Know Your Vintner: Scott & Rachel Stinson, Stinson Vineyards
SCOTT STINSON WASN’T LOOKING TO START a family business when he and wife Martha decided to leave Washington, D.C., for rural Central Virginia in 2009. Scott, an architect, was drawn to an historic house in need of restoration in White Hall. Thing is, the place came with a neglected vineyard. “We didn’t know what to do with it, so we decided to start a winery,” he shrugs. Soon he lured daughter Rachel away from her job as a photo editor in New York City to form the fledgling Stinson Vineyards father-daughter winemaking team. Today, the two winemakers collaborate on more styles than the average boutique winery. And if a disagreement arises…well, we’ll let them address that.
Edible Blue Ridge: Starting a family winery seems to have happened almost by accident. Did you already have an appreciation for wine?
Rachel Stinson: My parents have always been into wine, and when I was living in Manhattan I enjoyed wine and learning about different wine regions. As far as actually becoming a winemaker, I liked that this would be a hands-on job, not just sitting behind a desk.
Scott Stinson: This seemed like a fun change of pace. Of course, neither of us had experience actually making wine at the beginning, so we hired great consultants. We ended up completely replanting the vineyard.
EBR: Winemakers are known for having strong opinions. What happens if you disagree at some point in the process?
Scott: We try to work it out. If it has to do with the vineyard, Martha and I make the call. If it’s winemaking, Rachel has final say. We do disagree from time to time, but we don’t fight about it. We work it out.
Rachel: We’re both very stubborn. To really settle something, we usually need a third opinion.
EBR: You’re devotees of French wines. How does that express itself in what happens at Stinson?
Scott: To be specific, we’re really inspired by wines from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. It starts in the vineyard, where we planted clones of the traditional Bordeaux grapes—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc—among others, including petit manseng and tannat. Our rows are very densely planted with 1,800 to 2,000 vines per acre. We’re doing whole-berry fermentation for our reds, which is very traditional in France. And everything is aged in French oak.
EBR: Being fairly new to winemaking certainly doesn’t seem to have stopped you from making quite a few different types of wine.
Rachel: We’re making 10 wines, but only around 100 to 200 cases of each. Focusing on small-batch wines allows us to work with a lot of different varietals and styles.
EBR: Speaking of which, your 2011 Imperialis Port recently earned a “Made in the South” award from Garden & Gun magazine. How did port become part of the lineup?
Scott: My wife likes sweeter wines, and Bill Curtis down at Tastings in Charlottesville recommended a port. She liked it and sent me back for more. That’s when I discovered that port is expensive. So I figured we should just make it ourselves.
Rachel: It was basically for personal consumption. But we bottled some for sale, and people seemed to seek it out.
Scott: We make a ruby port style, like they make in the Pyrenees in Southern France, with tannat grapes. It’s quite an involved process. We found directions online and had them translated from French. Rachel has done a great job with it. It’s turning into quite the interesting wine.
EBR: What are your next releases?
Rachel: We have the 2013 sauvignon blanc coming out this spring. We’re excited because this is the first year we’re using sauvignon blanc grapes we grew ourselves. We’ve seen how amazing it is to have your own fruit, because we have that much more control. I actually like that the conditions can be different from one year to the next in Virginia, because then we can pursue different styles. Flexibility is part of the game plan.
EBR: You converted a garage into a beautiful tasting room that doubles as a farm store. How did that come about?
Rachel: It happened naturally when we realized how much great produce and farm products were being raised right around here. One of our favorite things is when a local person drops by for a bottle of wine and some eggs or Timbercreek Organics meat. We want to be that place.
For more about Stinson Vineyards, go to stinsonvineyards.com.