One of the newest Virginia wineries, Upper Shirley Vineyards, will host a Richmond Garden Week tour on Wednesday, April 27th, 20 miles southeast of Richmond in Charles City County. The Garden Week event at Shirley Vineyards will feature a seated lunch, with this writer speaking on his book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines and the state of Virginia wine today.

While the vineyard and winery just recently opened, Upper Shirley has been a functioning farm and plantation since the 1660s, and the property was in a land grant given to the first Virginia governor, Lord de la Warr, in 1613, when it was known as the West and Sherley Hundred.

Upper Shirley Vineyards is owned by Suzy and Tayloe Dameron, and features a restaurant (open Wednesday-Monday) under Executive Chef Carlisle Bannister, a Richmond native. The winery also offers events and wedding venue services. Vineyard manager is Northumberland native Ryan Swann.

The current vineyard was planted in 2013 to viognier, petit verdot, merlot and tannat (other grapes like chardonnay are purchased from other Virginia growers). Sixteen acres are planted to 12,000 vines. The winegrowing philosophy of Upper Shirley is summed up in one word: “balance.” “The greatest vineyards in the world share one common trait, arrived at independently; their vines are in balance…The balanced vine yields a balanced grape and so it begins.”

Tasting four of their current releases, I found that the mantra of “balance” was faithfully fulfilled. All of the wines ( made under the direction of well-known and talented Virginia winemaker, Michael Shaps) demonstrated varietal (or blend) character, but had a common element of finesse and balance.



Viognier 2014 (13.4% alc.)

Tank fermented. Nose: faint, delicate pear, white blossom hints. Palate: plump texture, delicate fresh fruit notes of pear and white peach, no oak, acid a bit low, pretty, a nice aperitif.

Chardonnay 2014 (12.9% alc.)

Barrel fermented and aged sur-lie. Nose: complex butterscotch, hazelnut, apple and pear aromas. Palate: rich and plush with good integration of fruit, acid, oak and yeast, elegant and multi-dimensional. In the mode of fine contemporary Virginia oaked chardonnays. A fine match with rich seafood, pasta or chicken dishes.

“ZACHARIAH” Reserve (red blend) 2013 (64% merlot, 23% petit verdot, 13% malbec)

Nose: well-integrated fruit and oak elements: vanilla, black fruits, garden herbs, black pepper and mocha. Palate: Juicy, ripe black fruits, scented damson plum, round and plush texture (13.6% alc.), a bit soft, ready to drink and versatile. An elegant red blend that can be enjoyed in all seasons. An ideal match for game birds, salmon or tuna, and rabbit or sweetbreads.

Tannat 2013

Nose: clean, flinty, focused ripe blackberries and blueberries, with flecks of granite and clean earth. Palate: clean, fresh and surprisingly light (12.3% alc.) with fully ripened but lively black fruits. Ripe but elegant tannins, oak in the background. Young but can be enjoyed after decanting for 10-15 minutes, a great match with lamb, cassolet, duck and beef, esp. filet mignon. The wine had extended maceration post-fermentation and aging for 17 months, one half in new French oak. Elegant and stylish, will drink well next fall/winter and age gracefully for at least 5 more years. One of the best tannats in Virginia.

The Upper Shirley tasting room is open Wednesday-Monday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; no buses or limousines allowed without prior arrangements and no pets allowed.