A new winery in Keswick is drawing inspiration from the local heritage of fox hunting and love of the land.
Southwest Mountains Vineyards is already making a splash in the Virginia wine country. The enterprise has been open for little more than a month. It’s soft opening for the trade and official opening for the public on Oct. 1, just in time for Virginia Wine Month, drew a crowd of hundreds. The tasting room is already selling a variety of wines made from grapes grown on site, including a reserve petit verdot. And the setting will be playing host to the Monticello Wine Trail Celebration Wednesday evening, capping off this year’s harvest season a day after the Monticello Wine Trail was named Wine Enthusiast’s "Wine Region of the Year."
The Google Maps address of 2300 Whipper In Lane in Keswick is working just in time, general manager Jodi Mills said, and visitors will be happy to find a freshly paved road leading to the tasting room, replacing a previous gravel drive.
The new winery’s name pays homage to the surrounding mountains.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is said to have taken great pride in his "sea view" of the mountains from his Monticello estate, and his close friend and colleague James Barbour, who served as 18th governor of the commonwealth, called the Southwest Mountains "the most desirable abode I have ever seen."
"Thomas Jefferson called this the Eden of the United States," Mills told The Daily Progress.
She said owners Paul and Diane Manning "walk these mountains regularly with their dogs."
Manning is a well-established name in Central Virginia. In 1997, Paul Manning founded PBM Products; the Gordonsville-based company has since become the largest private label producer of baby formula in the world. The Mannings also are generous donors to University of Virginia programs, and earlier this year gifted $100 million for the creation of a new biotechnology campus that will bear their name. Gov. Glenn Youngkin named Paul Manning to UVa’s governing Board of Visitors this past summer.
Keswick, home to the 127-year-old Keswick Hunt Club, is known for its equestrian heritage and fox hunting traditions. Mills said the label designs on Southwest Mountains Vineyards’ bottles include gold buttons, an homage to the gold buttons sewn on the red jackets — ironically called pinks — worn by fox hunters as they follow their hounds into the country. Each button includes an illustration that offers a nod to the horses, dogs and riders of the fox hunting lifestyle.
"It’s truly our wine label, and our branding is all about fox hunting," Mills said. "The true sport of fox hunting is about land conservation. It’s about fellowship and unity of local stewardship."
The vineyard has about 80 acres under vine. Mills said the original grapes at Southwest Mountains Vineyards were planted in 2016 and are growing on three different estates: 50 acres on the main estate, 20 on another and 10 on a third site. An additional 10 acres will be planted in the spring.
The winery grows chardonnay, viognier, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and petit manseng grapes at the Castalia estate. At nearby Ben Coolyn, viognier, merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and Gruner Vertliner grapes are grown.
Boela Gerber is Southwest Mountains Vineyards’ head winemaker. Gerber, a renowned winemaker in his native South Africa, spent two decades making award-winning wines for Groot Constantia, the country’s first wine farm established in Cape Town in 1685.
The tasting room is located in a restored rustic pole barn that dates back to 1903. It offers about 12,500 square feet of space for sipping on wines and dining on menu items created by winery chef Gregory Lewis. The menu includes gluten-free and vegetarian choices.
"Upstairs, we can accommodate 124," Mills said. "Downstairs, there is enough for 106."
Reservations are strongly encouraged through the Tock reservations platform for the upstairs space, which offers tableside service. The lower level offers a tasting bar for sipping wine by the glass, bottle or flight on a first-come, first-served basis. Outdoor seating is available on the patios and lawn, and leashed, well-behaved dogs are welcome with their owners on the patios and lawn areas.
The tasting room, outdoor patios and restrooms are accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, but visiting the upstairs space requires climbing stairs.
The winery offers fireplaces indoors to invite lingering for wine and conversation; weather permitting, there’s live music outdoors on weekends. This week’s events include a paint-and-sip event at 3 p.m. Thursday for $55 that will focus on embellishing ceramic plates, plus musical performances by Sue Harlow from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Jimmy O from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday,
"It’s just so comfortable," Mills said.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday; Saturday’s hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.