Alexandria, VA – Along a quiet stretch of Route 211 in Rappahannock County lies an unassuming gray and white, Cape-like house with a single candle illuminating each second-story window. It’s all very Rockwellian. But the candles are electric and the house is a winery. Quite a wonderful winery at that, especially during the holidays.
Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville is celebrating its 26th anniversary—no faît accompli in 2020. Amissville was named for Joseph Amiss who purchased the existing land grant from Lord Fairfax in 1766. In French, the name roughly means friendly town. Grey Ghost lives up to that sense of welcoming hospitality.
The Kellert family opened Gray Ghost on July 9, 1994, using hand-picked grapes, crafting smaller-batch wines, focusing on unfiltered reds fermented at a lower temperature to enhance fruit-forward characteristics. Their popular Riesling sold out this year before Virginia entered Phase 3, when Gray Ghost’s tasting room and grounds were still open for guests.
Visitors to this winery are always guests, not customers. Harvest Club members and friends are enlisted to help pick grapes, with wine and barbecue as just rewards for a hard day’s work under the late summer Blue Ridge sun.
Tastings are a mere $5 per person, opting among six of the thirteen wines available. Flights are an option, as well as individual pours in actual glasses, not plasticware. (Glass service throughout COVID-19 has been something of a ghost itself.) Bottle sales are to stay or to-go.
Speaking of stemware, over 800 souvenir glasses from wineries and distilleries across the country and around the world are on display. You get the impression that these seasoned winemakers are both extremely knowledgeable about spirits, and well-traveled, and truly enjoy what they are doing.
When you visit, be sure to try the non-vintage Victorian White, a diverting no-oak Chardonnay that has won seven medals. If you don’t like buttery Chard, this is your go-to, along with the 2019 Seyval Blanc, a bright, citrusy white that sparkles with minerality and zing. This vintage won Gold at the 2020 Savor Virginia Magazine Wine Classic.
The 2018 Chardonnay and 2017 Reserve Chardonnay, both aged in French oak, have won 34 medals between them. Don’t pass up a glass of the Gewürtztraminer, a bronze winner at the Finger Lakes International wine competition. It’s Z~Oenology’s Gray Ghost gotta-get glass on a late-autumn afternoon.
But winter is coming and so we turn to robust reds. The award-winning 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2018 Ranger Reserve, and the 2018 Petit Verdot do not disappoint. The lighter, semi-dry Victorian Red with its notes of cherry and cranberry has won 11 medals. It’s perennially popular come the holidays.
The more dedicated adventurer along the wine-road-less-traveled will want to explore the select Cabernet Sauvignon and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons available only by the bottle. With price points from $35-$50 these multi-award-winning vintages are destined to be the holiday show stoppers or for the Captain’s Table.
It’s no surprise that Gray Ghost has been named “Best of the East” by Winery Management Magazine four years in a row.
Named Gray Ghost, and with a red wine labeled Ranger Reserve, you know you are in the south. It’s not just the genuine classic southern hospitality by the Kellert family and staff. UVA-educated lawyer turned Confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby was nicknamed the Gray Ghost for his guerrilla band of sharp-shooting rangers who frequently attacked Union supply lines in Virginia and Maryland.
Homages to the local hero of the Confederacy are understated. History buffs will find relics in the tasting room diverting, but no wine is upstaged by any claim that the south will rise again unless you interpret that to indicate Virginia winemaking, which has asserted authority in the last decade.
The highlight of the holiday season at Gray Ghost is the presentation of the Christmas Cork display in the barrel room. Entering through glass doors, guests are greeted by a floor-to-ceiling holiday tree created entirely of wine and champagne corks, illuminated by twinkling lights, and adorned with all manner of Christmas ornaments.
Storybook Christmas memories abound: a 15-foot nutcracker sentry, a people-sized cork gingerbread man and snowman, giant cork candy canes, a roaring hearth decked with red velvet stockings hung by the cork chimney with care, even a wine barrel made of cork. It’s magical holiday enchantment. And if you’ve had a few glasses, you might even spot a gray ghost of Christmas past.
The Christmas Cork and Cheese Celebration on December 5 and 6, started the holiday season off with a POP! Santa is coming on December 13, when kids will get a gift. Bring your list and be sure to let old Saint Nick know that you promise to be a MerLOT nicer than naughty in the year to come.
This Christmas Eve, be sure you have lots of good Virginia wine on hand and leave a glass out for Mr. Claus. In these terrible pandemic times, people want to believe—in Santa, in ghosts of fond memories past, in the joy found in Christmas present no matter how bleak, and in the promise of hope for a COVID-free Christmas future.