Starting in 2019, we hosted events called Wine Amongst Friends, and looking back it should have been called Wine Actually Amongst Friends. We welcomed other highly respected Virginia winemakers to our Tasting Room to share their stories about how their wines were made. There were many conversations at the bar and guests tasted our wines and the guest winemaker’s together. In January we started off the year welcoming Jake Busching, who is the winemaker for Hark Vineyards in Earlysville, VA. This event also led to a partnership with Jake where our winemaker, Lee, and him would produce an exceptional wine talked about later in this post.
January hosted other successful events like our annual wine and chocolate pairing party and packed trivia nights. Now it is hard to imagine a time where you sit with strangers and share food and having to add tables to the Tasting Room instead of taking them away.
In February, we hosted another Wine Amongst Friends with winemaker Joy Ting and another Trivia Night. Throughout the week of Valentine’s we offered our wine and chocolate pairings to guests and on Valentine’s Day we hosted what was our first and only winemaker’s dinner of 2020. If we had known what March had coming we probably would have sold even more wine and chocolate.
March was when things started to get real crazy real quick. We were able to host our Press Club pickup party which little did we know would be the only “normal one” we would have this year. Shortly after that schools started to close down, businesses were limited in capacity and for a few weeks it seemed like updated information came on a daily basis. By the end of March planners were starting to be filled with white out and no longer had any purpose. In the tasting room we first stopped doing tastings, then glasses and bottles until finally we had to close the tasting room and were only open for curbside pickup and shipping. To say those last few weeks of March were pure chaos is an understatement.
The end of March and during the entire month of April, our focus shifted to curbside pickup, deliveries, shipping, and virtual tasting events. If you wanted wine, we were going to find a way to get it to you. Every Friday we hosted “Bluestone at Home” on our social media channels and were able to feature all our wines in a tasting. While different then interacting with customers at the bar, we were grateful for the technology to try something new and still be able to interact with customers despite the quiet tasting room.
While the Tasting Room was quiet, April was a time where behind the scenes was loud. Vines took new life in the vineyard as our crew planted new Traminette vines and prepared to plant new vines of Cabernet Franc and our first estate Petit Manseng. The most exciting part was our first time canning wines. We canned Moscato, Beau, Vidal Blanc, and Rosé. It was really interesting watching the blank cans come down the assembly line, be filled with wine, get a dash of Co2, snap on the lid, and winding down the machine for it’s new label. It is exciting to offer a new product for customers to enjoy.
May 15th was a happy day! Under Phase 1 guidelines we were able to have guests come back to the vineyard and enjoy wine outdoors. The tasting room staff had to completely adjust the way we did things and we ran on more of a restaurant model doing tableside service. We definitely got our steps in during that time! There was a lot of preparation for spacing and many of you have probably seen our “Bluestone road” marked with blue painters tape to keep guests traveling from one place to the other spaced apart from other guests. Even though March 25th to May 15th was a very long time to be closed we are happy to report we kept all of our full time staff full time during the shutdown.
June continued to move in a better direction as we moved into Phase 2, which allowed us to have guests back indoors for wine orders and well as seating, which also took a lot of preparation, as we had to take down quite a few tables to accommodate spacing as well as an entry/exit way.
The main highlight of July was being able to host music again at the vineyard as we welcomed Everyday People and Mike Davis back to Bluestone. Earlier we made the heartbreaking decision to cancel our Toast the Weekend concert series and the summer was not the same without the bustling wine tent, the Reflex rocking out on stage, and people surrounded by their friends at the end of the work week. It was refreshing to hear music at the vineyard again this month.
August we once again put on our thinking caps and came up with a more efficient way of offering flights since we are not able to do traditional tastings. We launched our mini bottle flight program that will probably continue to the foreseeable future. That way we could offer a wider range of wines for guests to try rather than a select few from bottles we chose to have open for poured flights.
From Lee Hartman, Winemaker:
2020 was one of the toughest growing seasons we've ever had. Frost is not an all or nothing event that will either leave you with 100% of your crop or take it all away, but after our initial hit of frost on April 17 we experienced frost 3 more times, the worst being on Mother's Day and the last on May 13. For a lot of shoots, this shortened our growing season by two months (out of about 6).
A relatively cool and wet growing season also presented challenges. While we normally crush and ferment about 40 or more tons of reds, we opted to make more rose, and also sold red grapes to other wineries who also wanted to make reds and rose (Hark Vineyards will be bottling our Malbec and Merlot as a rose this week). We only fermented 5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon as our only red. This difficult growing season coupled with a drastically reduced crop made us thankful when the season finished in October, and simultaneously grateful that our season hadn't ended in May, as it did for some.
And after my 11th vintage in this building, I gotta say, I'm pretty pumped about these wines. Our Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier are standouts, but even our early bottling in a few weeks of Vidal, Beau and Moscato are tasting great. And after making Orphan #3 with Jake Bushing, I am continuing making white wine out of red fruit. I've got the coolest blend of barrel fermented Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, but if you can't wait for their release next Summer we still have a few cases of the 2019 Orphan #3 in the tasting room, so grab them before I do!
By the time that October and November came around, we were used to the changes at Bluestone. October we were able to celebrate Virginia Wine Month and showcase what Virginia wine really has to offer. This fall was also one of the most beautiful ones we have had in awhile. We continued to promote our first sparkling Chardonnay made from estate grown grapes on the north side of the property. We released our first estate grown Cabernet Franc grown at our highest elevation block that is all free run juice leaving any bitterness behind with the skins in the tank. October and November are the perfect time to sit back, relax, and reflect with some wine and soak in the fall views.
We finally made it to December! The biggest thing that has not changed prior to or during this time and won’t change after all of this is past us, is our appreciation for the continued support of our customers and community. This has been a challenging year for everyone and without our customers, we don’t know where we would be without you all. There are never enough thank yous for your support and from all of us here at Bluestone, we thank each and every one of you. The phrase “hindsight is 2020” is often talking about negatives and that if we would have known what was coming we would have done things different but that isn’t the case this time. We are grateful for what 2020 has taught us and how it led to so much creativity in the Tasting Room, in the vineyard, in the cellar and through our marketing. It led to many new ways of connecting with one another.
Thanks for reading the final 2020 edition of Out of the Barrel! Cheers! And Happy New Year to you all!