would focus on the market for Virginia-tolerant rootstocks. At the time, there were no commercial wine grape nurseries focusing on Virginia. As the vineyard grew, they sold their grapes to existing Virginia wineries (there were six at the time.)

Eventually, as their interest, knowledge, and passion for winemaking developed, they planned and built the winery, which opened its doors in 1995. Since that time, the winery has grown as a family endeavor. After 9/11, my husband Deon and I moved to Virginia from Manhattan and took over the day to day operations of the winery. My sister Mallory and her family are also involved in the vineyard and winery, from harvest and bottling to festivals and events. Dad is still our chief winemaker and vineyard specialist, and my mom is, among other things, our procurement maven.

A lot of people ask us about where the name Grayhaven comes from so here’s the story. In the J. R. R. Tolkien “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy, the “Grey Havens” is a seaside port where the elves leave Middle Earth for a better life. It is a town of craftsman known for their skills in ship building. When my parents purchased the Goochland county farm in 1978, my sister and I insisted the farm needed a name. Both being Tolkien fans, we scoured the books for an appropriate name. The Grey Havens struck a chord, as our new home was an adventurous point of departure from Richmond life, our father Chuck was a skilled craftsman himself, and our mother Lyn had grown up sailing and loved nothing more than being on the water (especially with a fishing rod in her hand.)

Dezel: I have heard many times over the challenges growers faced in the late 70’s and early to mid 80’s with growing quality wine grapes here in Virginia – especially the favorable European (vitis vinifera) varieties. Since you were growing wine grapes during that period, what have been some of the major changes and advances that now allow you to produce better fruit and successfully grow a number of popular and unique wine grapes (such as Pinotage, Rkatsiteli, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah)?
Chuck: Over 40 years ago, my friend Dino started a small backyard vineyard experimenting with many grape varieties. Through his efforts I could see the potential. Over the years he learned what he could grow and from him I learned much. We can grow anything here, but only a few varieties will produce a consistent crop. After some thirty years we are still experimenting. Much of what I have learned was known for hundreds of years but in the long run it comes down to the micro-climates that we all have to deal with. Soils, climate, elevation, exposure, rain, and a dozen other variables all play their parts, and to make things worse, much of this is driven by the changing seasons. God help the farmers wherever they may be. Vineyard management, good planning, and research are the key to success. For us the French-hybrids seem to do better, but we are not limited to them. It would take several lifetimes to maximize the potential of the industry. We should live so long.

Grayhaven Winery

Dezel: Speaking of popular and unique, let’s talk about Pinotage. Some people find this South African wine popular, others unique, and some both. I’m guessing this is one of your most popular wines, hence the South African Food & Wine Festival that you host. It is also very rare here in Virginia and somewhat rare outside of South Africa. Tell us a little about how Pinotage came to Grayhaven and how it has been received in your tasting room. Most people probably have never heard of Pinotage until they pay you a visit.
Deon: Most of our tasters love to try new varietals. The Pinot in Pinotage is known to most, and our customers have been greatly supportive in both purchasing as well as spreading the word. Being born and bred in South Africa, our vineyard here would not be complete without Pinotage. It's a varietal that I have always loved, and growing it in Virginia makes me feel like I'm at home.

Dezel: How does your Pinotage differ from the rustic (and inexpensive) South African examples most people are used to?
Deon: The terrior of our vineyards tends to accentuate the Pinot noirs' fruitiness. Our 2007 Pinotage has never seen oak, so it is less tannic, and this, along with gentle pressing after fermentation, ensures a bold red that is also smooth. Pinotage is a great example of how the same grape grown in different parts of the world will show multiple facets of personality. You will find Pinotage grown all over South Africa. In the US, we can’t even buy the vine stock. The best we can do is to continue grafting from the vines in our own vineyards and purchase cuttings from the handful of other growers in the U.S. The demand combined with the short supply account for the higher price tag of our Pinotage – the cost of labor is another factor.

