If you’re searching for a new, exciting “terroirist” producer in the Monticello AVA of Virginia, I recommend Mount Alto Vineyards, near Esmont, southeast of Schuyler, close to the Nelson/Albemarle county line.

You’ll have to be prepared for driving through very rural southern Albemarle County, and slow down to read the numbers on the mail boxes to find it (10436 Howardsville Tpke., Esmont, VA 22937, and the driveway has a private road sign labeled “Kingston Lane”). The vineyard can legally sell wine, but doesn’t have a tasting room yet, which is why appointments have to be made online in advance (phone (804) 476-0883 or email info@mountaltovineyards.com to schedule a visit).

Mount Alto wines decanted for tasting

Having said all that, participants on a recent “Meet, Wine & Dine” Meetup were impressed with the site-focused philosophy of the owners, and the finesse of their (all-red) wines. Partners Robert Burgholzer, David Achkio and Camila Burda are working two neighboring vineyard sites, the oldest 1.2 acres of which was planted at the estate site in 2014. David and Robert took classes on winegrowing from Jim Law, who impressed on them the primary importance of site selection with well-drained soils. The four wines they offer (their 2020 blend, two 2021 blends, and a “library” 2019 blend) are all various ratios of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, but David and Camila plan to plant Merlot at their site to add to the blend in the future.

You can learn a lot about soil and it’s influence on wine quality, especially red wines, by going to Mount Alto. As Jim Law says, “It’s all about water evacuation,” which will stimulate the vines to shift putting sugars into ripening fruit instead of growing more canopy, in late summer.

The several wines all reflected vintage character and careful winemaking, keeping ripe fruit forward and oak in the background.

Tasting Notes:

  • Mount Alto Vineyards 2020 Manteo-Nason: This wine takes its name from two soil types found at the vineyard. This blend is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Petit Verdot. Nose: fresh cassis, then lavender/herbal notes and black briar fruits. On the palate, the fruit is a bit hidden now, with hints of red cherry, firm acidity, and ripe tannins. The wine is young and not flabby and overripe, like many Virginia reds of that vintage (alcohol only 12.5%). The wine needs another two-plus years of aging but will be worth the wait. $30
  • ***Mount Alto Vineyards 2021, 60/40 Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot: In the 2021 vintage, they found they had more wine than they anticipated, so instead of making a 50/50 blend, they decided to make two different wines, each a 60/40 blend of the two different grapes. This Cabernet-dominant blend is very impressive (3 stars). The nose has smoky black fruits typical of the vintage, with some herbal perfume from the Petit Verdot. Palate: wow! big, dry, bold, solid ripe fruit and tannins, fruit-forward but balanced and layered. Could drink now, but will be better this winter, also with some more age. $35
  • **+Mount Alto Vineyards 2021, 60/40 Petit Verdot/Cabernet Sauvignon: Nose lighter than the Cabernet-dominant one, more Petit Verdot perfume, subtle. Palate: very Petit Verdot-dominant, lots of lavender, very smooth texture typical of that grape, plump texture, elegant and original. $35
  • ***+Mount Alto Vineyards 2019 Manteo-Nason-Tatum: This blend, from a very ripe, fruit-forward vintage, is a blend of 55% Petit Verdot and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep color. On the nose, much like the ’20, with cassis and lavender. Palate: lovely smooth ripe tannins, then ripe, juicy, hedonistic fruit, with a plush, smooth finish. Excellent now, will improve. $45