[ nelson county ]
STORY by LINDA CROWE PHOTOGRAPHY by STEPHANIE GROSS
VINEYARD KIDS Afton Mountain Vineyard celebrates 40 years of vines, 30 years of wine, 10 years of the Smiths, and year 1 of goats. Elizabeth Smith relaxes in a comfortable chair, at long last. Outside through the window behind her, customers laugh and talk, soaking up the warm April day, glasses of red wine and white wine sparkling in their hands. As backdrop to it all, new growth paints the Blue Ridge mountains in a mist of green, framed in the calm of a torii gate. It’s spring time in the Appalachians and Afton Mountain Vineyards is in celebration mode. A customer interrupts to inform her that a new kid has been separated from the rest of the herd of goats they keep at the vineyard. Baby’s bleating, the adults are bleating. Upset ensues. Suddenly the song, “Red, Red Wine,” emanates from her purse. It’s her ring tone and Damien Blanchon, AMV’s winemaker, is on the phone, putting a quick rescue operation in place. She settles back in her chair. Both Smith and her husband, Tony, grew up in Albemarle County and attended college at the University of Virginia. After school, they lived and worked in the Tidewater area where they raised their family. It was during that time that they developed an interest in viticulture. Twenty years later, they moved home and began to explore the idea of a winery.
They began by taking classes in viticulture (the science of growing grapes) and oenology (the science of making wine) at Piedmont Virginia Community College. Their five-year plan went something like this: Find the best land. Plant the grapes. While the grapes are maturing, build a winery. Followed by a tasting room. A nice leisurely slide into the wine business. People plan. God laughs. During their search for the perfect property, the Smiths visited Afton Mountain Vineyards – an established winery – and Elizabeth says, “We went from a 5-year plan to a 6-month plan.” Boom. “One thing that a lot of people don’t think much about when it comes to wine,” she says, “and that is that we’re farmers. You have a bad year and you can’t order up more ingredients. That’s it for the year.” To improve their harvest and invest in grapes they want to produce the wines they’re most interested in making, they recently removed three out of 25 acres of grapevines. Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes had to go. They were older and were not producing well on the soils at AMV. This acreage will lie fallow for the next year, planted in cover crops designed to improve the soil by removing excess potassium and adding nitrogen. Then they’ll be replanted with new stock. continued on page 12
Blue Ridge LIFE