Stone Tower Winery
Photos by Douglas Graham, Wild Light Photos
Very recently, I had the wonderful fortune to visit one of the most beautiful wineries I’ve ever seen, Stone Tower Winery, in Leesburg.
Stone Tower Winery is a stunning 300-acre property, located on Hogback Mountain. The locals named the mountain Hogback after its silhouetted resemblance to the spiny ridge of a wild boar. The winery itself derives its name from two turrets situated on an ancient fortress in Belgium, where the father of co-owner Mike Huber (with wife Kristi) worked at a furniture factory as a young man.
To this day, the Huber family is still in the furniture business, as they own the renowned Belfort Furniture. As for the Stone Tower land, Mike and Kristi purchased the 300 acres in the early 2000’s, from an original 1100 acres owned by Mike’s parents.
To get things started, they brought in legendary Virginia ampelographer Lucy Morton who, after an extended period of property and soil analysis, declared the land suitable for growing wine grapes. In 2009, the Huber’s planted 22 acres of vines, and Stone Tower Winery was born.
Over the next few years, viognier and chardonnay would be planted, followed by the Bordeaux red varietals of cabernet sauvignon and franc, merlot and petit verdot.
Their first release was in 2013, under the label Wild Boar. That label still exists today, but the true signature of the Stone Tower wine line-up is its Estate collection, wines that are solely grown, produced and bottled on the property.
The winemaking team is headed by Benoit Pineau, whose impressive resume includes head winemaker stints at Pollack Vineyards, in Greenwood, and First Colony Winery, in Madison. Other team members include enologist Preston Thomas and vineyard manager Daniel Mumbauer.
At its heart and soul, Stone Tower is a family-owned and operated winery, and its purpose is two-fold: to provide impeccable hospitality and world class Virginia wines. I believe that both ambitions are well met.
Stone Tower’s wine emulation, at least with the red wine grapes, is Bordeaux; but, Bordeaux is also equally revered for its white wine grape, sauvignon blanc. And with the pursuit of that tradition in the forefront, the Stone Tower Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is a work of art. An electrifying wine, the Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is light gold in color, and aromatic of citrus fruit, flowers and wet stone. Unlike many sauvignon blancs, this wine is fermented and aged for seven months in both new and neutral French oak barrels, as well as concrete vats. And as noted before, as with all their estate wines, this sauvignon blanc is grown, produced and bottled on the property.
Next up is the Estate Chardonnay Library 2016. This is an excellent wine, produced in the spirit of the great central Burgundy (blanc) region, Cote Chalonnaise. Grown on a tiny 3.3-acre block, it’s also barrel fermented and French oak aged. There’s no malolactic fermentation used, meaning the acidity remains well intact, as with all great chardonnays, but there is definitely a roundness and textural integrity to the wine that gives it a beautiful mouthfeel of melon and honey tones. In short, the Estate Chardonnay Library 2016 is elegant and expressive.
Rounding out the triumvirate of estate white wines is the Estate Viognier 2017. For my tastes, I’ve always enjoyed viognier that lends itself to the Rhone inspirations of stone fruit aromas, honeysuckle and gingerbread. These wines are round, rich and flavorful, with good acidity and freshness to boot. Unfortunately, warm weather viognier can be tricky, and susceptible to the late-ripening shortcomings of being oily, flabby and basically uninteresting. All that said, I think Stone Tower Estate Viognier 2017 gets it right. It’s barrel fermented, sees no malolactic fermentation and is aged in French oak barrels for 10 months. Aromas of jasmine and white flowers are explosive, and the mouthfeel is equally memorable. This is an excellent wine and a great complement to its white wine siblings.
And now to the big boy red wines we go, where Stone Tower really makes it presence known.
Across their stunning 300-acre estate, Stone Tower is very fortunate to have all the key elements necessary to produce exceptional Bordeaux varietal red wines; elevation, sun and wind exposure, and high clay content.
Paying respects to the Bordeaux’s right bank is the Estate Wind Swept Hill 2016 Red. A resplendent wine, this cabernet franc driven bottling is full of ripe red fruits, cedar and dried blueberry aromatics, as well as hints of red currant, lilac and forest floor. It has a wonderful herbaceous quality to it, and the supporting merlot rounds it out with a lovely mid-palate softness. There is structure as well, thanks to small, yet worthy amounts of cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. The wine is aged for 20 months in French oak barrels, 50% of them new, making for silky tannins and a well sustained finish.
Not to be outdone is the fabulous Hogback Mountain 2016, Stone Tower’s signature wine. An absolute showcase for the property’s cabernet sauvignon, this left-bank inspired wine is powerful, majestic and refined. It’s complemented with merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, giving it silk, grace and depth. Hogback Mountain’s inaugural vintage was the 2013 bottling and it earned a rightful place in the Governor’s case for that year’s Governor’s Cup. Like the Wind Swept Hill bottle, Hogback Mountain 2016 is aged 20 months in barrel and can be rested for a solid decade, if you choose to wait that long to enjoy it.
The wines and views at Stone Tower Winery offer a memorable encounter that every wine lover and scenery enthusiast will want to enjoy time and again. Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!