We have traveled up and down the historic Shenandoah Valley, in western Virginia, for many years. The valley is rich with mountain scenery, quaint agrarian towns, a four seasons (including ski) resort, and a growing number of wineries — now standing at 22 by our count. Not until recently, though, had we heard of Muse Vineyards, a small family-owned winery tucked behind the town of Woodstock, just off I-81, in the shadows of Massanutten Mountain. We have now visited Muse Vineyards a handful of times, and each time have been struck by the beauty and drama of the approach; visitors must drive along a narrow gravel road at the edge of a steep rise overlooking a sharp bend in the serpentine Shenandoah River, then descend and cross a single lane bridge — perched just inches above the water — leading to the winery and surrounding vineyards.
Proprietors Robert Muse and Sally Cowal purchased much of their vineyard acreage and established Muse Vineyards in 2006, “on a whim,” they will say, but genuinely inspired by the traditional domaine wineries they discovered during their travels through France and Italy. Today they farm 22 acres under vine planted to 15 different varieties, and their passion for artisanal winemaking is evident in their practices as well as their wines. They employ traditional viticultural and vinicultural methods with a focus on “minimal intervention,” carefully selecting vineyard plots for each variety; paying close attention to canopy and yield management; and exercising restraint in fermentation and barrel aging. And there is something about their site — the rugged mountain geology, the cool river running through it, perhaps even the microclimate along their little bend in the Northern Neck of the Shenandoah River — that seems particularly well-suited for cultivating vitis vinifera.
It took little time for Muse Vineyards to be recognized for the quality and distinction of its wine. Their 2009 “Clio” Bordeaux blend — one of the winery’s first releases — was awarded the Virginia Wineries Association’s Governor’s Cup in 2015. But this accolade has not impelled Muse to reach too far too quickly. The winery currently offers only a limited assortment of wines: two whites — Chardonnay and Roussanne; a rosé of Gamay; a bistro-style Grenache called “Calliope;” and the Clio Bordeaux blend. We offer our tasting notes on two of their current releases, below; and we look forward to tasting and featuring more Muse wines to come.
Muse Vineyards | Roussanne | Shenandoah Valley | VA | 2013 | $19 | 87 Pts
Roussanne is one of the traditional white varieties of France’s Rhône Valley, where it is typically employed as a blending grape — with Marsanne in the north, and Grenache Blanc in the south. Muse’s ode to the white wines of the Rhône Valley is this single varietal Roussanne, grown on the estate, that deftly reveals the often elusive characteristics of the variety. It is fresh, delicate, and honeyed, with notions of nectarine, honeysuckle, and green tea on the nose; and on the palate, suggestions of pear, macadamia nut, and wet stone — all framed by glimmers of fresh tarragon, celery, and buttery oak. In the tradition of the great white wines of the Rhône, the wine was barrel-fermented in 500 liter oak puncheons. It is dry, with moderate acidity, and will serve as a refreshing and versatile sipping, picnicking, and patio wine come spring. Pair it with creamy cheeses, steamed mussels, fruit tarts, and other light fare. (13% ABV)
Muse Vineyards | Clio | Shenandoah Valley | VA | 2010 | $35 | 92 Pts
Clio is Muse’s proprietary blend of four classic Bordeaux varieties, consisting of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The 2010 is a worthy successor to the award-winning 2009, as it, too, exemplifies how well these particular varieties can perform in Virginia if the site is right. The wine opens with aromas of mulberry preserve, toasted vanilla, and potpourri, which segue to flavors of black cherry, tea leaf, and sweet cured tobacco — all layered with exotic flourishes of lavendar, balsamic, and pine over a savory finish. It is dry, medium-bodied, and lush on the palate, with lively acidity, fine, approachable tannins, and a judicious undercurrent of cedary oak. In Bordeaux fashion, the wine aged for 36 months in French oak barriques (half new, half neutral). It is enjoyable now and should drink well over the next several years. Serve it with medium-to-sharp cheeses, assorted charcuterie, seared filet mignon, beef stew, and other such hearty fare. (14.5% ABV)
“Muse’s ‘Clio’ Red Blend is a Game Changer for
Winemaking in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”
Availability: Muse wines are available at the winery, by appointment only, at 16 Serendipity Lane, Woodstock, VA 22664. To arrange an appointment, call them at 540-459-7033. The tasting area is currently located in their small winemaking facility, but Muse is building a new tasting and barrel room among the vineyards that promises to be stunning. We will let you know when it opens to the public. Muse also can direct-ship to customers in Virginia, New York, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, and the District of Columbia. To shop online, visit them virtually at www.musevineyards.com. Muse Vineyards wines are available, as well, at Woodstock Cafe & Shoppes in downtown Woodstock, Virginia.