The Maverick that is Horton Vineyards

By. Neil Williamson, Editor

In every industry, there are those who follow and those who take chances and lead. When successful, such leaders are called mavericks. Dennis Horton is a maverick in the Virginia Wine Industry.

From his castle styled winery in Orange Virginia to his expansive and eclectic range of wine choices, Horton’s unique vision and competitive drive combine to create an iconoclastic entrepreneur who has grown Horton Vineyards into one of the top producers in the state.

Horton Vineyards history started in 1983 in Madison County Virginia when Horton planted a small home vineyard. His success with this start up vineyard let him to explore the world for varieties that would succeed in Virginia’s humid growing conditions. As high humidity often brings fungus between the grapes, his first search was for varieties with thicker skins and loose hanging clusters.

Before he planted any additional grapes, Horton traveled to the Rhone Valley in France. The Rhone Valley features similar growing conditions and has been producing fine wines since Roman times.

At this point, only a few California vineyards were growing Rhone varietals, including Viognier, those leaders that did were dubbed the ‘Rhone Rangers’.  Horton made the decision to go big into Viognier along with smaller amounts of other grape varieties.

In 1988, Dennis and longtime business partner Joan Bieda acquired 55 acres for the beginning of Horton Vineyards

The task of establishing the vineyard was given to Dennis’ wife Sharon, a nurse by trade, whose meticulous nature was reflected in the manicuring of the East Coast’s most unique vineyard.

Horton’s bet paid off. His Viognier hit the market just as interest in the variety was developing. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Horton should be flattered as Viognier is now the official wine grape of Virginia.

Located directly on U.S. 33 in the northern portion of the Monticello Wine Trail, Horton Vineyards tasting room features vaulted ceilings and an assortment of fun wine related gear and apparel. Walking up to the tasting bar, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of tasting choices presented. The unpretentious staff at Horton goes out of the way to help with tasting decisions.

For the last ten years or so, winemaking at Horton has been conducted under the gentle hand of Mike Heny.  A complementary personality to the outgoing Horton, Heny’s understated style allows the true character of the grape to express itself in the wine.

As one of the original ‘Rhone Rangers’, Horton Vineyards is one of the “must see” wineries in Virginia. In my all my years of visiting I have never walked out of the tasting room without tasting something new and different [and with wine].

Dennis Horton’s bold vision and persistence have established the winery and the man as pillars in the Virginia wine industry

Photo Credit: Horton Vineyards

About virginiawineclub

Chairman Virginia Wine Club Tasting Panel Editor, Virginia Wine Journal
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