Most new wineries open just after planting their first vines, in which they must first produce wine from fruit purchased from other vineyards. This process must continue until their vines mature enough to produce quality grapes. Not so Loudoun County's Sunset Hills Vineyard & Winery. About a decade ago Diane and Mike Canney planted grape vines - particularly Chardonnay - well before constructing a winery. They allowed the vines to develop and mature while at the same time, they began refurbishing a barn, originally built in the 1870's, with help from an Amish construction team. They named their enterprise Sunset Hills, after the "beautiful sunsets" the couple witnessed as the sun fell below the western mountain ranges.
Last year Sunset Hills Vineyard opened officially, specializing in Bordeaux style red wines; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot; as well as Chardonnay and Viognier. We remember that their Petit Verdot and Viognier stood out at last year's Vintage Virginia and looked forward to a visit. On a cold Saturday afternoon, the winery was already crowded when we arrived with earlier visitors settled at tables on the loft and in the tasting area. We started with the two versions of chardonnay, the first aged in stainless steel, the other aged in neutral French oak sur lee. We have become fans of unoaked Chardonnay, but today we preferred the oaked Reserve Chardonnay. Maybe its a result of the season - but it tasted more full bodied with only a subtle buttery flavor. The viognier was aged in the same fashion as the Reserve Chardonnay and this was a favorite. It has a sweet honey aroma, with a slightly pineapple flavor - this is the one we took upstairs with an array of Amish cheese. The Cabernet Franc is a medium bodied wine ages 18 months in neutral French and American oak. It has a more raspberry flavor than cherry - and low tannins at the tail. On the other hand, the Cabernet Sauvignon was more full bodied and had a more tannic finish - probably from 17 months in French oak. Not bad for a Virginia Cabernet Sauvignon; but interestingly we enjoyed the whites more than the reds.
We look forward to returning after the ice clears from the patio. Sunset Hills Vineyard is in a great location - excellent views and close to other excellent wineries. Its even a short ride from the O&D Bike Path - we can't wait until summer.