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Appellation Trail’s Glass House Shines


Inside Glass House Winery, VA

Inside Glass House Winery, VA

An enchanting oasis in the shadow of the Blue Ridge, Glass House Winery is a gem not to be missed. Owners Jeff and Michelle Sanders’ six-acre estate vineyard is situated on a 47-acre farm amidst the rolling countryside of western Albemarle County. Officially opened to the public on Dec. 4, 2010, Glass House derives its name from the winery’s tropical greenhouse, which serves as the ultimate retreat for wine enthusiasts.

Exclusively sold at the winery, Glass House’s first production yielded a modest 400 cases of wine. The Sanders are currently expanding production to between 1,200 and 1,400 cases this year, with an ultimate goal of about 2,500 cases annually.

“Last year, my wife and I made the wines with extensive consulting from Brad McCarthy,” Jeff says. This year, the Sanders have full-time assistance in the cellar, vineyard and tasting room from Michael

Enticing wines have the ability to stimulate the senses, engage the mind and beckon the soul.

McFarlan, who’s apprenticing to become Glass House’s winemaker under the tutelage of McCarthy, the former winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards and current winemaker of his own Stickdog wines.

Glass House Winery’s whites include the estate-grown 2009 Pinot Gris and 2009 Viognier, as well as the newly released Vina Singora, a traminette blend. The Sanders also offer a red blend of chambourcin, cabernet franc, and merlot aptly called the C-Villian, an estate-grown 2009 Barbera (already sold out), and a 2009 21st Meritage (deriving its name from the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, which repealed Prohibition) comprised of cabernet franc and merlot. The most intriguing red, however, is Jeff and Michelle’s Meglio del Sesso.

Magic in a bottle

Glass House Winery

Owners Jeff and Michelle Sanders with their apprentice winemaker Michael McFarlan (center). Photo by Chris Henderson

Enticing wines have the ability to stimulate the senses, engage the mind and beckon the soul. Glass House’s Meglio del Sesso answers the most ardent oenophile’s desires. A decadent union of Norton and dark chocolate, this dessert wine is a sweet surprise. A native Virginia varietal, Norton can be very powerful for those unaccustomed to the intensity of its fruit, but it balances beautifully with the equally bold cocoa confection. Jeff attests, “It does not taste like chocolate mixed with red wine. It tastes like someone somehow grew a chocolate grape.”

Stirred daily for a couple of months and filtered, Meglio del Sesso is infused with 82 percent powdered dark chocolate. “The chocolate works to tame the Norton. Not everyone wants their Norton tamed, but this one is,” Jeff explains. Knowing how to blend varietals for a particular purpose is as much art as it is science. Michelle began searching for the perfect combination of chocolate and wine even before they began growing their own grapes. “She was trying every type of local grape imaginable, buying finished wines, opening them up and mixing chocolate,” Jeff adds.

A graduate of the University of British Columbia’s chocolatier certificate program, Michelle’s passion goes beyond being pleased with Glass House’s dessert wine. She personally handcrafts a sumptuous array of gourmet chocolates for sale at the winery. Included as part of the tasting, visitors are treated to a sample of one of the following treats: Espresso, Red Wine Cream, Salted Caramel or Earl Grey.

www.glasshousewinery.comMade fresh weekly, Glass House chocolates are enrobed in 72 percent dark chocolate and available in boxes of either four or a dozen. Earl Grey is a ganache made with cream steeped with earl grey tea. Salted

Jeff and Michelle are currently growing coffee beans in their greenhouse for use in next year’s Espresso chocolates. “Our coffee beans will be roasted and mixed in with the ganache just to give it a little bit of texture.”

Caramel is a combination of homemade caramel blended with white chocolate and salt. Espresso is a ganache made with espresso and Kahlua liquor. Red Wine Cream is a ganache made from Norton wine and dark chocolate. “The chocolate that is precipitated out of the Meglio de Sesso forms the core of the center of the red wine cream in the chocolate,” Jeff notes.

Seal of approval

The Sanders enjoy being able to promote the interconnectivity between various facets of the winery. Jeff and Michelle are currently growing coffee beans in their greenhouse for use in next year’s Espresso chocolates. “Our coffee beans will be roasted and mixed in with the ganache just to give it a little bit of texture.” Besides the greenhouse, another intriguing link to the Glass House name is the Sanders’ use of the Vino-Seal.

Referred to as Vino-Lok in Europe, the glass closure produced by Closure Systems International provides bottlers with a closure that is technically and organoleptically 100 percent neutral, meets food-grade standards and is aesthetically pleasing to consumers. The seal preserves wine quality and flavor, prevents leakage, permits bottle aging and is as attractive to the eye as it is functional. Jeff strives to be up-to-date on the latest innovations in the wine industry saying, “We are the first winery in Virginia to use glass closures.”

A short drive from the Appalachian Trail, Glass House is one of five wineries on the newly formed Appellation Trail.

Interconnectivity stems from outside of the winery as well. A short drive from the Appalachian Trail, Glass House is one of five wineries on the newly formed Appellation Trail. Inspired by fellow trail members Mountfair Vineyards and White Hall Vineyards, the scenic trail that stretches from Crozet to Free Union will also include Stinson Vineyards (opening June 16, 2011) and Moss Vineyards located in Nortonsville (opening in 2012). They will remain members of the Monticello Wine Trail, which currently consists of 25 wineries in and around the Charlottesville area, but, as Jeff explains, “This is a way to let people know that there is a concentration here.”

Glass House Winery, VA

Glass House Winery, VA

The Sanders’ were inspired by the spirit of the local Monticello American Viticultural Area wineries that supported them. “In general, they took an attitude that they wanted to make sure any new entrant was making good wine and helping the industry develop. Mountfair Vineyards in particular has been helpful as we made our first wines at their facility,” Jeff attests.

Blessed by Bacchus

Establishing a winery is a challenge even under the best of circumstances. “The vineyard and winery run us, not the other way around,” Jeff laughs. Although he does his best to handle any curveballs that come his way, there’s one force he cannot control: lightning. In 2008, Glass House Winery’s vineyard suffered a strike that torched approximately 200 vines as the electricity travelled across the trellis system. Fortunately, almost all the vines recovered within a year.

Jeff and Michelle have actually come to accept the jolt to their pinot gris as a sign of good luck. Drawing inspiration from the Native Americans, the Sanders choose to view the strike optimistically. According to many indigenous tribes, “Something that gets hit by lightning and survives becomes god-like,” Jeff says.

He recounts the story of a tribe in which one of their less stellar members gets hit by lightning, survives and is designated chief (even though his leadership eventually ends up bringing the tribe to ruins). Glass House Winery’s Pinot Gris tasting notes playfully respect the occurrence by revealing, This wine is now infused with mystical healing powers and must be taken in the proper dosage.

A regular dose of musicians fill the Glass House on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Acts such as Barling and Collins, Beleza, Erin Lunsford, Stoned Masons, David Tewksbury, Don Crotteau, Curtis Prince and The Lost Souls have performed. A full calendar of upcoming shows is available on the winery’s website (

Glass House Winery, VA

Glass House Winery, VA

“We would like to solidify the reputation we are building that it is a great experience to visit Glass House, in terms of the wine, the chocolate, the ambience and welcoming nature of the place. We are very proud of our first wines, but we want to continue to make them even better,” Jeff offers.

From tropical plants to lightning-proof vines, homemade chocolates to artisan wines, Glass House Winery offers a unique perspective in Virginia wine country. Follow the Appellation Trail to find one of the best dessert wines in the Old Dominion and some of the finest confections.