Athena Vineyard & Winery Review
Address: 3138 Jesse Dupont Memorial Highway Heathsville,Virginia 22473.
Phone Number: 804-580-4944
Region: Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace AVA, Virginia
Reviewer: Kat Collins
Review Date: 7/6/2016
Reviewer: Kat Collins
In Greek mythology, born full-grown out of the head of her father Zeus and subsequently his favorite daughter, Pallas Athena, or simply Pallas, is known as the goddess of wisdom. She was logical, rational, decisive, practical, and urban. As a master strategist, she protected cities and armies, and introduced civilized legal proceedings with juries and due process, outlawing personal retribution. She was also the goddess of the practical arts, overseeing artisans such as weavers, goldsmiths, potters, dressmakers, shipbuilders, and winemakers. She gave people the tools for civilization, including plows, rakes, chariots, bridles for horses, and yokes for oxen. Knowing all this, Athena seems a fitting name for a vineyard run by three intelligent, energetic women (each a retired Army nurse) who enjoy healthy lifestyles, working in the vineyard, and the finer things in life.
It seems like overnight that the Northern Neck of Virginia has become a booming wine destination. Established in 2002, Athena Vineyards became the first official commercial winery and vineyard in Northumberland County, Virginia. Now, there are several vineyards in the area, thus the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail was born. Athena Vineyards has almost 15 acres in vine, predominantly of Vitis vinifera such as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval, Vidal Blanc, and Chambourcin.
If sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture is important to you, then Athena Vineyards should be on your list to visit and support. The owners have taken many steps to ensure that their winery operates with sustainable agriculture in mind, as their hope is to minimize or prevent potential risks to the environment, the public, and their staff. Some of their practices include vineyard row orientation to minimize erosion, buffer zones established with native species, invasive plant species removal, groundwater quality protection, integrated pest and nutrition management programs, sediment overflow ponds, hand harvesting, waste product composting and more. If only all vineyards were so concerned! What a difference that could make in the winemaking and wine farming world.
Driving up the winding road to the modest tasting room, embraced by the multitude of forest, vines, and marshland, you sense the environment is cherished and respected. It feels as though you are in the middle of a natural wildlife preserve. The tasting room building is quintessential Southern plantation style, on a much smaller scale, complete with a covered wrap-around porch. There are plenty of picnic tables outdoors in the open or under the porch roof. Inside, the tasting room is inviting, elegant, and warm. You feel welcomed into their “home.” We were greeted immediately by one of the bar staff, and after gratefully finding the restroom (it was a long drive to get to the winery from Virginia Beach where we were staying), our tasting commenced. It was $6.00 for a tasting of all their available wines.
Surprisingly, our bartender knew the wines well, considering she only works there during the summer (she teaches during the school year). It was obvious she highly respected the three owners. It’s always a pleasure to be served by staff who truly care about and respect the winery, the wines, and the owners.
As at other wineries in Virginia, we were impressed with their white wine and rose. Athena’s White, a blend of Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc, was crisp with bright fruit and delicate floral notes. A perfect complement to the ever-present seafood and oysters in the Chesapeake Bay area. Athena’s Rose is a delicious summer blush, a blend of Chambourcin and Athena’s White, that would be delicious with seafood, grilled poultry, and of course oysters and crab.
When we started tasting the red wines, we were pleasantly surprised! Their reds had more of an Old World style with hints of spice and earthiness. Their Cabernet Franc was light to medium bodied with spicy cayenne pepper, bright red fruit, and a subtle smokiness. It was aged for one year in French Oak. The Galleon Treasure Red was a hearty, full-bodied, and aromatic blend of Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc. It was aged 70% of the time in stainless steel. It would be excellent with grilled red meats and barbecue. We were most impressed with their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend (75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot). It resembled a classic French Bordeaux; medium bodied with bright, complex red fruit and a smooth, peppery finish.
One of their notably distinctive wines was the Safe Harbor, an 18% fortified Chambourcin wine vinted as a Port, but with a shorter barrel aging. It was deep red in color with fresh and sweet juicy red berry notes similar to a Ruby Port. You can purchase it in a regular bottle or in a specialty bottle in the shape of a caravel, a ship with two or three masts used by Europeans beginning in the 15th century for long exploratory voyages. Caravels were used to bring the first English settlers to Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.
Sadly, Athena Vineyards is up for sale as the owners (they are in their 70s and 80s) would like to retire from the hard labor to enjoy the rest of their lives in relaxation. Make sure to visit while the current owners are still there as it’s always a treat to meet them and hear their storied history. Hopefully, the next owners will continue the positive, delicious, sustainable, and award-winning legacy these ladies started in Heathsville, Virginia.