West Wind Wines: A Taste of Blue Ridge Culture

Part one of my profile on West Wind Farm. You can find part two here

The aristocratic tradition of wine has ingrained certain romantic images in our minds: a stately manor, both decadent and rustic in its decor; vineyards surrounded by lush, rolling hills and finely cropped meadows; an isolated, seemingly infinite stretch of verdant grapevines embedded in soil so rich it resembles a powdered ebony; nothing but dirt roads and classic cars ambling down them at a leisurely pace.  Compared to these heightened expectations, the four-lane highway that approaches the West Wind Farm Vineyard is hardly suggestive of a bastion of fine wine. The stretch of I-77 leading up to its exit from the south is wedged between a barren, rocky mountain slope on one side and a sudden, yawning expanse of pastoral yet relatively uncultivated farmland on the other. It felt like any other stretch of mountainous road between big cities, basically a connecting drive where the best you can hope for is not running out of gas or losing your cell phone signal.

I’m kidding. Let’s backtrack. Growing up in a family that thrived in the slopes of Catawba Valley, I learned, and will maintain, that the rural valleys of Virginia are hardly an empty, forgettable green blur outside of your car’s windows. A vibrant, close-knit culture and community has grown in this oft-overlooked region in Virginia, far from the urbanites and city lights of D.C., Virginia Beach, and Richmond. In my youth in the valley, I learned how to play the jaw harp and the guitar and drums; I learned how to catch and gut fish and to cook gourmet; I learned how to hunt and survive in the wilderness and pursued the highest reaches of academia. Thanks to West Wind Farm, I’ve now learned more about wine. Yes, The Blue Ridge Mountains are a bastion of fine wine.

West Wind Farm House

A relic from West Wind Farm's past life

West Wind Farm began in the 19th century as Mount Zephyr, named so because of the gentle wind that often blows through the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a quick mythology lesson, Zephyr was the Greek god of the west wind, by legend considered the the most pleasant wind and a good omen. The Humphrey family took over the farm in 1914 and Anglicized the name to its current state. The farm still belongs to the family, now husband and wife Paul and Brenda Humphrey and their nephews Jason and David Manley.  As soon as they took over the farm, in 2003, they broke ground for their first grape vines, eager to strike out on their own after running a very successful garden nursery in Greensboro, and the wine-making process began soon after with their first vintage in 2005. In just a few years, they’ve already become a fixture in the wine culture of Southwest Virginia which, for a family so new to the wine business, is a rather impressive feat.

I explored the facilities and vineyard with Jason, master of the tasting room and wine shop. When I told him about my mission, exploring Virginia wine, he gave me an enormous, unfoldable Virginia Winery Guide, recommending several of the wineries on the map. It was a simple gesture, but it was just one of many personal touches around the shop that demonstrated they were involved in more than just making and selling wine. While Paul made a brief appearance, singing praises of the growing interest in wine in the area and lamenting the lack of Hokies in the wine business (he sported the cap of my alma mater), sadly, the off-months of viticulture required his attention in other areas besides the vineyard. He apologized for the sudden departure, mentioning that during the growing season, he (or anyone at the vineyard) would gladly step away from tending to their vines to talk your ear off. My kind of people.

tasting room at West Wind Farm

Jason proudly displaying his wines and awards

My tour of the facility began with the best part: tasting wine. An interesting mix of swing, classical, and modern blues played in the tasting room as I went about the shop, snapping photos and firing off questions. To be honest, as it was my first interview, winery visit, and future blog post all in one, the experience was rather nerve-wracking. Jason was so helpful and candid, though, that any apprehension I had at messing up my story quickly melted way. Jason gave me the rundown on all of their current vintages, taking pride in the many awards they had won in a relatively short period of time. I tasted the gamut of their wines, and I’d be lying if I said I spat instead of swallowing; it was that good. I thoroughly enjoyed each of their grape wines, though their fruit blends weren’t exactly my favorite. I won’t get on too much of a tangent, though; full tasting notes will be posted tomorrow. Unfortunately, they had sold out completely of their Chambourcin, so I missed out on one of their local specialties. Their tasting prices are very reasonable: you can taste up to three wines free, and anything after that is a three-dollar charge. For five dollars, you can taste all of their wines and keep your tasting glass.

From there, we toured their wine-making facility. I got to see everything from the vines to the crush pad to the oak barrels in which they age their Galena Creek White. The winery is still small enough that the Humphreys and Manleys can attend to almost all of their winemaking  personally. No conveyor belts, no assembly line production, only four people and their hands prompting fine wines from stubborn fruit. Their involvement is so deep, in fact, that they even bottle and label their wine themselves. “If you get the bottle home and [the label] is a little crooked, you’ll know why,” Jason joked as we moved through the bottling area. For over 1300 cases produced per year, the amount of attention they personally give each bottle is almost staggering. I can understand why they take so much pride in their work.

The dining and event room at West Wind Farm

The stately room where West Wind Farm hosts many of their functions

Second only to their wine, West Wind Farm’s involvement with the community is a principal source of pride. As we walked through the facilities, Jason recounted the numerous events the winery hosts, accommodating anywhere from a few dozen to a couple hundred people. In addition to the usual parties, class reunions, and weddings (which David Manley is licensed to perform, by the way), West Wind Farm also relishes its role in the local music scene. They host a wide range of music acts, from classically styled rock to Motown, from bluegrass to blues. One of their feature events is the Wine & Swine Festival, an all-day indulgence in barbecue and live music. Even in the dead of January, they were booking events for the summer, hopefully a sign that the wine industry may be a little more recession-proof than other venues.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of the country, West Wind Farm only distributes their wine personally through Southwest Virginia. In fact, the furthest away I’ve seen their wine was at Vintage Cellar, about an hour and a half away in Blacksburg, Virginia. However, if you’re looking to try West Wind Farm’s wines, and you don’t live in Southwest Virginia, you’re not out of luck. They’ll gladly take orders via email and phone, even though they don’t have an online shop. If you’re interested in their wines, they absolutely want to make sure that you can experience them.

If you’re looking to book West Wind Farm for an event or just want to order some wine, you can contact them through the following:

Phone: 276-699-2020
Email: info@westwindwine.com

Or you can visit their website at http://www.westwindwine.com for more information.

Tomorrow, I will post my tasting notes from all of their wines as part two of my profile of West Wind Farm.

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