Stone Mountain Vineyards
Delicious Wine for The Daring
Al Breiner used to wonder out loud if he should charge for the viewings and give away the wine. At an elevation of 1700 feet up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Stone Mountain Vineyards provides a memorable, windswept panorama. Inspired by the Rhine River Valley’s steep vineyards, the Breiner family decided to bring high altitude, slope-clinging grapes to rural Dyke, Virginia. Al and his son Chris brought this vision into reality, planting the first seeds in 1995.
Every part of the design here turns the steep slope challenge into an advantage. Out on the mountain, wind streams keep the mildew at a minimum, while blowing away early and late season frosts. The tasting room is set back into the hill so as not to disturb the view, as well as to create a naturally cooled cave below, 55 degrees with constant humidity. The sideways terrain demands handpicking, and that select harvesting means only the best bunches are picked leading to a high quality, low quantity product. Even the winery uses the vertiginous site well: Chris Breiner designed a maximum gravity flow processing within the wine cave.
Like some of the lowland Virginia vintners, Al opted for a more Italian approach to winemaking, and hired Gabriele Rausse as the guiding light. After Al passed away in 2002, Chris became the face of Stone Mountain Vineyards and took over as Winemaker and managing partner until 2012, while Gabriele stayed on as a consultant. The Breiner/Rausse wines have won a long list of prizes over the years: Governor’s Cups, Tasters’ Guild International Awards, Vinifera Growers’ Awards, etc. They feature Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Malbec and several blends including Bacon Hollow Revenuer’s Select and Maquillage.
The tasting room is large and uncluttered, with hardwood floors and a bar made of reclaimed heart pine boards. As well-crafted as it is, it cannot compete with the view from the observation deck. Get your glass and gaze over the valley stretched out far, far below you. Then take a tour into the cave; it really deepens your experience (just make sure to bring a sweater!). Also bring a picnic, though boxed food is available for purchase there on Saturdays and Sundays. You’ve come all this way and will not want to face the drive back down on an empty stomach.
A word about the road in – they used to sell caps that ask ”How ‘bout that road in?” It is STEEP, winding, unpaved, extremely narrow without guardrails and, in inclement weather, daunting. When you get to the top, remarked a fellow guest, you need a drink. The wilderness aspects of this site are furthered by wildlife sightings including bear, deer and rafters of turkey. To keep the wildlife from eating the grapes, the vineyard also has imposing (but friendly) dogs.
There are two guesthouses available for rent, which are quiet, even alpine in their simplicity. If you want to experience a remote vineyard setting that is really only one harrowing car ride from civilization, this is it. Nothing high tech, either—just you, the winds and the vineyard. Oh yea, and don’t forget the great wine.
Sadly, the Virginia wine industry and wine enthusiasts everywhere lost Chris Breiner on February 14, 2012, when he died unexpectedly. Fellow winery owner Dennis Horton said, “Chris was one of the good guys in the Virginia Wine industry. You knew where you stood with Chris and he always, always, did exactly what he said he would do. I will miss him tremendously.” Chris had shared his father’s love of agriculture and rural land, and had continued the vision for the vineyard and winery, which that love had inspired. Chris’ all too short life was spent in the efforts to see that shared dream become a reality.
Today the Breiner Family’s wine legacy continues under the management of Chris’s niece, Kate Breiner. As a third generation wine grower, Kate works as General Manager and Assistant Winemaker, and upholds the tradition and passion set forth by her grandfather and uncle. Gabriele Rausse’s son Peter also joined the Stone Mountain team as winemaker during this time of transition.
Stone Mountain Vineyards stands largely as a result of Chris Breiner’s vision, hard work, dedication and perseverance. In addition to the legacy of the Vineyard, the wine industry recently established the Chris Breiner Memorial Scholarship for PVCC’s Viticulture program, as a way to honor Chris by supporting promising young vintners. As Kate Breiner and Peter Rausse continue the work begun by their predecessors, they continue to establish Stone Mountain’s unique place within the central Virginia Wine country, and they honor the lives and vision of Chris and Al.