King Family Vineyards in Crozet, VA, is an experience-driven vineyard and polo field, and the location of our June Short Run Shirting photo shoot. The vineyard is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We had the chance to talk with Carrington King about the history of the vineyard, being part of a family business, and of course, great wine and polo.
How were you all initially planning to use the property?
We were looking for land for the family farm near the mountains that had really great mountain views, but also had a big flat piece of ground that we could relatively cheaply create a polo field and start a polo club without moving a ton of dirt. The first thing we did on the farm was build a horse barn. We didn’t buy the property intending to ever grow wine grapes, but sort of fell into that.
How did the property transition from being solely a family farm to becoming a vineyard and polo field?
We had a gentleman in ’95 come with a study from Virginia Tech who wanted to buy at least 10 acres of land from us for wine grapes. The study that Tech had done claimed that our parcel was one of the largest continuous parcels ranked the highest for growing French Venifera. We told him we weren’t interested in selling the land, but invited him in for dinner and he shared the study with us. That piqued our interest. In ’98, we put in 8 acres of Merlot and Viognier with a consulting wine maker and sold some of the fruit. We made a little bit of wine, about 500 cases at a neighboring winery, for fun and to see how it turned out. In 2000, we broke ground on a small facility and we’ve been growing ever since.
What makes the business unique?
It’s a family business, we all work hard and pitch in. My brother and I work there. My youngest brother is moving back from California, he just got out of the Marine Corps, and is going to start working with us. Mom and Dad are always involved. It’s a lot of work, it’s farming. People think the wine business is glamorous and easy but it’s farming just like everything else here, dependent on the weather and the winds of nature. Every year is different which is why we love it. You make the best wine that you can on your piece of property with the conditions that you’re given each year.
What is your role with the vineyard?
After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in Horticulture, I came back to run the vineyard. I’m still running the vineyard, but the business is growing and getting more complex, so I’m tackling a lot of issues when it comes to new ground, the farm, and the vineyard- basically a Chief Fire Fighter. If I had a title, it would be “Wine Grower.” That’s what a lot of us in the industry call it because we believe that wine is truly made in the vineyard. Wine makers manage the fermentation, but the potential for your wine is set in the vineyard, so most people in the industry call ourselves “Wine Growers.”
Was wine always an interest of yours?
Beer, wine, the local food movement, and preserving green space have always been interests of ours. One of the great things about doing what we’re doing is we’re able to do a lot of these things we love and care about. A lot of farming these days is unfortunately so heavily subsidized and money kind of flows through traditional farms. One of the reasons that Virginia wine has the full support of the state and localities is that people are recognizing, especially with the local food movement, that they’re the most viable economically. We’re preserving green space. The farm is in a conservation easement and it will never be developed, and we’re doing it all with growing grape vines.
What do you love most about the business?
Everyday is different. It’s a very seasonal business. We’ve got growing season, wedding season, polo season, the winter when everything is dormant and you can relax. We firmly believe in working hard and also in playing hard. This business allows you to do both, but it’s definitely a lifestyle choice. It’s not a 9-5, clock-out. If something needs to be fixed or tended to, you do it regardless of hours. During harvest, it’s all hands on deck and you throw the normal work hours out the window. In the winter you can kind of calm down. Today I’m going to a Governor’s Cup Seminar at another winery and I’m dressed up and cleaned up; tomorrow I could be on the tractor in Carthartts and a dirty t-shirt. So that’s definitely my favorite thing, that every day is different.
What makes the ground in Charlottesville and surrounding areas so great for wine growing?
There’s a French word, “terroir” –it’s a sense of place, it’s all of the factors that contribute to your location. It’s everything from soil type, how deep and drained the soils are, the type of rock and bedrock that lies beneath, the varieties, clones, and the root stock you choose. Most people have wisely put vineyards on the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
At our site in particular, we’ve always had very good luck with the acid and the finished pH in our grapes, so that’s one of the things people have always loved about our Merlot. A lot of vineyards have trouble with their pH’s going up towards harvest, but we always seem to have a really nice balance and the pH of our ground has been shown to produce really high quality fruit.
Tell us a bit more about polo.
Polo is every Sunday from Memorial Day to the second or third week in October. It’s free to the public. We sell wine out there on golf carts and have a couple of stations set up. We love to share the view and the great sport of polo. It’s amazing how big of a draw it is. We just finished up polo on Sunday afternoon, cleaned it up and had a wedding right after. So the polo, events and weddings have become a huge part of the business. You find a lot of overlap in the clientele that enjoy polo and wine, and a nice good tailored shirt…it’s all about the experience.
There’s been an interesting element of unexpected discovery in the flourishing development of King Family Vineyards. Visit their website: King Family Vineyards, like them on Facebook, and if you are ever in the foothills of Virginia, stop in for a nice glass of Chardonnay and a game of polo. King Family Vineyards is located at: 6550 Roseland Farm, Crozet, Virginia 22932.