Excellence in Organic Wine in Virginia | NEWS FROM MOTHER EARTH
Few wine lovers are familiar with the vibrant wine culture of Loudoun County, Virginia, or have heard of Sunset Hills Vineyard. Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America, envisioned a day when quality grapes and great wine would be produced from his home state of Virginia.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we find Jefferson’s dream has come true. Sunset Hills would please our third president for its quality wines, eco-friendly practices and philanthropy. In 2006, owners Mike and Diane Canney purchased an old run-down farm next to their vineyards in Loudoun County, Va., To expand the acreage and add both a winemaking facility and a tasting room.
The farm was built in 1870 and had known several owners. By the time the Canneys bought the farm, it had a large crumbling barn, overworked soil, and was generally in disarray. With a vision for a world-class winery, restoration work on the farm began in earnest.
Sunset Hills hired Amish artisans to restore the barn to better condition than the original. Not only was the barn stripped down to the posts and beams as part of the rehabilitation project, but once the restoration work was completed, they added a solar panel that produces 80,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
A solar-powered cellar
On their website, they declare: Turning the sun into wine is something we’ve been doing since 2010. While solar power is increasingly used in the United States, it’s not common to see a winery on the east coast using the sun’s energy to make wine.
Solar energy geeks will love the Sunset Hills webpage where annual electricity production, as well as daily (real-time) energy statistics, can be viewed. The web page also includes positioning data, installation notes, and system performance information.
While solar power was a great start to having an eco-friendly vineyard, the Canneys were just getting started. To clean the floor, they pledged to phase out pesticides on a large scale, choosing to let beneficial insects do the work instead of chemicals. Sunset Hills has installed Bluebird Houses with guidance from the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy which has attracted many bluebirds and swallows which help with insect control.
Support monarchs, fight the waste stream, and more
Pollinator gardens and monarch crossing stations add to the holistic approach to farming techniques. Visitors to Sunset Hills are invited to walk the Bluebird Trails and admire the Pollinator Gardens with a glass of wine in hand.
Other environmentally friendly practices include recycling all cardboard and glass while continually looking for ways to âreduce and reuseâ. The winery has an artesian pond fed by a spring that provides water to humans and fish. Tesla charging stations, also powered by the sun, offer four parking / charging spots for electric cars, both Telsa and others.
All of the wines from Sunset Hills, and their other 50 West vineyard, use grapes grown on the estate. In 2012, three additional farms were purchased to supply the two wineries with enough grapes to produce 100% Virginia wines. With five vineyards, the Canneys can experiment with better ways to control insects in an eco-friendly way.
Award-winning Virginia wine
All of the above attributes wouldn’t mean much if the wine wasn’t of high quality. In the tasting room, I noticed over twenty bottles of wine with award medals adorning them. I tasted several of the wines on offer that day and found them to be very good. I attended cooking school in Sonoma County, Calif. In 1975, and for decades I thought the only acceptable wine made in the United States was from California or Oregon.
Wineries like Sunset Hills have changed my mind about the ability of other states to produce wines that appeal to a broad group of consumers. Cabernet Franc, Sunset Red, Petite Verdot, and Sunset White all impressed me enough to buy several bottles to enjoy at home.
When spring arrives, I can’t wait to hike the blue bird trails to see insect control up close. I am also interested in seeing their monarch butterfly crossing stations in operation. Chances are I’m not the only one visiting Sunset Hills for a dose of nature.
Bringing together an excellent range of wines, a gorgeous winery just an hour from DC, generous philanthropy, and eco-friendly above-the-bar practices make Sunset Hills a winery to visit.
Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening and almost everything related to his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska magazine, Alaska fish magazine, Japan metropolis magazine, Edible delmarva magazine, Northwest Travel and Life review, and NEWS FROM MOTHER EARTH. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, Maryland area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several sites like: GoNomad.com, Trip101.com, MotherEarthNews.com, Adventurestraveler.com, and many others. Kurt regularly contributes to GoNomad.com written on Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan and the mid-Atlantic regions. Read all his NEWS FROM MOTHER EARTH posts here.
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Originally published: 01/25/2021 10:01:00