As many of you may have noticed, the Virginia Winery scene has completely exploded with wineries popping up everywhere you look around the state. The problem with this new trend is that a good portion of these wineries are hasty and either purchase grapes from other vineyards or simply rush their vintages out to start producing in order to pay the bills. I can’t knock doing what you have to to pay bills, but there is a certain degree of time and finesse that goes into producing great wine. Stone Tower Vineyards demonstrates perfectly this time and finesse needed to produce great wines.
Stone Tower Winery is located in Leesburg, not far down the road from downtown Middleburg. The property was originally owned by Michael and Kristi Huber’s family, and they purchased over 200 acres of the property from the family’s 1400 acres for Stone Tower Winery. Driving up to the luxurious property, I was shocked by the beautiful barn-turned-winery’s beauty on the left side of the driveway. On the right is the Huber’s home, and straight ahead there is a gorgeous view of the vineyard property that seemed like it went on for forever. Michael greeted us as if we were family as he was walking out of the barn heading towards the house and pointed us to the barn entrance where Bryan Toy (Winemaker and General Manager) walked out to greet us with open arms. We entered the barn that has been renovated into a beautiful, functional and multi-purpose two level facility. There we were greeted by Bryan’s brother Corey, who is also working at the winery handling everything from vineyard management assistance to tours. The first level of the barn consisted of a tasting bar and retail section to the right hand side, while directly across included additional tasting stations and some living space to enjoy your glass concluding your tasting. The space is incredibly inviting.
Directly in the center of the far left wall sat my new favorite piece of equipment at Stone Tower and wineries anywhere — the concrete egg. Used by many wineries in France’s Burgundy and Bourdeaux regions, the concrete egg is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, yet not often seen in Virginia. They tend to be very expensive and difficult to maintain, but offer they a more natural stirring effect during fermentation due to the egg shape of the tank. Winemakers can reap the benefits of the richness of barrel fermentation minus the oak. Bryan explained the concrete egg offers more complexity, mouth feel, and structure to the otherwise lacking steel-fermented whites that tend to be leaner and lack that smooth and round richness. Currently, their 2012 Viognier is fermenting in Stone Tower’s egg, and it is an absolutely dynamite wine.
As for the remainder of the barn, the second floor is used primarily for special events and work space, but is equally as gorgeous. As we explored the facility, Bryan gave us a brief history on the winery, the property, and the role of the Huber family. For those not familiar with the Huber family, they own and operate the Belfort Furniture conglomerate in Northern Virginia. Much like their furniture business, they don’t skip any steps when it comes to their business ventures. Virtual drawings and blueprints to the future winery facility is on display by the hanger style exit door of the barn that shows the lavish building that will be complete in the next couple of years. They aim to open to the public in 2014 or 2015, depending on the progress of the construction. The drawings were nothing short of magnificent. An actual stone tower will serve as the cornerstone of the main tasting room, shooting upward overlooking the entire property, as well as a separate, exclusive members-only portion of the facility. The large production room will have a three tiers utilizing floor space above the room with a catwalk, a separate space for staff to work above the tanks, and the main floor for the remainder of the production. Connected to the production room will be a gorgeous curving barrel cave and, subsequently, a banquet facility with outdoor seating overlooking the pond and plenty of other marvels make up this extravagant property that will be the future of Stone Tower.
As we finished up our discussion of their future plans and background of Stone Tower, we piled onto a golf cart with Bryan to head out for a tour of the property. As we drove along the deer fencing, Bryan explained that aside from the entire vineyard being completely surrounded by deer fencing, bird netting is also setup along the vines, as well as bird houses spaced along the vineyards deer fencing. The reason for this is that Mountain Blue Birds tend to feed on the insects (leaf hoppers) that carry disease that can cause harm to the vines. By placing these bird houses around the property, Bryan hopes to attract the attention of these birds to help with the insect infestation that could arise, but also implemented bird netting as necessary to prevent other birds from feasting on the grapes. These defense systems are NOT cheap, and by implementing these solutions, it further shows that the Hubers do not cut corners when it comes to quality and building a successful winery.
