Winston here….  As I was loping through the vines yesterday, I started to think about how much I know about each of our varietals, and I decided I should write a few blogs telling you all the facts and quirks I know about the grapes we have growing here at Six Penny Farm.  Seeing as Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) was the first wine specially crafted for us, I am going to start with that one.

This varietal is one of the ancient ones, but it found its fame in the northern Rhone region of southern France.  We are actually quite lucky to still have this delicious varietal as it nearly became extinct in the 1960s when just 8 acres were planted in the entire world. One of my favorite legends about Viognier is the origin of the name.  It has been suggested that the name started as “via Gehennae”, and if you are familiar with biblical terminology, you will recognize the name Gehennae as another name for the place of purgatory: Hell.  Taken literally, the original name means “the road of the valley of Hell” and it is supposed that this is a nod to the difficulty cultivars have growing this finicky grape.

It has been long rumored that this grape was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite – and he did, indeed, declare that it was the best white wine in the northern Rhone region – but it was not one of the varietals that he cultivated for wine making.  Viognier was first planted in Virginia by Dennis Horton of Horton Vineyards, and their 1993 vintage gained recognition across the state when HV won an award at a wine competition.  Viognier has continued to build its reputation since that time and earned the distinction of being the official state grape in May of 2011; it is now the fifth most common grape grown in Virginia.

Virginia provides an ideal climate for Viognier because it is a grape that “likes warm, dry weather and cool nights” according to Andrew Ornee of Blenheim Vineyards.  The cool nights help the grape maintain its acidity.  This low-yield varietal reaches ideal ripening before hurricane season, and it is often harvested in the early morning in order to produce the clearest juice possible.  Viognier is a vine that can grow for many years and it doesn’t even hit its peak until it is 15 or 20 years!

Viognier is a full-bodied white wine with rich, lush characters.  It is quite well-known for its aromas of tangerine, apricot, peach, and honeysuckle; when aged in oak, it develops very pleasant notes of vanilla. All Viognier have a slightly oily characteristic mid-palate that comes from the phenols found in the grape skins.  The pleasant acidity, lavish aromas, and lush flavors pair well with many different foods and flavors, particularly ones that are complex and heavy in spice.

I’ve got it on very good authority that the Viognier is a delicious wine (it IS my mom’s absolute favorite), and I would love for you to come experience our Viognier soon!

Oh boy, oh boy, we are right in the midst of my newest favorite time of the year: harvesting season!  We might not have many vines that are producing grape bunches right now, but Mom and I have been practicing checking for all the signs of ripeness.  With all of this practice, we are going to be top dogs at deciding when to pick next year!

There are a few ways you can tell if wine grapes are ready to pick just by looking at them:

  • The stems have turned brown.
  • The grapes have an even color appropriate for that variety.
  • The grapes are completely filled out and plump (and really easy to pull from their bunch).

The best way to tell if they are ready, though is by taste:

  • No part of the grape is bitter, even the skin.
  • The seeds are easy to chew – and have also turned brown!
  • Varietal characteristics can be identified if the taster is highly skilled.

It’s not all about looks and taste, though.  There are two very important factors for winemakers to consider: sugar and acid levels! You learned in my first blog about the refractometer used to measure the sweetness of grapes.  Testing the acidity levels of grapes is just as easy:  we crush the grapes and then measure the acidity of the juice using a pH scale.

Once the grapes are at the just right stage of ripening, they need to be picked as soon as possible.  It is always better to pick on a nice sunny day when the sugar levels will be highest, but it is most important that the grapes are harvested before they are damaged by animals eating them or heavy rain and winds.

All of our grapes will ripen at a different pace- depending on their type and growing conditions – so we are going to need to keep a very close watch on all of our grapes when we have our first harvest next year!

Every evening, I get to go on one of my favorite adventures.  Mom and I (and sometimes Dad) go walking across our property and through the vineyards.  There are all sorts of delicious smells in the air from the creatures that I share Six Penny Farm with, and we also get to check on all of our growing vines.  I love the golden hue they take on in the dusk hours.

Often when I hear my mom and dad talked about our grape vines, I hear them use the words vinifera and hybrid.  It actually took me a while to figure out that they were even talking about grapes.  After some careful deducing, I determined that vinifera is actually a shortened version of the subspecies vitis vinifera, or the grapevines native to Europe. Vinifera are the most well-known of the grapes, and the cultivars (or varieties) possess the names we commonly see on varietal wines, such as cabernet franc, viognier, and petit verdot.  Sometimes the different grape cultivars in the vinifera family intermingle with each other creating a cross. Two common examples of this are cabernet sauvignon (with a parentage of cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc) and chardonnay (with a parentage of pinot noir and gouais blanc).

