For winemakers, October is an exciting time of year.

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are beginning to change, and all of the grapes have been harvested and are being turned into wine.

“All the fruit just came in the building," said Lee Hartman, winemaker and production manager at Bluestone Vineyard in Bridgewater. "That started at the tail end of August, beginning of September. For about a month, it [was] just a madhouse. I worked over 300 hours in four weeks. In one day, you have 60-some bins of fruit. It’s such a wild day that we’re running it through the crusher and stemmer. We empty the bin and we crush it, and then we take the empty bin and we take it back out to the field to fill it.”

After it’s crushed and stemmed, the fruit with pulp and skin gets loaded into tanks, chilled and processed into wine over varying periods of time. The grapes harvested this season might be bottled as early as December or in early 2023.

“I had my first day off in a month and a half on Saturday. I think that there is an excitement in the air,” Hartman said. “When you harvest all the grapes out of this block, you can say, ‘We’re done with this.’ This is the culmination of all of our efforts in the vineyard and this is also the start of all of our efforts [in the winery]. It’s also just a beautiful time. The leaves start changing. It’s not so hot. It’s perfect weather. It’s the perfect time to be out in the vineyard.”

October is Virginia Wine Month. Virginia, which is home to over 300 wineries, is subdivided into eight American Viticultural Areas, with the Shenandoah AVA being largest geographically. The Shenandoah Valley offers a slightly higher elevation and cooler climate, resulting in grapes that have the potential for a fresher flavor, Hartman said.

“The Valley definitely has its own style. We have a term called terroir. It’s how the earth imparts flavor into the wine. Virginia really makes great white wines and certain reds,” said Bruce Davis, owner of Vintage Wines on the corner of Reservoir Street and University Boulevard in Harrisonburg. “Riesling, chardonnay and pinot grigio grow well here. Cab franc can grow really well [in Virginia]. Cab franc is one of the red varietals that can take a little more moisture."

Although there are a handful of wineries in Rockingham County — Bluestone Vineyard, Brix and Columns Vineyards, Marceline Vineyards, CrossKeys Vineyards and Bluestone Vineyard — Hartman said he wants it to become more of a wine destination, on par with other parts of the state like Albemarle County.

“I love not only being a Virginia winemaker, but I love being a Shenandoah Valley winemaker,” Hartman said. “We have a higher elevation, so we have cooler evenings here that helps retain some freshness and some acidity in the wine, which is important for not only whites but also reds as well. It helps give them some structure.”

Usually, businesses wouldn’t want too much competition, but Hartman said he’s itching for more wineries to emerge in the county that’d draw more visitors. Right now, he said there are few people who just happen to be in the area around Bluestone Vineyard, but he believes the Valley offers something special that people would enjoy.

“We have five wineries in Rockingham County, and I would just about give my big toe to have 35, or whatever it is that Albemarle has, because people go to Albemarle County for wine. I would like people from Albemarle County to come here. I want people to realize that there’s more wine on the other side of Afton. People want to get out of D.C. for the day. If they travel just a little bit farther, they can avoid the crowds and get to a really beautiful part of the world,” Hartman said.

Raneé Bartley, the tasting room manager at Bluestone, said the vineyard grows 11 different types of grapes on 26 acres, resulting in a variety of wines. One of the most unique wines to Bluestone Vineyard is a moscato, she said.

“Currently, we have 27 wines available, 26 of which are available in our flight option. That’s how we do tastings, in flights. We have dry whites, dry reds, some sweeter wines as well. We have a moscato. We use the golden muscat grapes for that, and those are grown here on the estate. We are one of the few wineries here in the state that make one. We have a variety of hybrid grapes that we grow along with … cabernet, chardonnay grapes,” she said.

Bartley said a 2017 estate grown oak-aged chardonnay won a gold award in the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition, hosted by the Virginia Wine Association with partners Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Vineyards Association. The wine that won gold is still available in the tasting room at Bluestone.

To celebrate Virginia Wine Month at Bluestone Vineyard, Hartman said a wine and cheese pairing event will take place during tasting room hours from Oct. 22 through 24. The event will include wine flights with cheeses picked for a variety of dry and sweet wines.

Contact Jillian Lynch at 574-6274 or jlynch@dnronline.com. Follow Jillian on Twitter @lynchjillian_

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