Who needs Charlottesville? New Kent’s got some good booze for you – and it’s just 20 minutes away.
My wine-loving mother-in-law came to visit me over her birthday and I wanted create a special celebration for her. I planned what I thought would be the perfect afternoon of winery-hopping in Charlottesville. But then reality hit as we slept in, did some gardening, ate lunch, and weren’t ready to leave till almost 2 in the afternoon – which, if you didn’t know, is way too late to leave Richmond and get to Charlottesville in time to drink too much wine. So, we moved on to plan B.
While planning the birthday wine-tour, I had seen an ad for New Kent Winery – a brand spanking new winery in, you guessed it, New Kent. So, we piled in the car and headed out 64 East for the 20 minutes or so it takes to get to New Kent, all the way imagining what special events they might have at their Grand Opening – I was really hoping for bluegrass music and some yummy food along with the wine.
We arrived to discover a lone standing building surrounded by acres of grapevines and dirt (no bluegrass nor food in sight). Later I found out that the New Kent Winery is part of a huge development going on in New Kent County, which will some day include a fancy resort, golf course, active adult community, and more. But, for now there’s not much but the winery, grapevines, dirt and construction equipment to be seen.
Soon after arriving we were on a tour of the building, being led by a friendly guide who was very upfront about the fact that she did not have her script memorized. Off we went as she stumbled over incredible facts about the 12,000+ square foot building built mostly from reclaimed materials from other century-old buildings. Rich Heart Pine structural timbers and planks from a warehouse constructed in 1852 in Connecticut are used in combination with Cypress wood that had been submerged in North Florida rivers for over 150 years. To add a little flavor from Richmond, bricks from old tobacco warehouses are used on the exterior, solid Cypress doors reclaimed from the Jefferson Hotel hang in every interior doorway, and railroad trusses from a 1901 Southern Railroad Depot once located in the Shockoe Bottom are the central and most memorable aspect of the interior. The details of how the materials used in this building magically came together from all over the southeast, and from various time periods left the tour group in awe and amazement long before we had our first sip of wine.
Oh yeah, the wine. Our tasting started with the white wines…
First, a 2005 Chardonnay described as “balanced, lively, and expressive”. I was impressed with my first sip of New Kent wines, and this wine turned out to be the favorite of my in-laws who have had years of wine-tasting experience.
We moved on to the 2004 Chardonnay Reserve, my favorite wine of the day. I’m typically a fan of red wines over white; however, this complex white was a bit more dry than the ’05 Chardonnay and had a great oak taste to it – but was still refreshing.
Our third wine in the tasting was the 2007 Vidal Blanc, which ended up being the bottle of wine in my hand at the check-out counter. Although I liked the Chardonnay Reserve better, this cool, crisp wine is perfect for sipping in the backyard on a warm day.
Our last wine before heading on to the reds was the White Norton, made from the Norton grape that was first cultivated here in RVA and quickly made Virginia wine internationally famous in the second half of the 19th century. These days at New Kent Winery they take the red Norton grape and process it like they would a white grape. I wish I could tell you more about this interesting wine that the tasting guide called a “girly wine” and is his wife’s favorite, but all I remember is that it tasted slightly like fruity bubble gum.
No time to waste, on to the reds…
A 2005 Merlot was the first of two reds being tasted. I was excited about the Merlot and overlooked the fact that we were moving through the wines so fast that I was barely able to finish one glass before the guide was trying to pour the next one. However, my excitement was quickly dampened as I wished they had some how captured the maturity of the reclaimed century-old materials comprising the building into their mediocre ’05 Merlot.
The last wine of the tasting was a blended red wine named Meritage. Others in my group commented on the unusual taste, and the guide mentioned its complexity and uniqueness. However, my taste buds were very confused because of the rapid pace we had as we charged through the wines so that the next tour group could have their turn.
Wrap it up…
Even though the red wines were not what I had hoped for, the white wines turned out to be some of the best Virginia white wines I’ve had – especially the Chardonnay, which beat out a Williamsburg Winery’s Chardonnay in a taste test at my dining room table. I will be going back to New Kent Winery to see the development in the area, but also the development of their wines that will only get better with time.
$7 for the tour & tastings
Wines range from $16-23 per bottle
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm