Few wine enthusiasts know of the vibrant winery culture in Loudoun County, Virginia, or have heard of Sunset Hills Vineyard. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States of America, envisioned a day when quality grapes and excellent wine were a product of his home state of Virginia.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century, and we find Jefferson’s dream has come true. Sunset Hills would please our third president for its quality wines, eco-friendly practices, and philanthropy. In 2006, owners Mike and Diane Canney purchased an old worn-out farm next to their vineyards in Loudoun County, Virginia, to expand the growing acreage and add both a wine-making facility and a tasting room.
The farm was an old one from 1870 and had gone through several owners. By the time the Canneys bought the farm, it had a large barn falling apart, over-worked soil, and was generally a mess. With a vision for a world-class winery, the work to restore the farm began in earnest.
Sunset Hills hired Amish craftsmen to restore the barn to a condition better than the original. Not only was the barn stripped down to the posts and beams as part of the rehab project, but when restoration work was finished, they added a solar power array that produces 80,000 Kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
A Solar-Powered Winery
On their website, they state: Turning sunshine into wine is something we’ve been doing since 2010. While solar power has been gaining in use throughout the U.S., it’s not often one sees a winery on the east coast utilizing the sun’s energy to make wine.
Solar power geeks will like Sunset Hills’ webpage where the annual power production, as well as daily power stats (in real-time), can be viewed. The webpage also includes positioning data, installation notes, and system performance information.
While solar power was a great start to having an eco-friendly winery, the Canneys were just getting started. To clean up the soil, they committed to eliminating wide-scale pesticides, choosing to let beneficial insects do the work in place of chemicals. Sunset Hills installed Bluebird houses with guidance from the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy that has attracted numerous bluebirds and swallows that help with insect control.
Supporting Monarchs, Addressing the Waste Stream, and More
Pollinator gardens and Monarch Butterfly waystations add to the holistic approach to farming techniques. Visitors to Sunset Hills are welcome to walk the Bluebird Trails and view the pollinator gardens with a glass of wine in hand.
Other eco-friendly practices include recycling all cardboard and glass while continually seeking ways to “reduce and reuse.” The winery has an artesian spring-fed pond that provides water for humans and fish. Tesla charging stations, also powered by the sun, provide four parking/charging spots for electric cars, both Telsa and others.
All wines from Sunset Hills and their other vineyard 50 West, use estate-grown grapes. In 2012, three additional farms were purchased to supply the two wineries with enough grapes for producing 100% Virginia wines. With five vineyards, the Canneys can experiment with better ways to control insects in an eco-friendly manner.
Award-Winning Virginia Wine
All of the above attributes wouldn’t mean much if the wine wasn’t of high quality. In the tasting room, I noticed over twenty bottles of wine with award medals adorning them. I tasted several of the wines on offer that day and found them to be very good. I attended cook school in Sonoma County, California, back in 1975, and for decades thought the only acceptable wine made in the U.S. was from California or Oregon.
Wineries like Sunset Hills have changed my mind about other states being able to make wines that appeal to a wide group of consumers. The Cabernet Franc, Sunset Red, Petite Verdot, and Sunset White all impressed me enough to buy several bottles to enjoy at home.
When spring comes, I look forward to walking the bluebird trails to see insect control up close. I’m also interested in seeing their monarch butterfly waystations in use. Chances are I won’t be the only one visiting Sunset Hills for a dose of nature.
To bring together an excellent lineup of wines, a gorgeous winery just an hour from D.C., generous philanthropy, and exhibit above-the-bar eco-friendly practices makes Sunset Hills a winery worth visiting.
Kurt Jacobson writes about travel, food, wine, organic gardening, and most anything else from his varied professional life. His articles appear in Alaska magazine, Fish Alaska magazine, Metropolis Japan magazine, Edible Delmarva magazine, North West Travel and Life magazine, and MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Kurt lives in the Baltimore, Md., area with his wife, dog and cats. Kurt’s articles also appear on several websites like: GoNomad.com, Trip101.com, MotherEarthNews.com, Adventuresstraveler.com, and several others. Kurt is a regular contributor to GoNomad.com writing about Alaska, Colorado, New Zealand, Japan, and the Mid-Atlantic areas. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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