On a recent trip to Scottsville we stopped into Sugarleaf Vineyards, a boutique winery located in the heart of the Monticello Wine Trail. - producing wines from primarily estate grown vinifera grapes. I would recommend visiting their website to read about the winery's history, but in brief, Sugarleaf Vineyards is owned and operated by Jerry and Lauren Bias. They initially purchased the property as a retreat - future retirement home, but after consulting with vineyard experts from the university of Virginia, they found that there 126 acres were ideally suited for grape growing. They initially intended to source the grapes to other vineyards, but soon realized that the property was producing high quality vinifera grapes; thus, why not make wine instead. The first vintage was available for sale out of the tasting room in 2007 and already most of the wines have been awarded medals at several national competitions.
We arrived to find winemaker Daniel Neumeister preparing the Chardonnay and Viognier tanks for a bottling session scheduled for the next morning. We learned at this time that last year's vintage of their Viognier had sold out in 4 months, so they were eager to bottle this year's production. In addition their Petit Verdot was also gone - consumers are starting to discover Virginia's top grapes. We had to settle with the rest of their portfolio, which consisted of a Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vidal Blanc, and the Neubia Nectar, a dessert wine made from 25% Petit Manseng and 75% Vidal Blanc. All the grapes were grown in the estate vineyard except for the Petit Manseng which was sourced from White Hall Vineyards. In general, the wines were very good - our favorite was the Petit Manseng - I guess always searching for something unique. The Chardonnay was more fruit than oak; the Cabernet Franc a nice medium bodied wine; and the Cabernet Sauvignon a full bodied wine and not bad for a grape that normally struggles in the Virginia climate. For those with sweeter tastes, the Vidal Blanc comes in at 1.1% r.s. and possesses a typical characteristic of this hybrid: floral aroma and peach flavors. Obviously Mr. Neumeister knows his craft and we have no issues with the wines themselves.
The problem we had was the cost of the tasting. First, Sugarleaf's wines are expensive ranging from $24 to $30, excluding the Vidal Blanc. There is obviously a market for Sugarleaf's wines, since they sell out quickly; Charlottesville is a wealthy area. Sugarleaf also charges a hefty tasting fee. Now, we fully understand the argument why wineries charge tasting fees - particularly when the winery will most likely be able to sell their stock within the year. Since the winery must pay an excise tax on each bottled wine, if they don't sell the wine, they must eat the tax. As a result, most wineries charge a modest tasting fee that is usually waived if the taster purchases a bottle. That is not the case at Sugarleaf Vineyards. The tasting fee is $6, so for two of us, it costs $12 to just enter the door and taste the wines. When we travel to a winery, we want to support the industry by purchasing at least one bottle, and here we decided to purchase a bottle of the Petit Manseng. Thus we paid basically $40 for a bottle of Virginia wine. For those who regularly tour wineries, is it worth the cost to drive 3 hours to pay the equivalent of $40 for a bottle or $12 just to taste the wine? Some of you may reply with an emphatic, YES. For us, I'm starting to think its not worth the effort.