Horton Vineyards Review
Address: 6399 Spotswood Trail Gordonsville,Virginia 22942.
Phone Number: 540-832-7440
Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00
Region: Monticello AVA, Virginia
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Review Date: 10/23/2013
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Just off Spotswood Trail (aka Route 33), just east of the village of Barboursville, you’ll come upon the prominent stone gate of Horton Vineyards. As you navigate down the drive and past the acreage of well-groomed, trellised vines, you’ll find the main winery building, which houses the tasting room. The architecture looks slightly out of place, like it belongs in a French agricultural setting. Park the care and go inside. You’re in the right place.
In any discussion of Virginia winemaking, Horton Vineyards must be mentioned. In regard to viticulture, it is arguably one of the most historically significant Virginia wineries. In the early days of Virginia wine production, when winery owners were still casting about, trying to identify the best varietals for local conditions, Dennis Horton was instrumental in the process of trial and error. It is said that Horton pulled up as many vines as he planted. It was Horton who first cultivated and promoted Viognier, which is now the state grape. Horton also brought the Norton hybrid back to Virginia, where it had not been cultivated since before prohibition. The spirit of experimentation continues at Horton Vineyards, where you’ll find some exotic varietals on the tasting menu. Horton grows native-American Concord, the South African hybrid, Pinotage, and Rkatseteli from the Republic of Georgia.
As a result of the montage of wines produced by Horton, you’ll likely experience vertigo as you study the tasting menu. On the day of my visit, there were 43 different wines available for tasting. Twelve of these were fruit wines. By nearly any standard, that’s a lot. Tasting all of them in a single sitting is simply not advised. Mercifully, or perhaps wisely, tastings are arranged so that each visitor selects from the list like a sushi menu and designs his or her own tasting flight of ten wines. There was so much to choose from and so many wines looked interesting, that it took me a while. I did finally manage to make my selections and then looked on jealously as others in my party tasted wines that failed to make my cut.
Another thing you’ll notice as you study the tasting menu is the price of the wines. Only one dessert wine and a single sparkling wine were priced over twenty dollars. There are also discounts on three-packs or cases. It’s unusual to find those prices in a tasting room and, of course, you can go to a local grocery store and purchase many of them for even less. So the price point is exceptional, but what about the quality of the wine?
When you make that many wines, all of them can’t be winners. I will say, however, that they are all well-crafted, but a few are amazing. The Viognier is everything one looks for in that varietal. It’s made in the Condrieu style with big tropical notes and full bodied with a rich, oily mouth feel. I have no real point of reference for the Rkatsiteli, but I found it dry and full of citrus flavors. I know that this is one of the traditional Georgian kvevri wine varietals, but the Horton example is different and done in a more traditional style. I’ve always been a fan of the Horton Cab Franc, and I was not disappointed. There was lots of fruit on the nose and palate. I detected a bit of spice in a finish that just kept going. It’s an excellent wine. Finally, I should mention the Port. Horton is the only winery on the East Coast that was grandfathered in and allowed to refer to their fortified wine as Port rather than Port Style. It’s quite good and should be added to any tasting flight.
I will say that the tasting room experience at Horton leaves something to be desired. The tasting bar has not grown to accommodate the number of visitors. There’s no telling how many customers will be present on any given day and it can get quite crowded. As a result, the tasting can be rather impersonal with, at best, only a cursory introduction to each of the wines. From an educational standpoint, I found it lacking.
Despite my single misgiving, I still feel that this winery should be visited. No tour of Virginia wine country can be considered complete without a stop at Horton. There are occasional winery events, but your best bet is just to stop in for a tasting. The variety and quality of the wines are enough reason to add Horton Vineyards to your list.