Dezel: When I last visited, Deon told me that 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.” Overall, does Grayhaven aim for more of an Old World or New World style, or somewhere in between?
Max: I’d say we definitely bend toward Old World style. Our tannins are usually much softer than what you’d find in New World wines, esp. California. Our grapes are hand-harvested and our de-stemmers and presses are very gentle. We also tend to use oak moderately and sometimes not at all. We would rather have people taste what the grape has to offer than to be overwhelmed by a tree in their glass. The end result is wines that are well suited for pairing with food. As a family, we decided long ago not to cater to the mass market or follow the path paved by New World wine marketers. It is more of a challenge to introduce wine drinkers here to varieties like Pinotage, Touriga, Rkatsiteli, Frontenac, etc., but we have been quite successful at it and we’ve gotten tremendous support from our customers.

Meet Mona the Winery Dog

Dezel: What is your favorite food and Grayhaven wine pairing?
Max: It’s very hard to pick just one – it depends on what mood I’m in. For summer –Our Cabernet Franc claret served chilled with a catfish ceviche is great, or our Sauvignon Blanc served with Malpecques & Kumamoto oysters. I just served our Sojourn (Touriga/Cab Franc blend) with tarragon roasted pork loin drizzled with a Pinotage & pomegranate reduction and roasted chestnut mashed potatoes – that was an awesome fall meal! The Pinotage itself is perfect with a nice steak but can also be served with dessert – my favorite pair there would be dark chocolate truffles.

Dezel: We experienced a hot and humid summer this year - what are some of your favorite summer wines – both local and globally?
Max: Springfield Estates (South Africa) Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc, Cape Point Vineyards (South Africa) Isliedh - Sauvignon Blanc/Chenin Blanc blend, Delfosse Vineyards & Winery (Virginia) Sauvignon Blanc, Pouilly Fumé by the late Didier Dagueneau (France)

Dezel: In your opinion what do you think will be the breakout grape variety for Virginia?
Max: You can see the influence Virginia Tech has had on our industry here – I credit them for the abundance of Cabernet Franc in our state and expect that they will continue to guide us through their vineyard, winemaking, and marketing research. This work is particularly important for independent commercial vineyards and larger wineries that need to have a strong market in order to support their investment. It’s a toss-up as to whether the popularity of Norton will continue to rise; it’s most notable champion being Chrysalis Vineyards. I think Viognier will continue to gain momentum - not a fan of it myself, but it’s very popular with wine drinkers who like super fruit-forward whites. I also think Petit Verdot and Traminette are ones to watch.

Enjoy wine, cheese, and warm french baguettes

Dezel: Which one of your wines are you most proud of and why?
Deon: Every growing season in Virginia brings out different tastes and flavors in our wines, and Old World winemaking style enhances the subtle differences of our vintages. I love all of our wines, from our spicy Seyval Blanc and our old-vine Marechal Foch, to our bold and fruity Pinotage and our citrus / earthy Touriga and all the others.

Dezel: Besides your own wines filling your glass, tell us at least three other Virginia producers whose wines you thoroughly enjoy?
Max: We are very proud to be associated with the wineries on our wine trail, Cooper Vineyards, Lake Anna Winery and James River Cellars. They all make award-winning wines (including Governor’s Cup to JRC) and I never fail to find a wine I really like when we gather for meetings - new releases in tow. There are so many wineries in Virginia that I respect and whose wines I enjoy, – Delfosse, Pearmund Cellars, Lovingston, and Rosemont are just a few.

Dezel: Any new fall time releases or winery news that you would like to share with readers?
Max: We are really looking forward to the release of our 2007 Chambourcin. We’ve been doing barrel tastings for the past six months and if we don’t get it in the bottle soon our customers will shoot us. It’s got amazing body and color and that fantastic peppery aroma and finish.

Dezel: Thanks for your time and appearing on Virginia Vine Spot Q&A, Max, Deon, and Chuck. I enjoyed learning more about your wonderful winery and I know readers will too. To learn more about Grayhaven Winery click on the link below.

When you visit Deon, Max, Chuck, 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.

Click Here to vote VA Vine Spot as your favorite wine blog - You can vote 1x per day!

Happy Sipping Friends - Tell your friends about the blog and thanks for your support and kind emails !


Dezel's Virginia Vine Spot © 2006-2008. All rights reserved.


A Sunny Autumn Day at Corcoran Vineyards

Hello Friends,

I recently took advantage of a sunny autumn day and paid a visit to another one of my favorite Loudoun wineries, Corcoran Vineyards. Corcoran Vineyards is located in the historic village of Waterford and is owned by Jim and Lori Corcoran.

Corcoran Vineyards

A few new things to note at Corcoran Vineyards: owner Lori Corcoran is now the winemaker, and from what I hear out of the tasting room, her 2007 reds will be worth the wait, so be sure to join the mailing list or check the web site for release dates. Additionally, Lori and Kim, the in-house sommelier and tasting room manager, are bloggers, so click on the link to check out the new Corcoran Winery Blog. By the way, having an in-house sommelier or someone with genuine wine knowledge is a big plus in the tasting room – 9 times out of 10 it makes your tasting experience more personalized, and can also be very enlightening for those new to wine who are eager to learn more.

Seyval Blanc 2006: Fun, Lively, and Citrusy

The current line-up of wines being tasted are the aromatic Viognier 2007, Chardonnay 2007, the Benevino Traminette 2007, Chambourcin 2006, Cabernet Franc 2006, Malbec 2006, Meritage 2006, and last, but not least, the off-dry Seyval Blanc 2006. I felt like something fun and easy-drinking after having some hearty reds in the early part of the day, so I opted for the Seyval Blanc 2006. I have heard this described as a “margarita in a bottle”. What I found in my glass was lemon, lime, zest, fruitiness, and a pinch or two, perhaps even three, of sweetness, all in an easy-drinking lively wine.

Happy Sipping! On what was likely the last warm day of 2008

In closing friends, fall and winter are great times to visit Corcoran Vineyards. Enjoy wine, cheese, and crackers in the warm 18th century log cabin farm house – nothing like mixing wine with a little bit of Virginia history, right? Also, mark your calendars for November 22nd when Corcoran Vineyards will host the launch of Benevino Vineyards wines, where a vertical tasting of Benevino Vineyards Cabernet Franc grapes from numerous wineries will be offered. When you visit Corcoran Vineyards, friends, be sure to let them know you read about them on Dezel’s VA Vine Spot Blog.

To find out more about Corcoran Vineyards click here.

Stay tuned friends ... Q&A with Grayhaven Winery, and more!!!

    Click Here to vote VA Vine Spot as your favorite wine blog - You can vote 1x per day!

    Happy Sipping Friends - Tell your friends about the blog and thanks for your support and kind emails !


    Dezel's Virginia Vine Spot © 2006-2008. All rights reserved.


    Stadium Sip: Benevino Vineyards Traminette 2007

    Hello Friends,

    Well, on primetime Monday night football last week the Washington Redskins were literally man-handled by the Pittsburgh Steelers. As a matter of fact, I thought I was in Pittsburgh for a spell since the fan base was about 50/50 and every Steelers fan had a ‘Terrible Towel’, which made the stadium look like a sea of waving black and gold. That said, the Redskins are 6-3 and likely to beat up on the Cowboys this Sunday night, right?

    Benevino Vineyards Traminette 2007

    While the game lacked excitement, the Benevino Vineyards Traminette 2007 did not. I have talked about Traminette in the past, describing it as “a variety whose name rolls off the tongue just as easy as the wine it produces.” The Traminette grape variety was released in 1996 and is a cross between Joannes Seyve 23-416, which is closely related to Seyval Blanc, and the Gewürztraminer grape variety. While it shares similar characteristics with Gewurztraminer, I do believe the latter has the best potential for making wines of greater complexity and finesse – specifically the Alsatian examples. Most of you Virginia wine lovers have likely tasted Traminette in blends, where it is used to add aromatics and complexity. There are still not a lot of varietal Traminette wines to be found here locally, but that appears to be changing as the popularity of the grape variety grows.

    Traminette Grapes

    The Benevino Vineyards Traminette 2007 is an off dry (slightly sweet) wine with an inviting floral nose, almost like a bouquet of fresh cut roses. On the palate reside flavors of stone fruit, hints of cooking spice, and tropical undertones. This easy drinking and refreshing wine sips well on its own or would pair well with spicy ethnic foods, especially Asian or Thai. This wine is carried by Corcoran Vineyards for $16 per bottle. Benevino Vineyards has been a grower in the state of Virginia for over 10 years, and their fruit has produced a number of award winning wines which you have probably enjoyed. Benevino Vineyards is now producing estate wines from their fruit, and Virginia wine lovers should look for more wines from them in the future. Drop by Corcoran Vineyards in the charm-filled village of Waterford in Loudoun County and seek out this wine, as well as Corcoran’s full spectrum of red and white selections.

    To find out more about Benevino Vineyards click here.

    Stay tuned friends ... Corcoran Vineyards, Q&A with Grayhaven Winery, and more!!!

      Click Here to vote VA Vine Spot as your favorite wine blog - You can vote 1x per day!

      Happy Sipping Friends - Tell your friends about the blog and thanks for your support and kind emails !


      Dezel's Virginia Vine Spot © 2006-2008. All rights reserved.


      Sunset Hills Vineyard: Wines and Sunsets

      Hello Friends,

      With clear and sunny skies this past weekend, I saddled up and paid a visit to Loudoun Wine Country. I was eager to visit one of the wine trails newest additions, Sunset Hills Vineyard. Owned by Diane and Mike Canney, Sunset Hills Vineyard is located in western Loudoun County and situated amidst tranquil and picturesque surroundings. This destination is definitely a must stop for those gallivanting about the Loudoun Wine Trail in search of good wines and beautiful views.

      Sunset Hills Vineyard

      The newly built tasting room is gorgeous to say the least, and housed in a meticulously restored multi-level 1870’s circa, stone and oak barn – truly a fine mix of charm and rustic elegance. The tasting room is large and comfortable with a wrap-around mahogany tasting bar and offers a welcoming atmosphere. On warmer days, enjoy a bottle of wine and a cheese platter on the multi-level outdoor deck and bask in the glorious views of Hillsborough Gap, back-dropped by the Blueridge Mountains. For the cooler months, savor a glass of wine in the attractive and spacious tasting room. Tall 35-foot ceilings, restored hardwood floors, up-stairs and down-stairs seating, wi-fi, winery tours, and picture windows overlooking the vineyard, are just some of the niceties offered.

      Tasting Room

      The winery’s inaugural offerings consist of a Viognier 2007, Chardonnay 2006, Reserve Chardonnay 2006, Petit Verdot 2006, and last but not least, a rich Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. The Viognier is nicely balanced and aromatic, while the Chardonnay will attract those preferring a lighter and fruitier example. The Reserve Chardonnay is a nice integration of fruit and buttery toast, and the Petit Verdot, one of my personal favorites, is fleshy and complex, and what I enjoyed while sitting outdoors on the deck with a cheese platter.

      "Pour on the Joy", says Dezel

      Two other wines, not offered for tasting, but wines Virginia Wine Lovers should seek out, are the Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 and the Chardonnay ice styled dessert wine. These two tasty wines are not tasted because they are limited production wines. They will likely be reserved for special events at the winery and for wine club members. Ask about these wines when you visit, as they might be for sale by bottle. Both wines have nice winemaker stories behind their production that makes them all the more special. The Cabernet will definitely win you over!

      Indoor seating area (downstairs)

      In closing friends, make a date with Sunset Hills and enjoy their wines, views, and southern hospitality. A great day to visit would be November 15th-16th when Sunset Hills Vineyard will host a huge grand opening celebration. Click here to find out more about the grand opening – it sounds like a great time. When you visit the kind folks at Sunset Hills Vineyard tell them you read about them on Dezel’s VA Vine Spot Blog.

      Enjoy picturesque views of Loudoun Wine Country

      Click Here to visit the Sunset Hill Vineyard website.

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

        Click Here to vote VA Vine Spot as your favorite wine blog - You can vote 1x per day!

        Happy Sipping Friends - Tell your friends about the blog and thanks for your support and kind emails !


        Dezel's Virginia Vine Spot © 2006-2008. All rights reserved.

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