Currently, Stone Tower is growing around 6 acres of Viognier and 3 different clones of Chardonnay. The beauty of the various clones, Bryan went on to explain, is that each clone brings a certain quality, aroma, structure, and flavor profile that aids in the blending process to appeal to various preferences of Chardonnay. The two current offerings of Chardonnay are the Lauren and Lacey, both named after the Huber’s daughters. The two varietals offer to very different, yet fascinating approaches to their Chardonnays by utilizing the various blends of clones and fermentation. Just in front of the north-to-south facing rows is a small pond that reflects the wine grotto seated at the front of the rising hillside directly across from us. This wine grotto (not cave, due to the lack of an arched ceiling) is built into the side of the hillside and will be used for various functions (as well as storage), such as weddings and other private events.
Directly above the grotto sits close to 16 acres of newly planted red varietals. These include Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, all of which contain various clones to provide an array of different options to perfect their future vintages. With the assistance of viticulture expert Lucie Morton, they were able to plant these various clones in tightly spaced 3 1/2 foot rows to manage nutrients and water stress, so that during the ripening months the vines allocate their water supply towards developing better fruit rather than excess foliage. In vineyard, Bryan and the team try to minimize the use of chemicals and currently have their vines on a 20% chemical and 80% nutrient based diet.
Presently, the production load is around 6,000 cases, but Stone Tower’s goal production is expected to approach around 12,000 cases of wine annually. To do so, they are looking to expand on their 22 acres of vine to somewhere close to 45 acres. An additional 4 acres of Cabernet Franc are to be planted next year, along with additional 10 or so acres of a new clone of Viognier from France, Semillion, and Sauvignon Blanc. With the increase in production, Stone Tower has reached out and hired Napa Valley winemaker Tim Crowe to become their new primary wine maker so that Bryan can assist, but focus primarily on the overall General Management of the entire operation.
As far as the construction of the new facilities, they are making great progress at the time of our most recent by pouring the new production facility foundation. The entire property can not be described in one single blog post — you really HAVE to visit the vineyard in person. Appointment times for the remainder of 2013 have been released and are available for private tours and tastings on a first come first serve basis. The groups are kept to small manageable groups to provide a more intimate setting so that Bryan and his brother Corey can offer a relaxing one-on-one experience to provide the best possible experience.
My second visit to Stone Tower was a couple of weeks ago. During our first visit, our tasting was uniquely held in the vineyard in the center of the Chardonnay and Viognier vineyard for the whites and to the left of the red grape vineyard for the reds. My more recent visit, due to lack luster weather, Bryan held the tasting in the beautiful barn with cheese platters to enjoy during our tasting. What I would like to share with you, the readers, is the overall tasting notes from my first visit, as well as the most recent second. This includes most, if not all, of the wines that are currently offered.
I would like to start with the Chardonnays. In order to fully appreciate what lies ahead for you as a potential visitor, I have included both visits’ tasting notes so that you can get the jist of what to expect of their wines over multiple vintages, starting with the 2011 Lacey Chardonnay ($24). This Chardonnay is the lighter of the two from 2011, done in un-oaked “California style”, and a blending the Wente and 76 clones from Block B, Rows 1-27 in the vineyard. Fruit forward pear meshing with light floral notes on the nose, while big pear and fresh apple flavors sooth the palate and lingering apple and citrus notes that add just a touch of toast on the finish. The finish is very clean and crisp with bright acidity that is balanced perfectly by the natural sweetness of the fruit. The 2011 Lauren Chardonnay ($24) offers a completely different approach, blending Wente, 76, and 96 clones, and bringing some similarities as far as pear and apple notes, but adding a touch of vanilla on the nose. The palate offers more minerality and a smooth soft creamy mouth feel, incorporating more citrus qualities that carries a fuller bodied structure and less fruit forward approach. Now, 2012 so far has proved to be a very rewarding year in terms of great wine in Virginia, and the 2012 Lacey Chardonnay ($24) was no exception. Tropical fruit and apples waft out of the glass in a big way adding honeyed pear and citrus notes across the palate, finishing crisp yet smooth, adding a creamy texture and Lemoncello flavors lingering on the finish. Excellent! At this time, the Lauren from 2012 isn’t quite ready, but as soon as it is, we will feature that on an upcoming Quick Pour.
