Feeling in a merry mood over the July Fourth holiday weekend, I visited the Merrie Mill Farm & Vineyard, opened just two years ago on Rt. 22 east of Keswick.
Merrie Mill Farm & Vineyard, Keswick
In 2017, Guy and Elizabeth Perry, British citizens, attended a wedding in Charlottesville. They found themselves in love with the Virginia countryside; one thing led to another, and just a year later, “We purchased Merrie Mill Farm, moving our family from the UK. The property, for its buildings and land, spoke to our love of wine, architecture, interior design and the outdoors.”
Merrie Mill Farm & Vineyard is located about two miles east of the split of Rts. 231 and 22 on Rt. 22 towards Louisa (warning: don’t confuse the profusion of vines on your left as you drive northeast on Rt. 231 for Merrie Mill; it’s actually Castalia Vineyard). The Perrys planted 12 acres of vines in 2018, and anticipated their first small crop in 2020. Their hazing introduction to Virginia viticulture came with the spring frosts of 2020, which killed the buds of what would have been their first crop, as well as those of neighboring vineyards, all of northwestern Albemarle, some of Madison County, and as far southeast as Rosemount Vineyard in Mecklenburg County in Southside. Welcome to the Eastern wine and grape industry, Perrys…
As if that weren’t enough, they opened their tasting room in May 2021, in the middle of the Covid pandemic. I’m glad to say despite all this, their fortunes turned around. They sourced fruit from other vineyards for 2020, in particular the nearby Castalia Vineyard, and hired the esteemed Emily Pelton of Veritas/Flying Fox Vineyards as their winemaker. The current wine tasting lineup ranges from estate and non-estate 2021 rosé to wonderful 2019 red estate Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot and varietal Petit Verdot, with 2020-21 white wines as well.
The current tasting “room” built on the grounds of a former tractor shed is a breathtaking two-story essay in tasteful, eclectic design and furnishing by Elizabeth Perry. The space is airy, with most of the two-story space being floor-to-ceiling high, including a 12-foot corkscrew hanging whimsically from the ceiling. Beyond, you can see a patio with tasting tables and umbrellas, a music stage, and above in the distance, one of the vineyard blocks. Tasting room tables were hewn from an old, dying osage orange tree growing on the property. Despite its location off the beaten path, on July 3rd the parking lot was full and the atmosphere was festive, although I didn’t see any “merrie” men.
General Manager Christopher cheerfully greeted me, and brought me a tasting flight which included two 2021 rosés, a ’20 and ’21 Viognier, a fun 2021 white blend, and two exquisite 2019 reds, and explained the differences between estate and “heritage” (blended grapes) wines, although all aproducts of the Monticello AV. Here are my tasting highlights:
*** Merrie Mill Rosé 2021 (Merlot/Cabernet Franc, non-estate): pale Provençal pink color. Nose: fresh pink cherry, a hint of pomegranate. Delicate but very fresh, clean. Palate: dry, vibrant fruit/acid balance of fresh bing cherry, zesty acidity. Fun, fresh, stylish, great example of Virginia dry rosé.
**White Blend 2021 (Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng): Nose is elegant, fresh and floral hints with a nice integration of all three varietals. Palate: firm acidity but also bright tropical fruit hints with stylish fruit/acid balance. Stylish, original, has enough stuffing to be main course match and will last awhile.
***+ Merrie Mill Estate Red Blend 2019 (Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot)
Merrie Mill’s two current red wines are testaments to the outstanding quality of the 2019 vintage, and Emily Pelton’s winemaking skill. Nose: Wow! Multi-dimensional; ripe red and black briar fruits. Palate: Wow again! Large mouth-filling volume, ripe fruit, then BIG ripe tannins, blueberry flavor hints, with a fresh clean finish. Stylish, lively, multi-dimensional, fruit-driven. Firm tannins but still elegant. This wine had short time on the skins and was gently pressed off a few weeks after harvest.
****Merrie Mill Petit Verdot 2019
Nose: gentle violet hints with clean earth and ripe black fruits. Palate: Smooooth ripe black fruits and dense but smooth ripe tannins, great finesse and integration. This wine needs at least another 5-6 months but could last a decade or more. Very promising, great style for Virginia Petit Verdot; you could call this a “velvet hammer.”
Bozzo Family Winery
While on my way back to Charlottesville from my annual tasting trip to New York’s Finger Lakes, I had just enough time to stop for a tasting at Bozzo Family Winery on Rt. 9, almost within shouting distance of West Virginia in northern Loudoun County west of Hillsboro. Proprietor Steve Bozzo was on vacation in Italy, but welcomed me via email, and his people in the tasting did the same in person. Tasting Highlights:
**+Bozzo Family Chardonnay 2019 “Eileen”
I had previously been very impressed with this wine, coming from such a warm vintage, as it was so tight and Burgundian. Now, it has come together nicely. Nose: elegant, subtle lemon and toast, fresh mineral hints. Palate: fresh, bright and zesty like Riesling with lees hints, solid apple/pear fruit, pleasing now but will continue to improve for a year or two.
** Bozzo Family Sauvignon Blanc 2019 “Maureen”
Nose: subtle herb/grass hints, more like understated white Bordeaux than N.Z. or even Loire Valley styles. Palate: round, smooth entry, then bright lemon finish. An elegant, fresh style, not too grassy or passion fruit-dominated. A great food wine and summer sipper.
**→* 2nd Act 2019 (Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot)
Nose: Wow: fragrant, ripe black fruits, all neutral oak. Palate: juicy, ripe black fruits, ripe smooth tannins, great integration and finesse. Good now, will continue to improve.
**Petit Verdot 2019 “Timmy”
Nose: fragrant black fruits. Subtle, fresh, no obvious oak. Palate: Juicy, round but then zesty, bright red/black briar fruits. Smoooth texture, fresh bright acidity on finish. A stylish cooler site style, fresh and elegant.
***Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 “Lynne Marie”
Although Loudoun County is 100 miles north of Charlottesville and in a cooler climate zone (“Peoria”), Cabernet Sauvignon will ripen earlier and better here because the soils are more well-drained. This Cabernet was aged in new and neutral French oak for 12 months. Nose: vanilla, spice, ripe red cassis. Palate: complex, dry, full-bodied, oak/vanilla/spice, firm tannins but ripe red cassis, and a fresh finish. Not over oaked, but gives depth and dimension for fans of full-bodied Cabernet and shows an elegant Loudoun County style in a good vintage.