Old Vines Create Graceful Traditions
By: Boo Barnett
John Grace fell in love, and he fell hard. Impossible to blame him- everyone who visits Ireland and is lucky enough to visit the Mount Juliet resort feels the same. Add to that the discovery that some of his ancestors had once owned part of that venerable estate, and it was an unquenchable passion. Small wonder, then, that when he stumbled across the lovely Mount Juliet estate in bucolic Crozet, its purchase was a foregone conclusion. The magnificent house was based on the Irish original, and its rolling green hills were possibly even more verdant, more alluring than those on the Emerald Isle. And, there were the grapes…
Mount Juliet had been selling its high quality grapes to other vintners since 1999. When the Grace family made the decision to establish its own winery, it was imperative that they find someone whose vision and taste would match their own. As they reside in Switzerland most of the year, the Graces needed a trusted resident expert whose experience with all aspects of the business could be relied upon to carry it forward independently.
Fortunately for the wine lovers of the Monticello AVA, the Grace Estate at Mount Juliet Farm went long for talent and secured the renowned Jake Busching (the wunderkind formerly of Pollak, Jefferson and Keswick vineyards). This self styled “winegrower” takes the Old World holistic approach of being both the farmer and the vintner: after all, who knows the grape and its potential better than the ones who nurture it?
Jake Busching is all about the soil- as any farmer knows (and he grew up farming in Minnesota), the terroir is what makes each fruit or wine or bacon slice really sing in the local vernacular. Keeping that flavor real, and local, is why their wines are all made with their own grapes, which include Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Malbec and Tannat. With 65 acres now under vine, and a 550 acre estate to expand, maintain and perfect, Busching keeps enough fruit to make several thousand cases of the Grace Estate’s own wines, reserving the remainder for other Monticello Appellation wineries. As an active member of several local wine associations, Busching is committed to [Text Box:] expanding the possibilities of our local agribusiness and agritourism.
Having a string of awards to his own credit might satisfy many, but Busching’s pet collaborative wine project “3” brings in Veritas’ Emily Pelton and King Family’s Matthieu Finot, each of whom contributes a select variety to mix with the others. This spirit of friends and peers joining in with the best of a year’s harvest in such a collegial manner exemplifies the state of Virginia’s wine industry: purposeful but interdependent. Every vintner interviewed remarked that the industry was only as good as the last glass any visitor tried, and that the best competition was based on knowledge, cooperation and collaboration.
The approach to the tasting room at Grace is a long, quiet hum through fields and fields of vines. Brief glimpses of the house, long panoramic views of the Blue Ridge and those rolling acres of vine make the ride a perfect component of the experience: Slow down. Enjoy. Appreciate.
The cheerful staff, though few in number, enthusiastically welcome visitors to “Our Barnery,” a nickname that seems to sum up their serious but unpretentious approach to wine. Tasting room hostess Caitlin Andrus noted that their small converted hay barn reflects an understated approach, but it is understated in the same way Old World monastery is: clean, well edited and simply made from the purest ingredients. Even the barrel room was a model of thoughtfully arranged, beautifully placed items with not one extraneous thing. Andrus also pointed out the unexpected, very Zen silo off the tasting room. There, three plain benches provide seating in the still, unadorned, circular room open to the sky. After seeing it, any winery without one seems, well… incomplete. Another silo on the property will be used in a similar fashion, and Andrus hinted of a future Silo Society Wine Club.
A day at Grace is a visit with a gracious, self-confident, stunningly beautiful and worldly friend, a friend who is still young at heart and who knows the value of the quiet moment of contemplation. Who could blame John Grace for falling in love? We fell, too.