Françoise, a Belgian mathematician, and Julian, an Irish dentist, first met in bustling London just as Françoise was about to move to California. Julian followed her over, and together in the Bay Area they fell in love with the world of fine wine. Meeting scientists who had started their own vineyards led them to realize that they could one day turn their shared passion into a labor of love. Time marched on, and numerous wine tastings and viticulture classes helped to support their passion with a deeper breadth of knowledge.
Together, they moved to Washington D.C. and came to discover the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the hidden bounty of Virginia wines. In 2006, after a four-year search, they bought a horse farm and began the work of turning it into a vineyard during their weekends. In 2012, Françoise transitioned from her academic career to become a full-time vineyard manager. While Julian continues his endodontic practice, he spends his weekends at the vineyard and in the tasting room.
Let the vines sing!
Be the wines local.
Quality over quantity.
Train the youngsters.
In our wines, we look for an expression of our Central Virginia terroir. The combination of lots of sunshine, plenty of rain and the wonderful Virginia soil has the potential to produce outstanding grapes to be turned into delicious wines. We apply as few chemicals to the vines as possible (no herbicide after the second leaf, for instance) while preventing the fruit from being spoiled by diseases that thrive in the mid-Atlantic climate and make vineyard management challenging. We harvest the grapes at the optimal time to provide mature fruit that needs little manipulation in the winery. As a result you can taste the complexity of the fruit in every sip. We are striving for a niche that does not replicate other growing regions.
When seasonal circumstances allow most buds to come to maturation, we drop grape clusters in order to protect the quality of the final product. Our wines are made in small batches of 25 to 150 cases. Some years (2018 comes to mind with its incessant rain), we do not produce single-varietal wines from varieties prone to spoilage.
As part of our mission, we train the next generation of wine-industry professionals. As well as providing high-school students with a job-placement opportunity during the academic year, we welcome summer interns. Françoise also teaches a few blocks of viticulture in the spring horticulture class at the Madison County high school. Together with local education professionals, she is crafting a certification program in viticulture for high-school students throughout the Commonwealth.
Our tasting room is housed in a rustic log cabin featuring a wide stone fireplace, original log chinking and hand sawn floor boards, and the kind of mountain views that can only be seen in Hebron Valley. The cabin was originally built in 1830 on an estate in Southern Virginia, in Java near Gretna, where it was inhabited until the late 1940s. In 2016, Françoise and Julian bought the then-derelict structure, and had it restacked at the feet of the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of the original logs were used, and a few feet of vertical space were added to meet more modern height requirements; the fireplace and chimney were built using stones reclaimed from Virginia farmhouses.
The tasting room is beautiful in every season. In the colder months, the fireplace creates a cozy escape from brisk outdoor temperatures. As the weather warms, the wrap-around porch becomes the perfect place to sit and gaze at the mountains while enjoying a great glass of wine and the company of good friends.
As you round the corner into our tasting room, you will be able to see Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng, and Merlot all growing in the foothills of the Shenandoah mountains. These are young vines, planted starting in the Spring of 2018, and this new vineyard will continue to expand to cover an area of twelve acres. Until these vines reach maturity, our wines and verjus are all made from estate-grown grapes cultivated on our land in Reva, about two and a half miles from the tasting room. The production vineyard covers roughly 7 acres of vines: 6 acres about evenly split between red vitis vinifera (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Merlot) and white vitis vinifera (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Gris and Petit Manseng), and one acre planted with hybrids (Vidal Blanc and Traminette). Revalation has grown significantly since we were experimenting with grape growing in one acre of our backyard, but the thrill of watching our own vines bring forth new fruit every summer has not changed at all.
That first experimental acre taught us that rootstock and clone selection are paramount for the production of quality wines. For the sites with optimal exposure, we opted for Riperia Gloire de Monpeller as a rootstock, and for the more shaded areas we chose 101-14. We decided on two clones for Merlot (343, 181), Cabernet Franc (214, 327), Cabernet Sauvignon (191, 412) and Sauvignon Blanc (1, 30). Whenever available, our vines are ENTAV certified.
Finding our Farm
We first fell in love with Madison County over a beautiful weekend in the Virginia foothills. As we took a hot air balloon trip along Highway 29, the views took our breath away. By the end of the weekend, we had met up with a realtor and begun looking at properties with the idea of starting a vineyard. We took our time looking for the right place for us: land suitable for growing vines and a view of the mountains that first made our hearts skip a beat. After four years of spending many weekends with our extremely patient realtor, we found our vineyard in a horse farm that needed plenty of tender loving care and attention to turn it into our dream.
A Small Science Project
We are both scientists by training: Françoise a statistician and Julian a developmental biologist. In true experimental fashion we chose grape varieties that produce wines we like to drink and planted a small sample of each to see what would grow. Our experimental vineyard included a wide variety of plants: Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Syrah, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, and, finally, Noiret for blending. Although some of our favorite varietals did not appreciate the Virginia humidity, many outpaced our expectations. We figured it was better to plant 40, and see them die, than to plant 4,000, and lose them all. Having completed our experimental vineyard and attended meetings of the Virginia Vineyards Association, we concluded that we really needed the help of a consultant. For several years now, Bordeaux-native Frantz Ventre has been advising, admonishing and pushing us to constantly improve our vineyard practices.
Broadening our Horizons
Our farm came with a lovely house and some outbuildings so we were able to spend weekends digging the dirt to gradually plant vines. Once our small vineyard was filled, it became clear that our land did not have adequate sun exposure for our quickly growing grapes. However, our neighbors had a perfect hill, with a perfect North-South alignment and gentle slope. One afternoon while Julian was out clearing brush at the fence line he got chatting to our neighbor, and mentioned that we coveted his hill. Three months later the hill was ours, and five years later, the hill was completely covered with grapevines.
In 2013, we started planting on six acres of our new hill. We determined that Viognier, Pinot Gris, Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc would produce our white vitis grapes, while Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Tannat would be our red vitis varietals. Planted from West to East with the rows running North-South, the red varietals dominate the middle of the field with the whites at either side.
In 2014, Matthieu Finot produced our first vintage from our experimental vineyard. Both Mélange à Trois –a white blend of Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc — and Mélange à Quatre — a rosé made from Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Noiret – sold out within just a few months. Both were fruity, well-structured wines with excellent mouth feel and surprising complexity. These wines proved to be very popular and we wished we had been able to make more than 50 cases!
Second Vintage and Beyond
For our second vintage, we learned from our first cuvée and added some Petit Manseng to our white blend for acidity, thereby producing Mélange de Blancs. We also produced our first red wine, Village, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Since then, with the increased volume of each variety, we have focused on single varietal white wines. We replaced our original experimental vineyard with Vidal Blanc. Most recently, the Noiret vines were replaced with Traminette to allow us to make verjus.
Tasting Room and Winery
Having established our vineyard, we set our sights on expanding to a winery and tasting room. As our vineyard in Reva was somewhat off the beaten path, we looked for a location that would be both easily accessible to the public and have room to expand our vineyard. The perfect property came on the market in Hebron Valley, our favorite place in all the Virginia foothills.
Having found the location, we now needed a building that would serve as the tasting room. In April 2016 we broke ground on the tasting room. We relocated a log cabin that was built in 1830 in Java, Virginia. Soon we had somewhere for everyone to enjoy our wines. We adore the spectacular view, and we love watching new visitors fall in love with it every day.
As for the winery, we hope to break ground this Winter.
We look forward to meeting you
Please join us in Hebron Valley to sample our wines and bring the taste of Virginia home with you…