Owner: Dave Matthews
Winemaker: Kirsty Harmon
Year Established: 2000
By: Justin Stone
Blenheim Vineyards has blended the pleasures of wine, art, and community like few other places. Owned by renowned musician Dave Matthews and run by some of the most approachable staff in the business, the intersection of these spheres has become the center of Blenheim’s philosophy.
In 2000, the final touches of Blenheim’s two story joint tasting room and barrel room were completed. Designed by Dave Matthews and master craftsman William Johnson, this energy efficient hall features beautiful reclaimed timber framing a full southeastern façade of windows and skylights for natural lighting. A partial subterranean foundation helps maintain the consistent cool of the barrel room.
That same year, the first vines of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot were planted. The first vintage was released in 2003, ushered in by Brad McCarthy, an experienced local winemaker. During Blenheim’s early years, he and Peter Matthews, the first vineyard manager, established the grounds, the vines, and the principles that are at the heart of the winery today.
For the first five years after the vineyard opened, a private invitation was needed to visit Blenheim. Their wines established a cult-like following due to both this exclusivity and the association with Dave Matthews. However, in 2009 the winery opened its doors to the public and since then, Blenheim has been sharing its serene setting, approachable wines and gregarious staff with all who choose to visit.
Dave Matthews designs the labels for each vintage of Blenheim’s Painted Red and Painted White wines. The label artwork is kept a secret, even from the staff, until shortly before the release of each vintage. These sketches are highly anticipated but are not the only pieces of art on display at Blenheim.
Blenheim also showcases artwork from the greater Charlottesville community and beyond, and in fact, much of the art on display are works by Blenheim’s talented staff. The tasting room walls are lined with frequently changing shows so that visitors to Blenheim enjoy a variety of paintings, sketches, photographs, and sculptures along with great wine.
Blenheim’s friendly and laid back atmosphere is due in large part to the winemaker and general manager, Kirsty Harmon. Kirsty has been an integral part of Blenheim’s success since 2008, when Peter Matthews asked her to take over winemaking. Before coming to Blenheim Kirsty interned at Craggy Range Winery in Hawks Bay, New Zealand. Having wanted to be a scientist from an early age, the science of making quality wine came naturally to Kirsty. In 1998, she received a degree in microbiology from the University of Virginia. It was while working as an event planner, however, that she caught the eye of wine entrepreneur Patricia Kluge, who hired Kirsty for the fledgling Kluge Estate Winery. The experience at Kluge led to a friendship with Gabriele Rausse, the father of the Virginia wine movement, whose philosophy advocates staying as true as possible to the grapes with the least amount of intervention. Kirsty further pursued her career in the wine industry by obtaining an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology from University of California at Davis and interning internationally before her eventual return to Charlottesville, less than a mile from the vineyard where she started. If you do not see her in the tasting room you can often find her below in the barrel room or walking to the lab that she operates on the property.
Blenheim Vineyards offers a friendly and casual environment of wine and art, creating a warm, vibrant community into which all of their visitors are welcomed.