Tours and tastings beckon at the Williamsburg Winery
Written by Sam Dreith|
November 20, 2014
Before the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, the expedition’s second in command, Gabriel Archer, recommended settlement on a spot a few miles downstream, where the soil was rich and the land easily defendable.
This fertile spot, which nearly held the historical significance currently belonging to Jamestown, is now the site of the Williamsburg Winery. After passing hands multiple times, the land known as Archer’s Hope (accordingly, after Gabriel Archer) was purchased by Patrick Duffeler in 1983. It now hosts a winery, hotel and two restaurants, all a few minutes away by car from the College of William and Mary.
“Fortunately for us, Jamestown Island was discovered, or the wine history would have been very, very different,” Patrick Duffeler II ’93 said.
Duffeler, the son of the winery’s founder, stepped into the position of owner and CEO less than two years ago. Duffeler enjoyed wine and food even at a young age, as he spent his childhood in western Europe. He was born in Switzerland and lived in both France and Spain.
“I certainly don’t remember drinking wine out of a baby bottle, but it was always on the table,” Duffeler said.
His involvement in the wine business was accidental, as he had to pay for his education at the College by running tours and tastings at the winery’s shop.
Tours and tastings at the Williamsburg Winery range from $6 per person to extensive wine tastings costing up to $36 per person.
“[The extensive tour and reserve wine tasting] is a much longer visit to the property and an opportunity to taste some of the more complex and older wines,” Duffeler said.
The winery, however, does not cater exclusively to wine experts.
“We make a wide variety of wine that appeals to a wide audience of wine lovers, from the casual wine drinker all the way up to the wine connoisseur,” marketing director Michael Kimball said.
The Williamsburg Winery, which has one of the largest vineyards in the commonwealth of Virginia, grows its grapes on about 50 acres of cultivated land. The Winery grows both red and white grapes for their wines. The reds include Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. The whites are Traminette, Vidal Blanc and Viognier.
Using only its estate-grown grapes, however, the winery does not have enough fruit to meet its wine demand.
“We had to make a decision to either stop growing or continue growing and meeting demand by sourcing fruit from outside of the commonwealth,” Duffeler said.
As far as wine selection, the Winery has wines that run the gamut, according to Duffeler.
“On the easy drinking and inexpensive side, we have Governor’s White,” Duffeler said. “On the other end of the spectrum is Adagio.”
Adagio is a red wine that was the recipient of the Virginia Governor’s Cup, an accolade given to the highest rated wines in Virginia each year, in 2010.
“Adagio is our blockbuster red,” Duffeler said. “[Its] blend varies immensely from one year to the next.”
Though the exact blend may depend on the year, the Petit Verdot is one grape variety that features prominently in Adagio each year.
“Virginia wine in general is on the rise,” Kimball said. “If not already considered a world class wine region, it’s certainly on its way.”
Though the Virginia wine industry may be very young, Duffeler believes it can compete on a global scale.
“There’s a demand for Virginia wine, small, but growing,” he said. “The critics are saying phenomenal things about the wines.”
Geographically, Virginia is a happy medium between two of the world’s largest wine producers: California and Bordeaux (the largest wine producing region in France).
The Williamsburg Winery has evolved to become much more than a vineyard. It now hosts two restaurants: the Gabriel Archer Tavern and the Cafe Provencal.
“Gabriel Archer Tavern is basically a glorified sandwich shop,” Duffeler said. “And Cafe Provencal does a much more upscale, white tablecloth kind of experience.”
No wine is made at the winery without food in mind, and vice-versa, according to Kimball.
“Our chef and winemaker enjoy a great relationship and always try and outdo each other as far as what’s going to pair with what,” Duffeler said.
Both restaurants feature an extensive and award-winning wine list, including wines not made on the property.
“So if you want to come out, enjoy a lovely tasting menu [of] six-seven courses and have each of those courses paired with a half glass of wine, you can spend several hours enjoying yourself,” Duffeler said.
If any guest is planning to stay for more than a few hours, however, they can always book a room at Wedmore Place, a mere 80 yards from the winery.
Each of the 28 rooms of the Wedmore Place is styled after a different European province.
“There’s nothing worse than waking up in a hotel room in a big city and seeing the same decor that you would see anywhere,” Duffeler said. “[At Wedmore Place], you can stay in 28 different rooms and ultimately get 28 slightly different experiences.”
He considers the room styling a great way to get guests to come back, as well as pay homage to his family who have lived across Europe.
The Winery is not only within close proximity to the College, but the two also share a strong connection.
“To suggest that the College and winery are close would be an understatement,” Duffeler said.
Students enjoy the benefit of free fine wine tastings Monday-Friday with a student ID. Graduate student Douglas Tibbett ’14 has visited the winery frequently since he turned 21 in order to take advantage of the free tastings.
“All of my friends turned in theses in early April,” Tibbett said. “And then we would go to the Winery every week.”
Tibbett enjoys noticing new things each time he goes and finds the tour and tastings generally relaxing.
“We welcome William and Mary students, and we like people in Williamsburg to think that this is their winery,” Kimball said.
The Williamsburg Winery has employed students from the College for years, whether working in the wine shop or as an intern.
The relationship with the College does not end there, however, as the winery and the College both enjoy the same busy seasons.
“William and Mary Homecoming Weekend is one of our best weekends,” Kimball said. “When things happen at the College, it definitely has an impact here.”
Students take advantage of having the winery so close by and often utilize it as a place for social outings.
“I brought my mom there once when she was in town,” Tibbett said. “It’s something you go and do when you have friends and you have an afternoon that you’d like to drink wine [during].”
Within a short walk from campus, the Winery is open all year, excluding Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“If you’re interested in learning about wine, you don’t have to go all the way to Napa,” Duffeler said. “You don’t have to go to Bordeaux. You don’t even need to go all the way to Charlottesville.”