Army Monitoring Station Number One closed in the late 1990s. During World War II and on through the Cold War, however, the site was used to listen to radio transmissions. There’s no longer a heavy demand for that skill set, so the government divested the property, which now contains a Cold War museum, a housing subdivision and a winery. An odd combination? Perhaps, but read on.
Vint Hill Craft Winery's location, in the middle of a housing development and in the same building that housed the old radio monitoring station, does seem a bit out of the ordinary. Of course, Vint Hill Craft Winery is not your typical winery/tasting room. Since 2009, when Vint Hill opened its doors, they have existed to teach classes on winemaking. Businesses and even individuals can produce their own wines, purchase a barrel or half barrel, bottle their product and make their own labels. It’s an interesting concept and the only one of its kind in the Commonwealth.
The Cold War Museum shares a building with the winery.
So Vint Hill was not conceived as a winery in the traditional sense. I was a little put off by that initially, but the more I learned, the more I appreciated the concept. It’s not that there are no Vint Hill wines. There are, but their significance is muted by the winery's larger purpose. The Vint Hill mission is wine education and that is achieved in a couple of ways. On the most basic level, casual visitors will be exposed to wines produced from Virginia, Washington and California grapes. This provides an opportunity for comparison. Toward this end, Vint Hill charges an “education fee,” as opposed to a “tasting fee” and the tasting experience proceeds like a wine course. During my visit, there were ten wines on the tasting list that represented fruit from both Virginia and Washington. The staff seemed very adept at guiding visitors through the offerings and they perform well in their dual trainer/wine steward roles.
The tasting room is on the upper floor of the barn
that housed Monitoring Station Number One.
Of course, the main event at Vint Hill is the making of wine. This is a “custom crush” facility, meaning that the winery will make wines to a customer’s specifications. Unlike similar operations, however, the customer can be as involved in the process as s/he likes. In this sense, there is a partnership with Vint Hill, that allows the customer to become the winemaker and the winery staff to simply facilitate that process. So there is a knowledge transfer to the customer and the art of winemaking can be learned on the winery floor using a hands-on approach.
The winemaking facility is on the ground floor.
I have to admit that until sitting down to write this review, I did not fully appreciate the implications of the Vint Hill program. This is wine education in its purest form. There are certainly university programs and wine institutions that convey information in a formal setting. This program, on the other hand, is geared toward the average wine enthusiast, who is not interested in a degree or certification. Vint Hill is a legitimate venue for wine learning and, as such, plays an important role in educating wine consumers in regional wine differences, in addition to the art and science of winemaking.