Sunday Afternoon at Chester Gap Cellars

Wine Friend 1 has been delinquent in her travels with me, but she has returned to the fold, and we planned this weekend to visit a new-to-us place!  I’m trying to remember how I found Chester Gap and I think it was in a map of wineries in the Northern Virginia/Shenandoah Valley area.  It went on the list early on because I liked their varietal selections and website.  Achievement unlocked – Chester Gap has been visited!

It’s quite a journey – once you get off 66 at the Linden exit (not the winery, but the actual town), you continue down Rte 55 into the actual town of Front Royal itself.  A left turn and you start heading up the mountain and your ears pop again.  There is a Smithsonian Biology Conservation Institute, which I thought at first was some kind of National Security outpost way out there, as it’s all fenced off.  This is the right spot for it though, tucked in the mountains.  Finally, you get to the turn – off of 522 onto a gravel driveway.  It’s a narrow drive and there are several homes on the way to the winery itself.

The property is simply stunning – the drop into the valley below is incredible, and well worth the drive out here.

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The property does appear to be under some construction and renovation – adding to the home on the property with a crush pad (according to Chelsey, our tasting associate) and doing some work inside the tasting room to add a second restroom.  It was a nice and cozy space, however, with a small bar for the tasting but adequate seating inside.  While we were there another customer came in to buy a bottle of wine, a couple came in and sat with a bottle, a group of four came in to taste and talk, and another customer came in for a glass.

Since we had the tasting bar mostly to ourselves for the first hour, we had a great time talking with Chelsey about the winery and its history and philosophy.  We learned that it had been open as Chester Gap for 14 years, with the current owners purchasing it in 2017.  All wine grapes are grown on the estate, with vines as old as 20 years.

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I felt like their wines had good expression of Virginia to them, and they had nice choices in their varietals, avoiding the standard Virginia Chardonnay and grapes I don’t much care for like Norton and Chambourcin.  We started with the 2016 Viognier, which was crisp but ended with a strong sense of toast.  I’m always unsure about my own palate, and when I told Chelsey she had to check but agreed.  It was a good Viognier, but the big winner was the 2014 Reserve Viognier – this was crisper and cleaner, and also very smooth, much smoother than the 16, with an interesting hint of honey in it – not that it was sweet, but it left this lingering sense of honey.  I was surprised to see that it had spent time in French Oak, as I tend to prefer white wines from stainless steel, but the Oak didn’t leave any of that taste impact that I could discern in this wine.  Wine Friend 1 and I absolutely loved this wine and ended up splitting a bottle over the lunch we brought with us.

Third taste was the 2016 Roussanne.  This got me excited, because you know I love Arterra’s Roussanne, and I don’t see very much of this grape in Virginia.  In chatting with Chelsey she shared that it is a grape that has tight clusters and is prone to mildew in Virginia’s humid climate, and that they grow it successfully there because it is almost always windy there because of the mountain and the mountain breezes keep the air moving and help to prevent the mildew (along with a lot of hard work!).  There was a little touch of honey to this wine too, but without dominating it or making it sweet.  I enjoyed this one too and would love to compare a bottle with one of Arterra’s.

We moved on to reds and into the 2014 Merlot.  This was a very tannic and robust merlot, having had a ton of time in the barrel.  It was so much so that I thought I was drinking a petit verdot, but Chelsey shared that the bottle had just been opened.  It had good fruit too, but was more astringent than I expected.

The next red was their cab franc 2016.  This was a lighter expression of cab franc, very smooth and pleasant to drink.  Likewise the 2016 Petit Verdot was subtle and smooth and pleasant, lighter than what I’m used to in PV.  Wine Friend 2 is not a PV fan at all, sadly.  We’re working on that.

Finally, their red blend, the 2014 Vintner’s Red Blend.  Chelsey shared that these were barrel aged individually for 43 months prior to blending and then blended and aged together for 2 months before bottling.  It was an interesting blend, but the merlot flavors from the 2014 I had tasted earlier came through very strong, especially for 25% of the blend.  It worked together well, but it wasn’t a favorite.

As I shared, we settled down with a bottle of the Viognier Reserve, (and we each brought a bottle home).  The property was just stunning, and I grabbed these photos.

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They also have gorgeous stained glass inside, with small stained glass wine glasses available to purchase (we didn’t get any, don’t worry Husband).

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I’m looking forward to a trip back here, especially once they have their Petit Manseng back, along with their Petit Manseng/Viognier blend back on their wine racks.  While I didn’t find a red I loved, I’m curious to see how other vintages fare and what they bring out.  The outdoor space is also so wonderful that I’d love to come back in better weather for some time to sit outside and look into the valley while drinking my wine.

Have you been to Chester Gap?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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