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Philip Carter Winery Memorializes An Historic Moment in Virginia Wine

Virginia winery Philip Carter

Medals abound at Philip Carter Winery.

On the picturesque winding drive from the front gate to the tasting room at Philip Carter Winery in Hume, you pass through a special plot of 1,800 vines. These carefully tended rows commemorate the eighteen hundred vines that were planted at Charles Carter’s Cleve Plantation on the Rappahannock River east of Richmond as early as 1759.

Great-grand-nephew Philip Carter Strother set down new roots in 2008, establishing Philip Carter Winery of Virginia on twenty-seven rolling acres some 150 miles to the north, still near a tributary of the Rappahannock and only sixty miles west of Washington, DC. While not located at the ancestral estate, Strother’s return to the Carter family’s heritage in winemaking is an appropriate renaissance for our times.

An Historic Moment

In February this year, the General Assembly of Virginia in Richmond commended The Virginia Wine Industry on the 250th anniversary of the birth of American wine. The proclamation acknowledges the seminal efforts of one Charles Carter, whose viticultural endeavors were rewarded with a gold medal in 1762. With “congratulations and appreciation,” the document was presented to Strother, well-known as Virginia’s most prominent advocate in the wine trade and founder of the Virginia Wine Council. As noted above, he is also a descendant of the gold medal winner.

In the mid-18th century, colonist Carter had extensive correspondence with the agricultural committee of the Society of Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (today known as the Royal Society of Arts) in London. This led to his sending the Society a dozen

 “…as the first who had made a spirited attempt towards accomplishment of our views respecting wine in America.”

bottles to be judged. While the “competition,” as it were, was established in 1758, Carter is first on record to have been awarded a gold medal. On October 20, 1762, he was commended “as the first who had made a spirited attempt towards accomplishment of our views respecting wine in America.”

While the exact varieties of grapes at Charles Carter’s Cleve Plantation haven’t been established, one is identified in historical documents as an “American Winter grape,” and another as the “white Portuguese summer grape.”

Shortly thereafter, a personage no less than the Royal Governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier, certified that Carter was “growing…a vineyard of European sorts, white and red.” This document can be viewed today at Philip Carter Winery.

(Richard Leahy, in his forthcoming book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, recounts in some detail the journey undertaken by Philip Carter Strother to bring all this fascinating history to light. Watch for it in early April.)

Bright and Modern

Virginia winery Philip Carter

Jill Prior will help you explore the nuances and flavors of Virginia's Philip Carter wines.

But don’t get the impression that the winery in Hume is a relic of British colonial affectation! Nothing could be further from the truth. Philip Carter Winery is large, bright and airy, and sits surrounded by handsome vineyards with an extraordinary vista to the hazy blue mountains to the west.

The space is filled with a collection of outstanding colorful artworks by local artisans. Some of these are available for purchase, yet one hopes they will remain in place in Carter’s modern Cleve Hall because they look so perfect there.

On a recent visit, I was able to taste through a small selection of wines. Many in the line were sold out for the season, and I was a bit in advance of the new vintage’s bottling. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Noiret and Vidal Blanc are estate grown. The balance of varieties are carefully sourced from area vineyards.

The wines at Philip Carter show an elegant affinity for food.

Philip Carter Governor Fauquier 2011, a white wine blended of vidal blanc and chardonnay, was lightly sweet with toasty nuances. Tasting room  manager Jillian Prior described it as the perfect aperitif. Philip Carter Chardonnay 2010 is flush with white fruit flavor, marked with notes of apple, pear and citrus. The creamy finish is the result of aging sur lie and a completed malolactic fermentation. An unusual rosé, Danielle’s Rosé 2011, made from the Portuguese tinta cao grape, was an attractive light salmon color, with stylish strawberry/cherry flavor and is a bit off-dry.

Philip Carter Cabernet Franc 2010 is from the Cleve Plantation vineyard. This ruby-colored wine was redolent with cherry, spice and white pepper backed with gentle oak and crisp acidity. I’m looking forward to sampling the upcoming Meritage 2010 as well as the 2011 Viognier, scheduled to be released soon.

Gala Celebration

In May, Philip Carter Winery plans several gala events to commemorate the 1762 Gold Medal. Ceremonies will begin on May 24 with a private reception in Lancaster County, VA, at Historic Christ Church, also a Carter colonial property which dates to 1735. Today this National Historic Landmark is owned and operated as a museum by the non-profit Foundation for Historic Christ Church, and has been almost completely restored to its 18th century appearance. This very special evening, called “Of Wine & Words…the Carter Wine Legacy,”  will be held on Thursday, May 24, and is by invitation only.

On Friday, May 25, you can spend “A Colonial Evening” at Philip Carter Winery in Hume. This gala dinner featuring authentic colonial dishes will be served by candlelight in the regal Cleve Hall, the winery’s fireplaced, high-ceilinged tasting room. You have to reserve in advance, so be sure to contact the winery to let them know of your interest.

Carter traditionally celebrates American wine on Memorial Day, but this year, on Saturday, May 26, they are pulling out all the stops. Costumed performers will engage in falconry and fencing. Carter’s signature “ Vintage Virginia Tasting” will be on offer, in which significant milestones in Virginia wine are represented by current-day offerings from Carter and other wineries. There will be a reading of the 250th Anniversary proclamation and it is anticipated that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or his wife will be on hand to award a replica of the 1762 medal.

Philip Carter Strother’s commitment to the Virginia wine industry is extraordinary. The winery he has established is sure to communicate heritage and quality for generations to come. The winery is easily accessed by either Rt. 66 or Rt. 211. Couple your visit with a wine country lunch or dinner at the newly renovated Flint Hill Public House on Rt. 522 in Flint Hill. — Mary Ann Dancisin

Philip Carter Winery of Virginia
4366 Stillhouse Road, Huntly, VA 22639
gps: 38.85577967 – 77.99129492

Virginia winery Philip Carter

Philip Carter Winery in Hume, VA, displays eye-catching, colorful art.