Shenandoah working to enhance beer, wine trail

Shenandoah County Tourism is working with regional partners to unfurl an expanded beer and wine trail for the Northern Shenandoah Valley, said Director of Marketing and Tourism Jenna French.

The trail – which French noted would be similar to the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop – would look to combine the wineries and craft brewery partners from Rockingham County and the City of Harrisonburg.

“We’ve been in talks about some specific branding and titling … so it’s all in the works and we hope that by spring we’ll be able to roll that out officially,” French said.

Over the past year and a half, Shenandoah County alone has witnessed a rise in craft breweries – between the Woodstock Brewhouse and Swover Creek Brewery – and hop production as well as a growing list of wineries.

Within the next six months, this list is going to grow with the addition of tasting rooms to established grape-growers Muse Vineyards and De Mello Vineyards.

California native Ed De Mello, who owns and operates De Mello Vineyards out of Quicksburg with his wife Wendy, noted that they are hoping to have their new two-story, old-style tasting room open in mid-November.

De Mello, who moved from the San Francisco area to the valley more than a decade ago, noted that he established his vineyard in 2007 with the intention of slowly growing and establishing the operation.

A few years ago, De Mello said he realized that simply growing and selling grapes was not financially sustainable. So he decided to work toward building a tasting room and bottling numerous varietals from resling to drier bordeaux blends.

De Mello said that their wines will be on sale and available for tasting for the first time when the tasting room opens in November.

Muse Vineyards, which was awarded a medal in the 2015 Governors Cup, is also working toward opening a new tasting room at its Woodstock-based vineyard. Co-owner Sally Cowal noted recently that it could be open in early 2016.

French said, “In just a handful of years, we’ve grown with the number of vineyards … and I see the breweries really taking off in that direction. There’s such as demand for it.”

This demand is part of that reason that North Mountain Vineyard owners Brad and Krista Jackson-Foster planted hops three years ago – with the goal of targeting home-brew and craft operations.

“These smaller craft breweries are looking for local products that will reflect the flavor of the growing conditions that we have here in Virginia and in the Shenandoah Valley,” Foster said.

Foster added, “The hops are going to be like the grapes in that a cascade hop grown in the Shenandoah Valley is going to taste slightly different than a cascade hop grown in Washington or Oregon.”

North Mountain is looking to partner with craft breweries across the region, and even harvested a batch of cascade hops for the Woodstock Brewhouse in July.

Karl Roulston, part owner of the Woodstock Brewhouse, said that they brewed a seasonal wet-hop pale ale – similar to its popular Seven Bender – from this batch that ended up selling better than anticipated.

Foster noted that, as the Brewhouse becomes more and more popular, they will be looking to expand on the sampling of hops they provided this past summer.

Ed De Mello noted that he believes the growth of craft breweries and wineries will be a good thing for the valley in the future.

“We’re really seeing the growth of people taking the next step to our valley, not just stopping in Linden or Winchester, and taking that extra half-hour to get down to the valley,” De Mello said.

“We feel that 10 years this will be the place to go, honestly,” De Mello added. “Especially with the microbreweries that are coming in there. That’s a huge attraction.”

To aid the branding and marketing of the regional beer and wine trail, French said they will be applying for a $10,000 grant through the Virginia Tourism Corporation in November.

“Really, we look at this program to enable the participants to be able to cross-promote one another,” French said. “It all comes back full circle, because they’ll be promoting their neighbor … and it helps with the overall economic development.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com