California may have its Napa Valley, but Virginia boasts its own scenic wine producing area in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A continuation of the vision of founding father Thomas Jefferson, the Monticello American Viticultural Area is now the 5th largest wine producer in the United States, with more than 25 boutique wineries surrounding Charlottesville.
A mild December Saturday provided a perfect opportunity to visit one particular winery nestled in a picturesque valley in the Afton Mountain area. Grown from retired Army Gen. Paul Gorman and wife Ruth’s passion for German wines, Cardinal Point Winery has become a labor of love for the whole family.
As daughter and business manager Sarah Gorman explained on our visit, her parents fell in love with Riesling wines when stationed at Bad Kreuznach, Germany. That was the seed of their dream to add a vineyard to their retirement plans.
While living in Northern Virginia and with three children attending college in the state, the vision of a vineyard began to take shape. The Gorman’s search for property took them to the Charlottesville area and they purchased the old orchard and sheep farm that has become Cardinal Point. The name derives from a military exercise Gen. Gorman developed while commanding the 8th Infantry Division.
Sarah told us that her parents moved to the farm when Gen. Gorman retired from the Army in 1985. The vineyard dream was becoming a reality as the family planted two acres each of Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes with plans for bottling the German style wines they loved. Oldest son John is an architect and he took on the task of renovating the original farm house for the family. Youngest son Tim and Sarah worked in the vineyards while home from school in the summers. In 1989 Tim became the vineyard manager for his father. The winery dream was growing roots.
As the vines first established and the vineyards spread on the farm, the family sold their grapes to the Virginia Wine Cooperative for bottling, but they couldn’t get the German tasting vintage they had hoped for, Sarah shared. With an eye towards creating a Virginia Riesling for his parents, Tim went back to school in 1991, earned a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech, and quickly put his new skills to work. He developed unique trellising systems and planted more grape varieties, and his reputation among fellow Virginia wine growers grew. Tim also began making his own wine with the Cardinal Point grapes.
With Tim as winemaker, the Gorman family opened their winery at Cardinal Point in 2002. Tim has created the German-style wine his parents longed for, along with seven other delicious reds and whites. Sarah manages the business end of the bottle, John designed the winery buildings and Tim’s wife Susan runs the tasting room to round out this true family-run operation.
The Gorman family warmly welcomes fellow military to their winery. Enjoy sampling their award-winning wines in the tasting room, then step over to the winery to see where all the magic happens. You might even catch Tim at work and he’ll be happy to answer your wine-making questions. Military members also enjoy a discount on any purchases. A special time to visit is in November for Cardinal Point’s annual Oyster Roast with live music and lots of great wine.
It was clear from Sarah that operating a vineyard and winery is not easy. She explained how fragile the grapes are and how harvests are at risk from the vagaries of Blue Ridge weather. But having handled the challenges of military life, the Gorman family seems more than up to the task of creating great wines, and a successful winery.
Cardinal Point is located at 9423 Batesville Road, Afton, VA. You can learn more about the winery at www.cardinalpointwinery.com and place orders for your favorite vintage. They ship to Virginia, Florida, DC, North Carolina and soon, Maryland. You can also find their wines in the Northern Virginia area at Whole Foods, Planet Wines in Alexandria and Cleveland Park Liquors in DC.
It is easy to plan your own Empty Nest adventure to this lovely wine region, with the help of www.monticellowinetrail.com. The website features all the wineries in the Charlottesville area, along with trail suggestions and driving directions. There are links for upcoming events, dining suggestions and lodging.
Thomas Jefferson’s friend Ben Franklin may have said, "…wine (is) a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy,” but Plato smartly noted that, “He is a wise man who invented beer.” So here’s a dining suggestion for your visit.
Empty Nest adventures are all about spontaneity, and so an unplanned left turn on the way to Cardinal Point took us to Blue Mountain Brewery, an unexpected home of suds in this land of grapes. Located near Afton Mountain, the brewery offers tastings and a full restaurant. For a true appreciation of their brews, try the sampler (shown here) featuring small glasses of all of the Blue Mountain ales. The menu items are creative and delicious, pairing perfectly with the beer. Though too chilly a day to enjoy on our visit, the outdoor patios would be a great place to spend a warm spring, summer or fall day. For more information on Blue Mountain, go to www.bluemountainbrewery.com. It is located at 9519 Critzers Shop Road in Afton.
Hope you enjoy your own Empty Nest Adventure to Cardinal Point and the Monticello Wine Trail. Next adventure for these empty nesters: ‘Getting Away Like A Commander In Chief.’