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Glen Manor Vineyards: Family Farm Finds Its True Calling

Virginia winery Glen Manor

Glen Manor Vineyards is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains just south of Front Royal. Skyline Drive can be seen in the distance. Photo by MA Dancisin

After the turn into Glen Manor Vineyards’s entrance, seconds before reaching the winery’s parking lot, a black and white sign greets its visitors: “No buses. No limos. No groups larger than six”. Thankfully, the image of large droves of people is immediately eclipsed by a more sensible and serious picture.

Virginia winery Glen Manor Vineyards

The earth-baked clay and tuscan gold colors of Glen Manor’s tasting room compliment the cool greens and blues found outdoors. Photo by MA Dancisin.

Entry into the winery’s tasting room, a comfortable décor, with works of local artists hung on walls, confirms this and offers its visitors immediate and warm hospitality.

Yet, the experience for the true oenophile only gets better: a $7.00 tasting fee guarantees a full-throttle gustation experience certain to impress even the most stalwart “Old World” aficionado.

HISTORY SYNOPSIS

Steeped in history, Glen Manor Vineyards’s first incarnation was as a 212-acre subsistence, or family, farm, the Old Woodward Place (established by the Lawson family in 1901; apple and peach orchards, cattle, dairy, poultry, corn, and wheat production supported the family with any excess sold to market.)

Virginia winery Glen Manor Vineyards

Construction as you approach gives way to verdant gardens on the far side of the tasting room. Photo by MA Dancisin.

The farm then became known as Glenway Farm, and its farming activities continued in a “past is prologue” fashion by subsequent Lawson generations.

A paradigm shift in the farm’s direction occurred with the Alpheus and Anna White (nee’ Rudacille) generation, parents to Jeff White and his brothers, who were living, schooling, and working in Fairfax.

The subsistence farming model was no longer necessary or practical.In 1979, Alpheus made a decision, and Christmas trees were planted on the farm.

CAREER AND AGRICULTURAL SHIFTS

Virginia winery Glen Manor

Winemaker Jeff White is proud of the family heritage here, which dates to the turn of the 20th century. Photo by Sandra Brannock.

In 1991, Jeff White lost interest in his proverbial “after college” corporate career in the DC area. From birth and adolescence, his spare time, along with his two brothers’, had been spent at the farm exploring its landscape and activities under the watchful eyes of his father and his maternal grandfather, Raymond Hodder Rudacille.

Now, ’91, as his first step toward an agricultural career, White took up permanent residence on the farm to assist his father and grandfather with the Christmas trees and other farm tasks.

Coincidentally, White had been working at Linden Vineyards with Jim Law prior to (and then during) his residence at the family farm.  Alpheus had an idea: could grape cultivation be the next agricultural venture for Glenway?  White agreed—and began formal research in order to make his father’s idea a reality for the farm.

EARLY INFLUENCES

White commenced his research by working for Virginia Tech’s Professor of Viticulture, Dr. Tony Wolf, and obtaining technical guidance from Linden Vineyards’ Jim Law during his 1993 through 2005 tenure there.

Both experiences afforded White necessary and healthy doses of viticultural education, practice, and professional mystery wines in a bag tasting experiences. Overall, in his own words, he “enjoyed the work”, thus confirming for him that this new vineyard direction was correct and made sense.

Born was the mission statement which initially took form as a tenet etched into White’s mind:  grapes grown in the vineyard should be of the finest quality possible in order to produce wine of identical caliber.  Glenway Farm’s new agricultural business began and its name was Glen Manor Vineyards.

W.H.I.P. AND “HODDER HILL” VINEYARDS

Virginia winery Glen Manor

Steeply sloped, Glen Manor’s Hodder Hill vineyards can be viewed from the inviting adirondack chairs to the right of the tasting room. Photo by MA Dancisin.

The grassy area behind the winery’s tasting room is artfully arranged with hunter green Adirondack chairs and small tables for casual relaxation.  Here guests can take in GMV’s serene and splendid vista—referred to by White as “part of the glen”— surrounding the farm.   Immediately catching one’s eye, on a lower plateau, tall eight-foot tufts of grasses span a large, flat, 15 acre parcel dedicated to the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (W.H.I.P.).

This federal program provides cost sharing funds for farmers who develop habitat for natural wildlife such as Virginia’s native Bobwhite quail.  Here White planted native warm season grasses, Indian Switch and Blue Stem, which flourish easily and  provide egress and shelter, via alleyways and paths, for local wildlife—quail, bear, deer, turkey, rabbits, and fox.

Virginia winery Glen Manor

Glen Manor’s steep slopes are reminiscent of some Italian or German vineyards. Photo by MA Dancisin.

