By Ryan Cornell
MOUNT JACKSON -- The Winery at Kindred Pointe didn't just open in time for Virginia Wine Month in October. More importantly, it opened in time to dodge the government shutdown. Had owners Bruce and Amy Helsley waited just a few more weeks to send in their labels for approval, they could've seen their opening date delayed by months.
The couple sent their labels away in the spring, and on the last weekend of September, the Mount Jackson vineyard and winery finally opened for business.
"The waiting and the feeling like there was nothing you could do about it," Amy Helsley said about the time in-between. "You know, you're ready to open your business and you submit your labels and the government just took their time and that was really hard because you're ready to open and start selling something."
The vineyard's first grapes were planted in 2008 and harvested last year, so the winery's merlot and malbec wines are now ready for quaffing. She said it's likely that the Winery at Kindred Pointe is the only winery in the Shenandoah Valley to grow and sell a malbec under its own label.
She said that malbec grapes are usually grown in regions such as Argentina and Chile, but can thrive in any area with extended periods of sunshine.
She described the malbec as light and fruit-forward and the merlot as a "middle-of-the-road" wine with a cherry note and a "tad bit of oak." She said the winery contracts Michael Shaps, a professional winemaker from Charlottesville, to craft the wine.
"It's so much work having a vineyard," she said. "It sounds all romantic and simple. There's risk; farming is a lot like gambling. You don't know what you're gonna get."
She said she took online winemaking classes at the University of California-Davis last fall and learned a lot about oenology.
"Obviously, you can't taste it online, but you can get the science and the process," she said. "And all of this kind of stuff, it was pretty intense. You had to have chemistry as a prerequisite."
When the Helsleys bought the 58-acre property on Conicville Road in 2005, it had grass and cows, and not much else.
"There was a gate in the road," Amy Helsley said. "This whole thing was a cattle farm with nothing, there were no buildings, there were no roads, nothing."
They quickly built a horse barn and started up their business as Kindred Pointe Stables.
"We did the horse farm and it's such a beautiful piece of property that my husband loves to landscape and get everything all pretty," Amy Helsley said. "And then the horse industry kind of went down and at the same time, we had planted the vineyard because Cave Ridge came in and said, 'Why don't you plant a vineyard and get that started and I'll buy your grapes.'"
They decided to plant five acres of grapevines. They converted the horse barn into a tasting room. And now they're planning to expand their vineyard to 10 acres.
The winery is multifaceted, she said; it's more than just a vineyard with a tasting room. She said there are plenty of nice views to take in on walks around the property. There's a wetland nearby that draws in flocks of birds and wildlife. Three horses also reside on the property, from their early days spent in the stables.
She referred to "Anne of Green Gables" as a source of inspiration.
"She's always talking about kindred spirits: when you meet someone and you have this connection with them," she said. "That's what this was all about. That you're here with someone you really enjoy being with and being away from everyday life."
Opposites attract, as the old saying goes. It's almost a rule when it comes to the two owners. Bruce Helsley is the introvert and Amy Helsley is the social butterfly. He's the horticulturalist who grows the grapes and she's the sommelier who pours glasses in the tasting room. She's the passenger and he's the designated driver ... which is another interesting point: he doesn't drink.
"Well, the vineyard is all about farming, so you don't have to taste the wine to grow the grape, and the most important ingredient of wine is the grape," she said.
She said it helps him detect imbalances in the finished product.
"The fact that he's also not a wine drinker is good because he can taste the wine and he can tell if it's balanced or not," she said. "Whereas I sometimes like wine that's not completely balanced, he can just tell if it's too acidic. He's like my taster to help me."
The Winery at Kindred Pointe is part of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail and O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail.
"In this industry, you need wineries to work together to draw people here," she said. "We're very fortunate, because Cave Ridge is here and Wolf Gap is here and so there's people already here on the wine trail. So it makes it easier to attract customers here."
Currently, Amy Helsley works as a certified public accountant and Bruce Helsley works as a carpet cleaning supervisor at James Madison University. She said they hope to retire from their day jobs one day and take up the winery full-time.
• Where: 3575 Conicville Road, Mount Jackson
• When: Friday to Sunday, 1 to 6 p.m.
• Cost: Prices range from $23 to $29 per bottle, tasting fee is $6 per person for eight wines
• Call: 540-477-3570
• Online: kindredpointe.com
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org