Started in 1999 as a vineyard, Stanburn Winery has grown to produce and sell a dozen different wines under three generations of the Stanley family.
Owner Elsie Stanley said her husband Nelson first got the idea to grow grapes in the mid-1990s after doing plumbing work for Chateau Morrisette Winery’s expansion. “During the two-years it took to build that place they talked him into growing grapes. Then he comes home and talks me into growing grapes,” she said.
The couple planted their first vines in 1999 with the thought of only selling grapes to Chateau Morrisette, which they have done for more than 20 years.
Before the family started making wine, David Stanley said he and his father started taking winemaking classes to help them work with Chateau Morrisette’s winemakers. “They would come talk to us and ask questions and talk about buying grapes from all over the state,” he said.
David Stanley said the classes allowed the family to better understand the wine-side of the vineyard. Elsie Stanley said the family began thinking about moving onto making wine in mid-2008 and officially opened the winery in 2010 with its 2009 grapes.
As they did not yet have everything finalized to make their wine in-house, Stanburn had to go to Charlottesville for a custom crush, or to have the grapes made into wines. “The first two years until we got everything ready was made (in Charlottesville), then we brought it all in-house with our wine maker Jocelyn Kuzelka,” she said.
David Stanley said at the time, operating a winery was not a lifelong dream of anyone in the family. “When dad had the idea for the vineyard, my wife Tabitha was the only one of us that drank wine. So, we probably could not have been more ignorant about the field we were jumping into,” he said, chuckling.
David Stanley said Stanburn typically picks its grapes for white wines around Labor Day and bottles them around Spring. “For white wines they age mostly in stainless steel tanks because you want to keep a lot of the aromatics,” he said.
With red wines, he said the winery ages them for around six months in oak barrels. “With red wines you’re going to want to age longer.”
As every oak barrel will age the wine in it differently, Stanburn will then blend all the wines of one variety into a tank so all bottles are consistent in taste. “So, usually it’s a 9 to 10-month process for the reds before we bottle,” he said.
David Stanley added that the winery’s Cabernet Franc Reserve is typically in the barrel for 20 months before bottling. “The 2019 harvest, we didn’t bottle it until April of this year, so it was about 30 months in the barrel this time,” he said.
David Stanley said Stanburn purchases its wine barrels from a cooperage, or barrel maker, in France. “They will come over here and taste wine and talk about different things that they get out of it being in the French wine industry,” he said.
As a barrel’s wood type affects the wine encased in it, Stanburn purchases two different types of oak from two forests in France. “We go in together with six or eight wineries and we all buy from the same cooperage now. We buy at the same time so that we all share in the shipping costs of that shipping container coming across the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.
Elsie Stanley added that all of those wineries are not in Virginia.
David Stanley said the winery suffered its first big hit in 2007 after a freeze hit the vineyard. Because of the freeze, the sap moving inside of the grapevine trunks froze and the water inside the vines froze, expanded, and burst the vines.
He said some of the vines died that year while others lived for one or two years after. “That was a hard year because Cabernet Franc got hit pretty hard, and Chardonnay died for five years. 2007 was our reminder that mother nature calls the shots and we’re just riding her coattails,” he said.
David Stanley said the vineyard still has holes in it from the freeze with some replanted vines refusing to take in those areas. “They’re much more sensitive,” Elsie Stanley said.
In 2020, Stanburn lost around 85-90 percent of the vineyard. David Stanley said the vines were lost due to eight frosts, or freezes, that occurred after bud break all the way up to Mother’s Day weekend. “So, because of that it killed off all that new growth,” he said.
As grape vines have another bud, they will push those out when the first one dies. David Stanley noted that people are lucky if they get around 50 percent of that new growth to produce clusters of grapes. “Typically, if we lose something on that kind of scale, we’re lucky if 25 percent of them put clusters out,” he said.
In addition to the traditional Chardonnays, Cabernet Francs, and Vidal Blancs, Stanburn also produces and sells custom wines, some of which have locally themed names. “We liked the idea of naming our wines after history or geography in Patrick County,” David Stanley said.
For example, Meadow Breeze is named after Meadows of Dan and Bull’s Blush references Bull Mountain. The Big A Red wine was named for the section of the county where the Big A school was located.
David Stanley said Stanburn held a contest to name a semi-sweet white blend, which would go on to be called Highfly after one of General J.E.B. Stuart’s battle horses.
“It allowed us to talk about Patrick County. Obviously, we’re more of a tourism business than a local business in a lot of ways. So, it gave us a way to talk about the county and attractions that are around here,” he said.
Several of Stanburn’s wines have also won awards, with Big A Red, Chambourcin, and Bull’s Blush winning the platinum award from the 2018 Savor Virginia Magazine. Big A Red also won a silver award at the 2018 Atlantic Seaboard, 2018 Virginia Governor’s Cup, and the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition.
Highfly won the double gold award for the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Southeastern Wine Competition and the gold award in the 2014 competition.
A full list of awards can be found on the winery’s website.
Stanburn creates around 1,200 cases with 12 bottles per case each year. “In a normal year, we will harvest 40-55 tons of grapes. We only keep a portion of them. We sell the vast majority to Chateau Morrisette. Sometimes, we’ll sell to a few other wineries,” he said.
Stanburn currently sells its wines to Lowes Food, the M&Ms Store on Hwy. 58, On the Run in Stuart, a couple of Circle K convenience stores in Henry County, and several wine shops.
Since its creation, Stanburn Winery has grown to include an 18-acre onsite vineyard composed of 12 varieties of grapes for a total of 8,335 vines. The winery has also leased Villa Margot Vineyards since 2006 and takes care of its two-and-a-half-acre vineyard, or 1,200 grape vines.
For more information, go to www.stanburn.com or Facebook.com/StanburnWinery.