12 June 2008

Visiting Grayhaven

Grayhaven Winery is one of three wineries in the state of Virginia, USA growing and making Pinotage.

Virginia Vine Spot's Dezel Quillen -- our man in Virginia -- dropped in on Grayhaven and reports:-

Grayhaven Winery

On a warm and sunny spring day I left the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced city to visit Grayhaven Winery. Grayhaven is a part of the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail and is located on a relaxing and rural 50 acre farm in the small town of Gum Springs, VA. Grayhaven is a small family-run operation that is owned by Charles and Lyn Peple, who began growing and selling wine grapes in 1979. Sixteen years later they built a tasting room and started making and selling their estate bottled wines to the general public. Today, daily operations are assumed by daughter, Max Peple, and husband, Deon Abrams. After turning into the winery on a single lane gravel road, I was warmly greeted by the tail-wagging winery dog Mona. Mona led me into the tasting room where Deon invited me to the tasting bar to sample their wines.

Deon Abrams - Grayhaven Winemaker

While chatting with Deon and tasting Grayhaven’s full array of wines, I learned that Deon was Grayhaven’s chief winemaker and is from South Africa, where he made wine before settling here in the Old Dominion. Although 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 where a number of unique artisan crafts and food selections are imported from South Africa. The true tell-tale is Grayhaven’s flagship wine; no, not Cabernet Franc, Norton or Viognier, but Pinotage - a grape variety developed in 1925 at Stellenbosch University in South Africa from crossing Pinot Noir with Cinsaut..

Grayhaven Winery 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 Pinotage, which is the winery’s most popular wine. Deon tells me that their Pinotage ripens beautifully with high brix levels and the results are much different than what one would expect from typical South African examples. Grayhaven's Pinotage is bigger and more fruit forward, lacking the smokiness and earthiness found in some South African examples. Although there is no distinct Virginia Pinotage style, it is interesting to see what this grape variety can do in Virginia soil.

With wine, cheese, and warm French baguette in hand, I left the tasting room and found comfort sitting by a nearby pond. I enjoyed my visit to visit Grayhaven Winery on this beautiful spring day and look forward to many happy returns. If you are ever in the area, I recommend visiting the winery and experiencing “a hip slice of country life” for yourself.

Many thanks to Dezel.

Dezel Quillen is Founder, Photographer & Wine Writer – Virginia Vine Spot, and Wine Column Contributor to VA Wine Lover Newsletter.

Above photographs and text are (c) Copyright 2008 Dezel Quillen

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