Cunningham Creek Winery, along with Thistle Gate Vineyard, both in Fluvanna County, are among the newest wineries in the Monticello AVA, since the re-drawing of the boundaries moved the eastern boundary from the Albemarle county line to follow the Rivanna River to Columbia, then south along the James River to Norwood.

Cunningham Creek Winery, northwest of Palmyra on Rt. 619, planted its first vines in 2013, made its next three vintages at King Family Vineyards, opened its tasting room in 2016 and crushed its first crop onsite in 2017, and has now grown to a 2,500 annual case production.

I visited on a cold Saturday in February but it was festive and lively, with over 50 visitors happily hanging out a bit noisily for a few hours in late afternoon, always a sign of a successful winery.

The house style at Cunningham Creek is consistent and high-quality; vibrant, almost taut fruit/acid balance, and finesse, reminding me of wines from northern Loudoun County. The ’17 Viognier and Chardonnay seemed almost too young, like they needed another year of aging to bring fruit and acid into ideal balance. The ’17 Merlot was the same way in a red wine, very vibrant black briarfruits with lively acidity and smooth tannins. The ’16 Petit Verdot had aromas of violets and briarfruits, with well-integrated smooth tannins and ripe black fruits.

For me, the star was the ***2017 Cunningham Creek Herd Dog Red (Cabernet Franc). This is a brilliant Virginia-style varietal Cabernet Franc, partly from the fine ’17 vintage and partly from skillful winemaking that keeps the new oak at only 14% new, for only 7 months. The nose shows distinctive black cherry and pepper, with a hint of mocha. On the palate, forward ripe black cherry and pepper, followed by smooth ripe tannins, all fruit-driven, with fine clean earth texture and mocha finish. I heard, but was unable to verify, that this wine won an impressive medal in a recent competition, so I suggest visiting, tasting and purchasing while supplies last.