It's hard to decide which factoid was most interesting from our first visit to Morais Vineyards (pronounced "more-ice"): that the Portuguese owners had built an honest-to-goodness chapel for weddings on the grounds; that the winery's opening day and Virginia's first “real" earthquake happened simultaneously; or that all of the grapes are stomped by foot in the massive granite vat in the basement.
The tasting room staff may tell you that Victor the Vintner (as the winemaker is popularly known) does all the stomping himself, but owner Jose Morais quickly corrects that, adding “How would he ever get any work done??"
And there's plenty winemaking work to be done at this winery that hews to artisanal techniques, handpicking, using only estate-grown grapes, and eschewing filtering. With five years on the vine before opening day, the wines are interesting and promising.
The single white wine on the menu -- RK White -- made from the Georgian (country, not state) grape Rkatsitelli, a strong seller at Horton Vineyards down the road, the pioneer vineyard that introduced “Rkats" and other varieties to Virginia soils.
Morais has also made a run at creating the state's first Vinho Verde-style “Green Wine" from Vidal Blanc and Albarino. The vintage we tasted lacked the Portuguese version's typical sparkle, though the winemaker reports that it's in the plans for future years.
Other wines include a Rose, a lovely Red Select from Merlot and Cab Franc, a 100% Touriga Nacional, a Merlot, Cab Franc, and two traditional Portuguese dessert wines, Jeropiga and Moscatel.
The tasting room is large and bright, serving 20 or more around the circular tasting bar, with a variety of seating options. Customers may book the tasting room along with the banquet room for private events, in which case tastings are held in an intimate tasting room on the ground floor.
Morais courts events and weddings, with a large, light-filled event space and full catering kitchen. Groups are welcome, though limos and buses with more than 20 should book ahead. Outdoor music is permitted and currently there are no restrictions on cut-off times. With 198 acres, there is plenty of room to roam, and the nearest neighbor is a ways away.
Kids and pet welcome. Disabled visitors may drive up the patio outside the tasting room, where a wheelchair could easily navigate into the tasting room, but the restroom is not handicapped-accessible.
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