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Building a winery is an expensive and chancy proposition, but Virginians take on this challenge every year with varying levels of success. Three things remain constant: Successful vineyards require experimentation, good luck and strong friendships. Here, we jump into the story of Saudé Creek Vineyards, which started producing wine four years ago in New Kent County.
2008: Jason Knight and John Britt, real-estate developers and friends, lease property outside Williamsburg that has a Rambo apple orchard. They decide to press the apples and make cider, and they produce too much. The cider begins to turn, and a friend —James Batterson of James River Cellars — suggests making wine from it at his Glen Allen winery. Enter Saudé Creek White, a wine entirely made from apples.
2009-2011: Knight and Britt continue producing Saudé Creek White and other wines and set up a rustic tasting station at the orchard. Sales thrive, mostly by word of mouth. The partners decide to purchase land on the banks of the Pamunkey River, taking the wine venture up a few notches in ambition.
July 16, 2011: A lodge-like tasting room with a wraparound porch and deck opens; expecting about 500 visitors on opening day, Saudé Creek sees more than 2,000. Six types of grapes are growing on the property. Meanwhile, the wine is still produced at James River Cellars, with Batterson consulting. Part of Saudé Creek's initial success is attributed to its participation in the Colonial Wine Trail with James River, Williamsburg and New Kent wineries.
Spring 2012: Weddings begin taking place on the winery's grounds.
June 2012: This run marks the last time Saudé Creek wines (reds, in this case) are produced and bottled at James River Cellars.
July 2012: Saudé Creek celebrates the anniversary of its official opening and, downstairs, begins producing its white wines in new steel vats created in Germany. Barrels made of American and French oak stand ready for the next run of reds and a Chardonnay. Wine will be bottled by a mobile unit hired by the winery.
August 2012: Saudé Creek sells its wines at the winery as well as at farmers markets and wine festivals, but expanding sales to retail shops is a long way off; inventory would have to triple.
Fall 2012 and beyond: Knight, who has trained as a winemaker, will begin testing wines daily for sugar content and other markers. More vines will be planted. Chambourcin vines, which have been growing well this year, may produce enough grapes for the winery to sell those that it doesn't use.