We were also fortunate to try a vertical of Stone Tower’s Viognier. The 2011 Viognier ($28) was absolutely fantastic bringing lots of white peach and honeysuckle aromas, and mixing in some nectarine with some spice mid-palate, while maintaining a crisp, spicy, lightly toasted off-dry finish. I loved this wine and left with a bottle without blinking an eye. As for the 2012 Viognier? Well, the 2012 Viognier incorporate the concrete egg, and Bryan gave us the opportunity to try the bottled blend of concrete and neutral French Oak, as well as the 100% concrete egg version. My favorite of the two was the concrete egg. The 2012 Viognier (N/A) fermented in 100% concrete carried subtle floral and peach aromas while providing a much fuller structure on the palate and finishing supple with ripe peach flavors. The 2012 Viognier ($28) done 50/50 in concrete/oak provided more honeysuckle and peach/apricot on the nose, a bit more aromatic, with fresh apricot and nectarine jumping out on the palate. The finish was smooth and somewhat creamy adding a touch of spice and white pepper. This version was a bit more fruit forward, but I’m still a fan of the 100% concrete version due to it’s subtlety. Both are excellent wines, nonetheless.
As you can tell the whites at Stone Tower are above and beyond most in Virginia, but how about the reds? As you may have ready earlier in the article, most of their red grape vines were recently planted, thus not ready to yield much fruit until this year or even next year. That being said, most of their red grape is sourced from another local vineyard, which is the case in most wineries now in Virginia. However, we were able to compare and contrast what Bryan had created with these reds, starting with their 2009 Sanglier Noble ($36). This vintage was a blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 6% Cabernet Franc bearing a shocking 14.5% av. You could have fooled me. Dark fruit and spice box accentuate the nose adding a touch of vanilla, while the palate provides additional notes of herbs and earth wrapping it all up with firm tannins and a peppery finish. Not bad for their first Bourdeaux-style blend. The 2011 Sanglier Noble, on the other hand, was stellar. The 2011 vintage year in Virginia, as many of you may know, was wet at the wrong time and caused many of the reds to be very light and lacking bold character. The result is lighter bodied reds that are more delicate on the palate. Stone Tower’s 2011 Sanglier Noble ($29) is comprised of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot and offers an aromatic plethora of plum, blackberry, cherry, raspberry, and floral notes to lure you in. The palate is filled with juicy strawberry and plum flavors with spice intensifying toward the back of the palate leaving behind black cherry flavors to simmer deep into the lengthy finish. A very impressive red wine to pair with just about anything, without fear of overpowering your lighter dishes. As we wrapped up our tasting with a platter of charcuterie and cheeses, I stopped to pick up a couple of bottles and thanked Bryan, Corey, and the Hubers for their phenomenal hospitality.
It was truly great to see that there are some wineries that do get it. Bryan strongly believes, like a small portion of other Virginia winemakers have stated, to make great wine at least 85% of that wine is made IN the Vineyard. Every detail, from terroir to pruning practices, to protective netting, anti-pest control, and choosing the right vines and clones to plant on particular terroir, carries heavy weight in creating Premium wines. I couldn’t agree more, and after your first visit you will absolutely see why Stone Tower Winery is among the region’s elite, not just with wine, but your whole experience.
- Red Wine: 4.00 / 5 Corks
- White Wine: 4.50 / 5 Corks
- Experience: 5.00 / 5 Corks
- Views/Ambiance: 4.00 / 5 Corks
- Overall Rating: 4.35 / 5 Corks
Stone Tower Winery
19925 Hogback Mountain Rd,
Leesburg, Virginia 20175