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New Wine Bar Comes to Brambleton Town Center

By JOHN HAGARTY

Wine sales in the United States are surging. Last year, the U.S. surpassed France as the world’s largest wine-consuming nation. Here in Virginia nearly 200 wineries are in operation, up from zero in 1974. Sounds like a good time to get into the wine business, hey?

Michael Matthews and Michael Sawyers clearly think so. After nearly three years in the planning, the Virginia Wine Factory started uncorking bottles on May

“The quality of Virginia wine has risen dramatically in the last decade. I think local wine lovers are going to be impressed when tasting Virginia side-by-side with other leading regions,” says Matthews.

27 at their tasting room in the Brambleton Town Center in Brambleton. The extensive wine list will reflect the tastes of Northern Virginians by showcasing offerings from both the Old Dominion and points worldwide. The entrepreneurs are engineers by trade. Matthews is a virtualization web architect and Sawyers a geotechnical expert. Both believe that Virginia wine is fast approaching the “tipping point” of national recognition.

The Virginia Wine Factory offers a comfortable "livingroom" atmosphere.

The vision for their tasting bar is a comfortable – almost living room-like setting – where the best of the Commonwealth’s wines can be tasted alongside noted global producers. “The quality of Virginia wine has risen dramatically in the last decade. I think local wine lovers are going to be impressed when tasting Virginia side-by-side with other leading regions,” says Matthews. “We’ve worked hard to bring the best of Old Dominion wines to the Factory,” he explained.
And the gentleman does know quality. He planted his first vineyard in 2003 on Virginia’s central peninsula near Tappahannock. Shortly thereafter, he met Sawyers, a home winemaker whose passion equaled his own.

“Our mutual love of wine led us to Michael’s basement a few weeks later and the collaboration produced our first wine, Isabel’s Revenge. Since we were full-time engineers, our nascent winery, Vino Curioso, was a small operation producing just a few hundred cases a year. We couldn’t afford a traditional tasting room so my mother offered us the use of a garage and an old springhouse on her property in Winchester. The deal was if we cleaned it up, we could use it. We renovated and turned the springhouse into the ‘World’s Smallest Tasting Room’,” says a smiling Sawyers. It’s an apt description since the facility was all of 120 square feet in size. What wasn’t small, however, was the caliber of wines the men were producing.

After Vino Curioso was launched, the pair began to connect with some of the leading names in Virginia wine. The industry is known for its camaraderie and willingness to share production and marketing advice among fellow winemakers. “We owe a lot to some of the best wine talent in Virginia. Now we hope to repay them by showing the greater Washington area what the state is achieving,” emphasizes Matthews.

While he knows Virginia’s top tier wines are impressive, he also thinks many of the state’s producers are still honing their marketing skills to gain traction in the hyper-competitive world of wine sales. “Many Virginia wineries are tightly focused on producing a quality product. Where the industry could use some help is in developing a wider audience. The state supported Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office is fast tracking business development and the results are impressive. With the Virginia Wine Factory, we hope to further expand both Vino Curioso and Virginia wine sales,” says Matthews.

Sara Slowinski provides some musical enterntainment at Virginia Wine Factory.

The Tasting Room

The enjoyment of wine is enhanced with the proper setting and food. The décor of the Virginia Wine Factory will be anything but “factory.” The name of the business was selected to emphasize the laser-like focus on wine. “We’re striving to create a warm and down-home atmosphere. A Brazilian wood floor and an impressive 22 foot hand-crafted tasting bar will be augmented with nooks and alcoves of chairs and couches, in addition to conventional dining tables. When guests stop by, we want them to enjoy the wines in a relaxed setting,” says Sawyers. Light fare will be served, including gourmet soups, Panini sandwiches and similar foods suited to accompanying wine.

The Wine List

About 50 wines were available on opening day, 25 Virginia offerings and some 25 selections from other U.S. and international regions. The emphasis is on wines that accompany food. Virginia wines hail from around the state and include Tarara, White Hall, Rappahannock Cellars, Ingleside, Mont Fair, Jefferson, Virginia Wine Works, Blenheim and others. Additional wineries will be added over time. Various selections from California, New York, Washington and Oregon will round out the domestic list. Internationally, the focus will be on France, Spain, Italy, Australia, South Africa and other well-known regions.

The focus of the tasting format is on wine “flights”; four to six wines in categories of white, red, bubbly, sweet, and others. They are matched or contrasted with wines from various regions, or the same region by varietal. “Guests will select from flight menus or create their own flights. At any given time, we will have over 40 open bottles of wines to taste. Wine vibrancy will be assured since we are employing state-of-the-art gassing systems to block oxygen from opened bottles. From the first taste to the last, all wines will display a ‘just opened’ freshness in the glass,” explains Matthews.

The flight format is the centerpiece for tasting Virginia. “We really want to spotlight the state by positioning it with wines worldwide and have guests tell us how they stand up in ‘blind’ competition. The format will make the experience not only fun, but also educational. For instance, a wine drinker can choose to taste four different Viogniers from around the globe; they will rate the wines and we will archive them in our online rating system. We’ll then have all wines by the glass, bottle or available for shipping to family or friends,” says Matthews.

Michael Shaps, proprietor and nationally and internationally known winemaker at Virginia WineWorks says, “Michael Matthews is an imaginative and creative guy. He has developed a solid business concept at the Virginia Wine Factory. My personal experience is that anytime you position quality Virginia wines against the global competition they show exceptionally well. People are going to be impressed at what Matthews and Sawyers have created for Northern Virginia wine lovers.”

Once the Brambleton venture is up and running, the men will turn their focus to opening a 4,500-sq.-ft. urban winery in Gainesville. The expansion effort will house Vino Curioso’s own winemaking operations, creating a winery similar in feel to a city brewpub, but located in the middle of thriving Northern Virginia. Their current portfolio of Vino Curioso wines in Brambleton will include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and their signature wines Chardontage and 954, a Bordeaux style blend.

The Virginia Wine Factory is located at 22855 Brambleton Plaza, Suite 104, in the Brambleton Town Center, Brambleton. They are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. Visit them at VirginiaWineFactory.com. 703.542.5659.

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