Alexandria, VA – Wineries in Virginia come and go. It’s the nature of the wine business. Hard work. Long days. The wrong weather. Rise and shine like any other farmer. It’s more draining to a bank account than owning a boat. Sunset Hills Vineyards and 50 West Vineyards co-owner Mike Canney likes to say that “if you want to make a small fortune in wine, start with a large fortune.” So why do it?
If you have to ask, you have never spent a day or a weekend exploring the verdant, parabolic slopes along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, a tableau painted with undulating hillsides carpeted in lush vines weighted heavily by ripening fruit the color of green sea glass and plums. Virginia is steeped in over 400 years of winemaking history. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is the cradle of the American wine industry. Virginia vineyards expand, changing hands, and announce grand openings every month, even throughout the past 17 months of COVID challenges.
Matthew Fitzsimmons, wine columnist for the Old Town Crier and writer of the Wine Trails and Wanderlust blog, says that as of June 2021, there were 255 wineries, 29 cideries, 11 meaderies, and 18 wineries without actual tasting rooms. And, as Matthew points out, some wineries in Virginia don’t use Virginia fruit.
One of the newest wineries to open, taking over and reinventing what was formerly Hunter’s Run, is Firefly Cellars in Hamilton. Situated on Route 9, a short mile off Route 7, it’s an easy under-one-hour drive from Alexandria. The winery officially opened Memorial Day weekend sporting red, white, and blue patriotic fanfare, a packed parking lot with nary an empty table or picnic square to spare, and countless happy faces.
Saturday, Day 2 of the grand opening hoopla, this marvelous new winery offered guests an exceptional welcome gift of Washington Football Team players doing complimentary signings. Doug Williams, 1988 Super Bowl MVP quarterback and now senior advisor to the team president, signed and posed for pics to the delight of gridiron fans of all ages.
On Monday, Day 3 of the holiday soirée, some veterans were treated to gifts of Washington sports clubs memorabilia, including a Stanley Cup souvenir commemorative plaque signed by Capitals hockey superstar Tom Wilson.
Z~oenophiles, winery daytrippers (some with children, some with dogs, and some with several of each), and even the neighborhood horses exalted in the picture-postcard perfect/made-to-order Americana blue sky and sunshiny day at the gateway to the western Loudoun Wine Trail.
Taking a well-earned break, Jim and Lori Corcoran, owners of Corcoran Vineyards and Brewery, enjoyed flights of Firefly’s selections of whites and reds. The Memorial Day sampling of the signature holiday red, blanc, and blue mocktail, sampled in the shade of the expansive outdoor seating area beyond the deck where wine trail favorites Joey and the Waitress Band jammed, made for a memorable kickoff to summer pastimes.
The 7 Moltin Mexicano food truck was parked all weekend, serving up the best seven enchilada sauces (moltin) north of El Paso. Several highly coveted, rustic swinging love seats dot the fenced picnic table area. A designated play area for families and dogs to exercise without the worry of being in any way an annoyance to nearby imbibers made every guest feel most welcome.
But, you are asking, what about the wine? Patti Pierleonardi and Andrea Zaidi, the owners/managers-mother/daughter team, husband Pete Pierleonardi, and son Zach Pierleonardi have brought the prowess of owner/winemaker Randy Phillips of Cave Ridge Vineyards in Mount Jackson to the new Firefly label. Cave Ridge is among the very best wineries on the Shenandoah Wine Trail.
The dessert wine Sweet Traminette proved to be the “best-cellar” over the holiday weekend. Tasting is a reverie of springtime scents and floral notes with a lemony citrus zest. The sweet wine pairs well with strawberries and soft, ripened cheeses garnished with honey, dates, dried apricots, and fig jam. Illumination, Firefly’s more unique white blend of Riesling, Traminette, and white Cabernet Franc grape, makes for a versatile choice, complementing the sumptuous charcuterie board as well as 7 Moltin’s savory-to-fiery fare.
Whites offered in addition to the Illumination are the ubiquitous Chardonnay and classic Virginia standard Viognier, both perfectly chilled (no easy feat on a slammed holiday opening 90-degree third day) and exceptionally quaffable. Reds include Twilight, the red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot comprising a tempting full-bodied Bordeaux blend along with Chambourcin, as well as Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the unofficial Virginia state red varietal Cabernet Franc, aged for 14 months in both Hungarian and French Oak. The Firefly 2021 Cabernet Franc was a Governor’s Cup winner this year.
An enchanting couples getaway cottage is open to guests that rents for $270 a night via Airbnb. The private one bedroom/one bath unit comes with access to an inviting swimming pool and only a few friendly horses for neighbors.
The chandeliered wine cellar is now complete and will open this month for events and larger group tasting reservations. Toasting with the Firefly Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine completes those most special occasions. Given that there’s an idyllic wedding-night hideaway a stone’s throw away, you can’t go wrong planning a wedding at Firefly Cellars.
In the short time since their grand opening at the end of May, Firefly Cellars feted teachers with a Celebrate Teachers appreciation week June 17-18, hosted a Sip and Paint experience June 18, and an encore Red, Blanc, and Blue July 4th blast. Firefly can look forward to a bright future as a newcomer to the Virginia wine scene. Z~Oenology anticipates many more illuminating days of wine and perhaps even a rosé to come!