Bluestone Vineyard: The Embrace of Place in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley

By Published On: June 3, 2024

Credit: Bluestone Vineyard

Lee Hartman dreamt of unearthing forgotten stories, his history degree a passport to the past. But fate, it seemed, had a different vintage in mind. What began as a teenage curiosity – a small vineyard planted with his parents – would blossom into a life-altering harvest. 

Years later, with a diploma in hand and a yearning for a deeper connection to the land, Lee found himself not lost in dusty archives, but elbow-deep in Virginia soil, infatuated by the simple alchemy of “dirt, water, and sunlight.” This is the story of Bluestone Vineyard, not a singular epiphany, but a family legacy that took root.

Situated in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Bluestone isn’t just a name – it’s a geological fingerprint. The vineyard’s namesake comes from the Frederick and Lodi Silt Loam that dominates the soil, generously laced with deposits of limestone.  You can’t dig a hole here without finding some–countless quartz and limestone specimens within your grasp. This unique soil composition offers a double benefit. The limestone provides excellent drainage, crucial for healthy grape development. But it’s not the only player. The vineyard’s topography plays a significant role too. The rolling hills act as natural drainage channels, directing excess water and cold air away from the vines. This, coupled with the well-drained soils, creates a perfect environment for grape health.

The vineyard itself offers distinct microclimates thanks to its elevation changes. The main site ranges from 1200-1300 feet, while a newer parcel sits at a higher elevation (1300-1400 feet). This seemingly small difference can have a dramatic impact. Last year, the lower site received its first frost weeks earlier, allowing the grapes at the higher elevation precious extra time to mature under the summer sun.

While the concept of “terroir-driven” wines is ubiquitous, Lee takes a refreshingly pragmatic approach. “The site will express itself,” he says, “unless you’re meddling too much.”  This philosophy extends to his cellar practices. Lee meticulously divides lots at every opportunity, from press fractions to experimenting with different barrel types.  Even grapes harvested on the same day, from the same plot, can be vinified with slight variations – different press times, yeasts, temperatures – each revealing a hidden facet of the Bluestone terroir.

Cabernet Franc, known for its adaptability, finds a unique voice in the cool embrace of the

Credit: Bluestone Vineyard

Shenandoah Valley. At Bluestone Vineyard, they steer clear of fruit bombs, crafting Cab Francs that lean decidedly towards the herbal notes characteristic of cooler climates. Clocking in around 13% ABV, these wines allow the pyrazines – the chemical compounds responsible for those intriguing green pepper hints – to shine through, but in a delightful and balanced way.

This expressive character is further amplified by Lee’s choice of clones. Clone 214, with its tiny berries, contributes concentration and a powerful punch, while clone 327 brings a lighter body and beautiful notes of bright florals and red fruits.  Planted at Bluestone’s highest elevation (1400 feet), these grapes offer a panoramic view of the valley, and a truly distinctive expression. 

Innovation is another hallmark of Bluestone. Lee’s playful “Odd Bird” project is a great example of this.  In 2019, his surplus of Cab Franc grapes led to the creation of a white Cab Franc – a unique twist used to lighten his Rosé.  Fast forward to 2020, frost ravaged the vineyards, forcing Lee to adapt once more. Unable to produce reds that met his high standards, he decided to whole-cluster press his remaining Cab Franc, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.  This innovative blend, barrel-fermented for an added layer of complexity, became the inaugural wine in Bluestone’s  Vineyard Site Series.  This series allows Lee to experiment and create exciting wines that cater to both casual and discerning palates.

Viognier takes center stage due to its ability to complement the existing portfolio. Lee acknowledges the grape’s rising popularity in the state, but avoids following trends. Instead, he sees Viognier as a unique opportunity to add a touch of distinction.  Known for its alluring perfume of floral notes and stone fruits, Bluestone’s Viognier is a study in controlled expression. His focus lies on preserving the grape’s intrinsic aromatics. To achieve this, he embraces a minimalist approach. Gone are the days of acacia barrels, which while uplifting, could overpower the delicate Viognier character. Today, neutral oak takes the stage, providing subtle structure without muddying the aromatics.

Credit: Bluestone Vineyard

The Shenandoah Valley carves its own path. While Virginia boasts the title of the largest and oldest AVA on the East Coast, the Shenandoah Valley distinguishes itself with a unique set of characteristics. Here, elevation reigns supreme. As the highest and driest AVA in the state, the Valley experiences a dramatic difference in rainfall compared to its neighbors. This translates to wines that are inherently food-friendly, with lower alcohol content and the potential for extended aging. 

Beyond its distinctive terroir, the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail offers a multifaceted experience for visitors. Wineries collaborate with local restaurants and accommodations, creating events like the annual Winter Wine Weekend. However, the Valley also faces challenges. Its rural charm and focus on affordability haven’t yet translated into a large local wine-drinking market. This creates a “chicken and egg” scenario –  wineries struggle to gain recognition without a strong local following, and vice versa. Despite these obstacles, the dedication of the Hartman family is paving the way for a brighter future.  

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative reporting.

Wine Recommendations 

2021 Merlot- showcases a sleek, velvety mouthfeel. On the nose, it offers enticing aromas of ripe plum with cigar box nuances. The palate is opulent, yet retains a sense of grace. Hints of graphite and herbal notes add complexity, while a touch of minerality provides a refreshing counterpoint. This wine is a hedonistic delight. 

2022 Cabernet Franc- impresses with its core of cassis and blackberry, with a touch of spicy notes. Earthy tones lead to a peppery finish. This approachable charmer drinks well now but hints at potential for aging.

2019 Petit Verdot- inky boysenberry and blackberry fruit that’s impressive for its concentration with bracing acidity that keeps the palate fresh and energized. The structure is firm with well-integrated tannins that lend a sense of grip and promise of cellaring potential.

2020 ‘Odd Bird’- exhibits a nose of melon and grapefruit, a nice interplay of sweetness and citrus that immediately engages the senses. On the palate, the wine displays a crisp acidity, racy and mouthwatering. Underlying herbal hints that add a layer of complexity that keeps the finish interesting.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .