Afton Mountin Vineyards
Owners: Elizabeth and Tony Smith
Winemaker: Damien Blanchon
Year Established: 1990
By: Matt Brown
If their slogan “grapes don’t grow in ugly places” is true, they have nothing to worry about: their vineyard is surrounded by beautiful vistas. Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the stunningly beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards grows not only chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, but also varietals not frequently seen in the Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area): gewurztraminer, pinot noir, sangiovese and albariño. Some of the vines at Afton Mountain date back to the 1970s: in an emerging wine region, it is rare to find vineyards of this age, and the fruit of these mature plantings adds to the character of the wine. These older vines have deeper, hardier roots and, even at nearly 40 years old, they are still in the prime of their lives.
Tony and Elizabeth Smith purchased the vineyard in 2009 to live out their dream of growing grapes and making wine. The transition from office work to fieldwork has been an adventure for the Smiths, and with the help of their skilled winemaker Damien Blanchon and viticulturist Brandon Bangley they have achieved local and national recognition for the fruits (and wines) of their labors.
Tony, who is in commercial real estate and teaches at U.Va’s Darden School of Business, and Elizabeth, who manages their personal real estate investments, have both put their years of experience to good use reinvigorating the vineyard and winery. Their son Hunter, who has his own entrepreneurial venture in the heart of Charlottesville called Champion Brewery, also serves as the marketing manager for Afton, making the vineyard a true family business. Even Brandon’s dog Brussel Sprout does his part by keeping a watchful eye on the vines.
As in many family owned and operated vineyards in Virginia, every member of the Afton Mountain team from the Smiths to the tasting room staff takes great pride in their work. Winemaker Damien Blanchon, originally from Perpignan, France, comes from a long line of wine makers and viticulturists. Having studied in the South of France, Damien has strong roots in old-world wine making styles. His youth and innovation have taken the wines at Afton Mountain to new heights, providing eager palates with exciting and creative wines. Now in his seventh year making wine in Virginia, Damien has mastered the unique challenges of grape growing and winemaking in the Commonwealth.
The cozy tasting room at Afton Mountain is located in the renovated home of the former owners. Visitors settle into an inviting and relaxing space to enjoy not only tastings, but wine by the glass or bottle. Guests also enjoy an open patio and lovely pavilion with picnic tables and beautiful mountain views. Although the tasting room is stocked with a selection of meats, cheeses and other fine foods, guests are welcome to bring a picnic of their own to enjoy along with the wine and mountain views. On Saturday evenings during the summer months, “Afton After Hours” offers a chance to stay late and enjoy local music with a glass or two of a favorite Afton Mountain wine.
Of their many offerings, Afton Mountain is best known for their unique super-Tuscan blend, Festa Di Bacco. This smooth blend of sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals is the flagship of their red wines. Afton’s Pinot Noir is another exciting find. Fresh and fruit-forward, this Pinot Noir may remind you of Beaujolais Nouveau or a light Burgundy. Leaving Italy for Germany, Afton Mountain also produces excellent quality Gewurztraminer, which is dry and combines notes of citrus and spice. The 2010 vintage sparkling wine, Bollicine, is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, vinted in the traditional Methode Champenoise, and bottle aged for nearly two years on the sediment in the wine called lees. This wine is crisp, refreshing, and has a nice acidity, with prominent notes of toast and citrus.
Afton Mountain’s beautiful setting, welcoming atmosphere, and excellent wines make it a memorable destination on any tour of Virginia wine country. In any season, and in any weather, Afton Mountain Vineyard is prepared to offer comfort and hospitality with every glass of wine.