A Gold Star for the Palate
Shane and Cara have been working on this dream for years, preparing their farm’s vineyard for the opportunity to share the peaceful setting and wide-open sky with visitors yearning to appreciate a handcrafted tasting experience. Unveiling the fruits of their labors, Star in the Valley Estate Winery was revealed in April 2019. “We would love for our visitors to come to appreciate the natural setting of our location,” expresses Cara. “The view is beautiful in the daytime because of the mountains, but the night invites star gazing. We don’t have any light pollution around for miles.”
Star in the Valley’s approach is to offer customers wines with grapes sourced from the farm, on-site. “The Shenandoah Valley is prime soil for vines,” shared Shane. “The soil drains well because of the rocky terrain. The slope of the mountain and winds allow for less chemical application. The vines are more stressed, allowing the energy of the plant to focus on the fruit to grow into maturity.” The couple purchased the land in 2013 after sharing interest in developing a vineyard together. “We drove around Virginia for what seemed like two to three years,” chuckles Cara. “We wanted to make sure we found the ideal location for the vines.”
Stemming from a farm family in western Michigan, Cara knows the importance of finding a productive location. Combined with Shane’s family history in business knowledge, also from Michigan, the pair agreed on a plot of 70 acres. Both lawyers for the Department of Justice in the Environment division, Shane and Cara realized the need for a plan of action. That’s when they reached out to Farm Credit loan officer Ryan Clouse. The 70 acres of today’s farm would not have been possible without a helping hand.
Ryan shares, “The idea was pretty appealing from the beginning. Shane and Cara were very thorough in their approach at the development of paperwork, a business plan, and knowledge of their product.” The couple started with the farm first; for the types of wine planned in production, they customized varietals and root stocks in April 2014. “We sourced several clones of four varieties, from nurseries in New York and California,” shares Shane. “Farm Credit has been helpful in supporting the connection for us between consultants. One source that has helped us greatly is Virginia Tech’s Tony Wolf for his education in viticulture.”
They also came to realize that by choosing to work with Farm Credit, Ryan was able to quickly understand their motivation by following closely along with the process. “They really do try to foster a personal connection,” says Shane. “They have some ‘skin in the game,’ too. It was nice to have him personally meet with us and be a ‘face’ instead of a voice over the phone.”
Once the vineyard was established and wine production began, the couples’ planning efforts came to fruition. “Wineries definitely have a market in this area,” explains Ryan. “They are knowledgeable about wine in general. Their winery is an appealing approach for any type of visitor wanting to learn more about the terroir or just looking to enjoy the country view.” Shane and Cara are both certified sommeliers (wine stewards) able to expertly serve fine wines to patrons. A French origin of art, a sommelier identifies qualities of wine by taste. “Our wines are European style,” explains Shane. “The tones are more natural, mineral/dry options. Usually, this style doesn’t have the strong fruit notes.” The winery currently offers four grape varietals, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Chardonel, and Vidal Blanc.
The style of wine mimics the tone of the vineyard. “We want visitors to consider the source —the farm,” explains Cara. “It’s our ‘expression’ in a bottle.” A very natural, earthy setting, the farm is inviting without too many frills. It’s a place where visitors can bring a lunch and enjoy the scenery with a glass of wine. Each sip is meant to be a connection of what visitors can see, smell, and feel overlookingthe vineyard.