Alexandria, VA – Craig and Kathy Stuart met in the usual way (a friend introduced them), but their first date at Chrysalis Vineyards came with a chaperone (a male friend Kathy asked along “in case things weren’t going well”). As did their second. And third.
With a dry sense of humor, Craig took this in stride, thinking it meant he had a chance and persevering through chaperoned date after date, touring Northern Virginia’s finest wineries—The Barns at Hamilton, Breaux, Doukenie, Gadino, Gray Ghost, Linden, Northgate (now Walsh Family Vineyards,) Paradise Springs, Rappahannock Cellars, Sunset Hills, Swedenburg (now Greenhill), Veritas, Zephaniah—I could go on all day.
They have now been married for over ten years. For Craig’s big 5-0 birthday in February, they visited their 200th Virginia winery, the micro-boutique/farm winery Ankida Ridge atop the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains (1,800-foot elevation), which grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes exclusively.
The Stuarts plan to make their 201st stop The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm on Lake Manassas in Gainesville, with water views from every room. This brand new venture opened in March.
Craig and Kathy live in Loudoun County, with a vacation home in Wintergreen. Both home bases are ideally sited for touring the best wine regions Virginia has to offer. Some favorite wineries in the Wintergreen area (and among all Virginia wineries) are Pollak Vineyards, King Family Vineyards, and Veritas Vineyard and Winery.
They enjoy frequent forays to nearby 50 West Vineyards in Middleburg, directly across Mosby Highway (Route 50) from what Craig affectionately calls “the scene of the crime,” Chrysalis. Mountainside sunset views complemented by 50 West’s hospitable winery staff and gracious owners Diane and Mike Canney make the Stuarts feel at home.
There are few constants in life except for wine, which has been traced back a millennium or three. The Stuarts’ passion for wine is unusual only in its dedication to Virginia winemaking. Kathy and Craig wax nostalgic about the time they attended a wine-pairing dinner event at Veritas with Steven Spurrier, who passed away recently at 79.
Spurrier was famous for organizing the 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition that pitted the finest French Burgundy and Bordeaux wines against the best California had to offer. Shockingly, the winners of this blind tasting we all Californian: a 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and a 1973 Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon.
One French judge upon tasting a California Chardonnay declared….“Ahhhh back to France!” Another sniffing a pricey Bâtard-Montrachet announced authoritatively, “This is definitely California. It has no nose!” Spurrier reprised the competition for the 30th anniversary of the event, with California wine prevailing over French encore une fois!
These days, the Stuarts have almost a dozen winery memberships, but the first was Gadino Cellars in Washington, Virginia. Designated the “Italian Winery” along the Blue Ridge Whiskey and Wine Loop, owners Bill and Aleta Gadino pull out all the stops to make Italian hospitality an art form.
Kathy favors white and sparkling wines so she prefers the Pinot Grigio while Craig goes for robust reds such as the Nebbiolo. Gadino also offers award-winning Virginia winemaking classics such as Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Traminette, Cabernet Franc, Cab Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.
Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville is also high on their list. Kathy praises their (routinely sold-out) Gewurtztraminer, happily settling in the garden with a bottle of the diverting Riesling. Craig has his current choice of reds in one hand with their three Pomeranian winery-loving pooches leashed in the other, unless Kathy has already taken them for a vineyard stroll, glass in hand naturally!
The Stuarts are big fans of Alexandria and Loudoun’s perennial favorite singer/songwriter Jason Masi. The first time they heard Jason perform at Sunset Hills Vineyards in Purcellville, Kathy was quickly dubbed an official Jasonette by winery owner Mike Canney. Jason Masi performs weekends at many Loudoun wineries, including 50 West, The Barns at Hamilton, Breaux, Doukenie, Stone Tower, and Sunset Hills. Jason also regularly performs at WineStyles, a curated wine and craft beer shop in Chantilly.
But Craig and Kathy are no elitist wine snobs. They know what they like and enjoy the adventure of a new winery discovery, the exceptional hospitality of Virginia winemakers, the friendships forged along the Virginia wine trails, and the most magnificent winemaking landscapes in the United States. Venture into wine country on a beautiful weekend one day soon and perhaps you’ll encounter the Stuarts toasting springtime with their beloved trio of Pomeranian pups, Rigsby, Riley, and Remy. Make their acquaintance. You’ll thank me later!