This weekend’s birding/winery adventure brings us to Shenandoah University’s River Campus and Casanel Vineyards. These two venues are about an hour away, going to the end of the Dulles Toll Road and venturing further down route 7. You drive through small Virginia towns and beautiful hillsides. It’s a hike to drive all the way over there, but when you do, you are rewarded with beautiful views, quiet surroundings, and delicious wine. This day-venture may have been the most peaceful one that we have ever had!
We started the morning at the Shenandoah University’s River Campus. The campus is a park that used to be a golf course, which was very apparent based on the paved trails and how well everything was kept. Birds are singing and the river is flowing. I can’t remember the last time I felt this calm. The grounds were beautiful, and after walking up some pretty steep hills, you were rewarded with breathtaking views.
After a steep climb
Now we climb back down
Dr. Grape Pairings (aka Dr. GP) wanted to go to this campus because he heard about their excellent variety of birds, and boy were there ever! We walked about 3 miles that day, up hills and down, and saw quite the array of birds. Most notably, we saw the Yellow Billed Cuckoo, a bird that was new for Dr. GP in Virginia. Other varieties that he saw were Purple Martins, Baltimore Oriole, Grey Crested Fly Catcher, and a rookery of Herons. I don’t have the slightest idea if these birds are rare or not, nor do I know what most of these birds look like. I maybe know a handful of birds just through what I have learned from Dr. GP, but he seemed pretty excited!
After a few hours of birding, we headed to Casanel Vineyards in Leesburg. Casanel is named after the couple that own the vineyard; Casey and Nelson. It is a small property with beautiful views of their vineyards, pond, and gazebo. Casanel is a smaller winery, which is exactly what Dr. GP and I wanted to visit. Both of us can’t stand crowds, and enjoy being able to enjoy a glass of wine at a winery without feeling claustrophobic or feeling like we have to yell to hear one another.
The tasting room is quite modern, and I believe that it was recently renovated. They have indoor seating, a small wine store, and the tasting bar. Smiles were on all of the staff members’ faces, and we immediately felt welcomed. Cherri was our taster today, and never once left our side. She not only told us about each wine, but engaged in conversation about us, herself, the winery, etc… It was just like we were three friends, enjoying some wine together!
Cherri proceeded to tell us that all of the grapes are grown either on the property, or in Middleburg (not far away). Some Virginia wineries will buy grapes for one or two of their wines from other states/countries such as California, France, or Italy. Not Casanel. Casanel is dedicated to showcasing the terroir of Virginia, and not a hodge-podge of other areas. They do an exceptional job featuring the terroir (land, climate, region) in their wine, and in fact, many others think so, too. Robert Parker (a major wine guru; has his own wine scoring system) gives high ratings to many of Casanel’s wines. They have won awards all over the country for their quality wines, and it shows when you have your first sip.
The summer tasting that Dr. GP and I enjoyed featured seven wines for $8. The most amazing animal-cracker type crackers are provided to cleanse your palate. I have no idea if they actually cleanse your palate, but to me, they are a delicious snack that taste like animal crackers. I must have eaten an entire bowl! The wines we tasted were as follows:
- 2016 Ellianna: Pinot Gris. This wine was made entirely in stainless steel with no oak. This produced a very crisp, clean body with flavors of pear, melon and lemon. This would go wonderfully with a Waldorf salad or Strawberry Chicken salad. Lighter flavors are best.
- 2015 Patricia Marie: Pinot Gris. As opposed to the Ellianna, this Pinot Gris spent some time in an oak barrel, giving some of those pear, melon, and lemon notes we had from the previous wine, but a much fuller body of toasted coconut and vanilla. This would go well with many Asian dishes, such as curry, stir-fry, or Phö.
- 2015 Reserve Chardonnay: Lightly oaked, this Chardonnay had really nice lemon custard and pineapple notes to it. There was just enough oak flavors to be noticed, but having also spent time in a stainless steel barrell, it was still clean and light. A shrimp salad or lobster roll (hot or cold) would be a fantastic summer pairing.
- 2016 José Rosé: Named after the Vintner Manager, this Rosé is made of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sav, and Carménère. The color on this wine reminds me of a“Tickle Me Pink” crayon. It was a gorgeous, light pink. To get this color, these red grapes spend time on their skins for about 24 hours before taking them out. I got a lot of strawberry and grapefruit flavors, with some kind of herbaceous note at the end. Rosé can go with almost anything, in my opinion, so pair away!
- 2014 Petit Verdot: You know that feeling that you have when you wash your hair and you can’t stop running your fingers though it because it’s so wonderfully silky soft? That’s how this wine feels going down your throat; like liquid velvet. There are oodles of blackberry, cassis, and anise notes, with a hint of cocoa as it goes down. The food pairings are endless. It could pair with something acidic, like tomato sauces, as well as something light, like a ginger glazed salmon.
- 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon: This was not on the tasting menu, but Cherri was kind enough to give us a sample of this beauty. Red cherry, licorice, and violet were very apparent in the taste, and ended with a peppery finish. While peppery, it was still quite smooth. I could see a Beef Short Rib or Veal chops would bring out the cherry flavors.
- 2013 Dulce: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, 6% Residual Sugar. On the nose, this semi-sweet wine had lots of honey and apple. With cream on the taste, it was like drinking an apple cobbler. This wine is perfect for spicy dishes, like Lamb Vindaloo or dishes with Thai chili peppers.
- The Full Nelson Port (4% Residual Sugar): Made with the Nelson grape (a grape not found in many places but flourishes in Virginia), this Port style wine spends time in cognac barrels. The ruby red color is gorgeous, but I sadly drank it too fast to take a picture of it. There are many raspberry and candied ginger flavors, with a bit of pumpkin spice. The body is again like liquid velvet. This is a wonderful after dinner drink, and would even do well with some vanilla ice cream or caramel.
After our tasting, Dr. GP and I enjoyed a glass outside on the back patio that overlooks the grounds. There is a beautiful pond, a gazebo, and vineyards on the hillside. We were there rather early on a Sunday, and not many people were there, so we were able to enjoy the moment in peace. Food is available to purchase on site, such as meats and cheeses. You can bring your own coolers, so long as you enjoy them outside in designated areas. Dogs are allowed on the grounds, but not in the tasting room. If you are looking for a calm, quiet, serene vineyard to visit that produces exceptional wines, I would highly suggest Casanel Vineyards! For more information, visit their website, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Let me know if you go and what you thought!