The agricultural prowess of the Shenandoah Valley was a primary driver to the 1730’s settlement of German and Scotch-Irish immigrants.
In 1976, Jim and Emma Randel looked at the fertile soils on their property and began Shenandoah Vineyards.
Based on industry best practices in the mid 1970s (the “golden dawn of the modern Virginia wine industry”), Shenandoah’s first plantings were 5,000 vines of various French Hybrid varieties. In the years that followed as Statewide experimentation with other varietals became successful, plantings of classic Vitis Vinifera grapes followed.
According to the Virginia Tech Extension office (see Vincabulary), “Soil affects grapevine productivity and wine quality; but soil, like climate, comprises many components”. Soil can be described in terms of its depth, parent rock origin, organic matter content, texture, chemical properties, hydrology, and in terms of its microbial and other invertebrate fauna density and diversity.”
The wine made from grapes grown in the valley has a pronounced fruit character. The fruit quality is emphasized by the climate and soil. Limestone and sandstone have eroded from mountain onto vineyard, forming a hilly terrain with good air and water drainage. The winery says, “Roots grow deep and fruit grows sweet”.
The fertile soils produced the Shenandoah Valley nickname the “breadbasket of the confederacy” during the US Civil War. Most structures in the valley were burned during General Sheridan’s Campaign to destroy confederate supply lines, there is some controversy surrounding if Shenandoah Vineyards’ Barn (now the Barrel and Tasting Room) survived the war or was rebuilt soon after.
The macroclimate of the vineyard is of equal if not greater importance than the soil conditions. The climate conditions of the Shenandoah Valley, with an average of only 32 inches of annual rainfall, help to focus the fruit’s flavors and aromas.
Viticulture is dramatically impacted by climate. The Shenandoah Valley has an average high temperature in July under 90° and overnight lows near 60°. Such warm days and cool nights during the growing season promote ripening while maintaining fruit flavor, complexity and bouquet. Valley breezes help dry and encourage healthy foliage.
Today, with 15 acres under vine, Shenandoah grows eleven different varietals including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Riesling, Vidal, Villard Blanc, and Seyval.
Winery events are an important part of the Shenandoah Vineyards story. On December 7th & 8th they will host their annual holiday Open House. Fun food purveyors and gifts of all sorts will be a part of the celebration.
Wine is always about a place, and a specific time in that place. In the case of Shenandoah Vineyards, a rich history of winemaking experience and positive climactic conditions blend nicely with the rich soils of agricultural abundance.