Beyond and above the W.H.I.P. habitat, a total of 14.5 vineyard acres, planted by White from 1995 through 2009, take their form on the upper slopes of the mountain. Respectfully named after White’s maternal grandfather’s middle name, Hodder, to honor him, their first planting was a six acre plot dedicated mostly to red Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.

Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc vines also took up residence at that time, with the popular Chardonnay varietal harvested and sold to Linden Vineyards, as Glen Manor Vineyards had no winery to call its own at the time.

Where is GMV’s Chardonnay today? Unfortunately, all the Chardonnay vines succumbed, in fits and starts, to grapevine yellows, a vine disease not uncommon in Virginia. Beginning in 2001, and finally, in 2003, White, reluctant to fight the uphill battle against this disease, uprooted all his Chardonnay, and then replanted in its place Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.

In 2006 through 2009, forests were cleared on the upper slope for additional Bordeaux varietals, and the lower plateau acreage filled up with Petit Manseng and Merlot.   Additional plots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were also added on a lower south facing slope.

VITICULTURE

Virginia winery Glen Manor

Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Glen Manor’s Hodder Hill Vineyard receive exacting attention throughout the growing season. Photo by MA Dancisin.

White‘s demeanor is attractively understated and quiet. When he begins to talk about Hodder Hill, his expression shifts slightly,  and it is abundantly clear that he is a true terroirist in substance and form. His passion lies in growing the best grapes possible.

In minute and practical detail, he references the vineyards’ slopes’ steepness, well-draining soils, and specific viticultural methods supporting GMV’s mission.

Such specifics about vineyards include western and south-western facing steep slopes ranging from 1000 to 1300 feet in elevation; their proximity welcomes mountain breezes.

The vines’ root systems strive to find their home in soils comprised of green schists, granodiorite, and greenstone making drainage optimal for the vines.

Deliberate thinning and cluster reduction occurs during the latter part of July, just before veraison (the onset of the grapes’ ripening), and approximately 50% of the fruit is dropped from the vines.

Overall yields per acre for the red Bordeaux varieties are at 1.5 to 2.5 tons, and for the Sauvignon Blanc, approximately 4 tons.

Among and underneath the vines, White has also planted three low maintenance fescues, Creeping Red, Sheep, and Bent grass, which serve to control or eliminate weed growth, diversify the insect population, and stress the vines’ root systems further.

The vines are caned and pruned, and trellised or trained via Open Lyre or Double Guyot systems.  White gives generous credit for the vineyards’ management to his reliable and treasured staff, most who have been in GMV’s employ for many years.

GRAPEGROWING CHALLENGES AND HANGTIME

Virginia winery Glen Manor

White runs the numbers on the grapes’ sugar levels prior to harvest, but he tastes the grapes himself to make the final determination. Photo by MA Dancisin.

While driving down one of the vineyard’s steep upper slopes, White mentions, with some emphasis, that unlike other grape-growing regions, Virginia’s viticultural playing field challenges its vintners with a tough winter climate, humid summers, and a plethora of vine diseases.

This leads naturally to discussion about his harvest approach. White smiles and says simply, ”It requires having the nerve to wait.”  As a risk-reward relationship similar to that of the investment market, and no less harrowing, the gamble lies in waiting to pick the grapes at the last possible moment to achieve optimal ripeness.

For his own edification, White does run the numbers on the grapes’ sugar levels prior to harvest, but his primary method, to use an old phrase, is “ripeness is in the eye of beholder”:  he tastes the grapes himself to make the final determination.

WINEMAKING, WINES, AND THE FUTURE

Virginia winery Glen Manor wins Governor's Cup

Glen Manor Vineyards 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage was awarded the 2012 Governor’s Cup. Courtesy photo.

White is the winemaker for all Glen Manor Vineyards’s wines. For the red Bordeaux blends, before bottling, he makes several, then offers them to a small, reliable and experienced tasting panel, one of whom is a chef by trade, his pretty and effervescent wife Kelly to confirm his selection. (Jeff says he doesn’t  need  to make a “sparkler” because his wife is his “sparkler!”)

As everyone following Virginia wine news knows, Glen Manor Vineyards’s 2009 Hodder Hill meritage blend won the Governor’s Cup this year.  It is sold out, but GMV’s present tasting line up is superb and extremely well-balanced —and each in its own category would muscle up well against any world class wine.

Although White, with his understated demeanor, never mentions the possibility of world class recognition, it is obvious that as time marches on and the news spreads as it has in the press, that this hundred year old Century Farm is still creating important history in its newer form as vineyards and winery.

This spectacular view of the “glen” from which Glen Manor takes its name was shot by winemaker Jeff White using a telephoto from a neighboring property.

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