There are numerous less commonly known subspecies in the vitis species.  Many of these are native to America and have varying degrees of usefulness in the wine industry.  They are sometimes used in hybrid propagation because of qualities such as pest resistance and cold hardiness.  Vitis muscadinia produces muscadine grapes which have earned their name in port-style and dessert-style wines.  The vines, however, are not used to create new cultivars with any other members of the vitis family because muscadinia grapes have 40 chromosomes while the rest of the vitis grapes have 38.  Thus, even though these vines are extremely pest-resistant, they are of no use in hybrid creation as they produce infertile cultivars.   Vitis labrusca is most well-known for its concord and niagara grapes, and is often characterized by its foxy musk.  Extremely cold-hardy, this subspecies is used to create hybrids for the northern regions of the United States.  Vitis riparia grows naturally over almost all of the eastern portion of North America, and it doesn’t have the foxy quality of v. labrusca. Because of the appealing taste and abundant clusters, it is often used in juice and jam making.  Vitis aestivalis is most well-known for the Norton grape.  The grapes from this vine have vinifera like qualities and the vines are extremely hardy.  Vitis mustangensis is the least useful of the subspecies.  It produces grapes that are very acidic and bitter in taste.  This quality is not appealing to the taste-buds and the high acidity can cause discomfort to the skin if handled.

Some of the subspecies (notably v. labrusca, v. riparia, and v. aestivalis) are mixed with vinifera vines to propagate new types of grapes that are more pest-resistant and cold resilient than the traditional vinifera grapes.  Hybrids are especially useful in producing European quality wines here in the United States.  Two hybrids that we are currently growing here at Brix & Columns Vineyards are chambourcin and vidal blanc.  The origins of chambourcin are not known, but vidal blanc was created from ugni blanc (a vinifera cultivar) and Rayon d’Or (another hybrid) in the 1930s

Figuring all of this out sure helps me to know more as I am walking through our vineyards.  My wine knowledge is growing nearly as fast as our vines, and I am so happy to share it all with everyone reading my blog.  If anyone has any questions, comment below and I will do my best to answer them.


Welcome to my blog!  My name is Winston and you may see me hanging out here at Brix and Columns as I am the winery dog. They even put me on the back of the bottle!  I know a lot of you have the same questions about me, so I’d like to start off telling a little about me:  I am not a Holstein calf or a Dalmatian or even a miniature horse (although I weigh more than one!!)  I’m a harlequin Great Dane (harlequin just means I have a black and white coat), I’m 7 years old, and I weigh 140 lbs.  I am very friendly and love to be petted, but I’m almost guaranteed to leave your side when I catch sight of my mom.  I love her best and I am a master at being her shadow!  Oh, yes!  There’s the whole “you can’t feed me” rule.  I love people food, and I am really great at asking for it, but Mom says it is bad for my health and manners.  Anyways, a few months ago, my people parents opened their vineyard; they named it Brix & Columns Vineyards.  Makes sense to me!  Lots of bricks and lots of columns- what else would they name it?

Well, turns out I was wrong and I HATE being wrong!  It’s a good thing that I spend so much time in the tasting room because I am learning so much, and now, through this blog, I have a way to share it all with you.  One of the very first pieces of information that made my ears perk up was when a customer asked the tasting room attendant why we chose a different spelling for the word “bricks”.

What?!  Who knew there were two types of bricks?  Turns out there are: bricks and Brix.  Brix (°Bx) is the unit of measurement used to indicate the sweetness of grapes.  Wine makers (also known as vintners) use a refractometer out in the vineyards to crush the grapes and measure the sugar levels; those sugar levels are indicated by the number of Brix assigned. This number helps them to know when to harvest the grapes.  Most wine grapes are harvested between 21°Bx and 25°Bx.  For a frame of reference, most table grapes that you buy at the grocery store are between 17°Bx and 19°Bx. Oh, and if the winemakers need to measure how many Brix are in the juice squeezed from the grapes, they use a hydrometer.

Why does the Brix level matter to vintners and wine lovers alike?  Well, it can help wine makers determine the likely alcohol content of a dry wine when processed in the typical fashion.  Roughly, each gram of sugar is converted into a half gram of alcohol. If you want to be more exact, you can multiply the Brix number by .59.  For instance, a grape that is 23°Bx will produce a wine that is 13.6% alcohol.

Usually, though, wines aren’t processed in the same way at each vineyard and the final alcohol content in relation to the initial Brix level of the grapes can give wine drinkers clues about the fermentation process.  If a wine has an alcohol content lower than it seems it should, according to its Brix levels at harvesting, the wine may have had some of the sweet juice drained off and replaced with water in order to make a more palatable wine.  In days of old, this drained off juice was processed into Rosé wine in much the same fashion that we use to produce our own Rosé (saignée style).  This technique is typically used in warm climates where the growing season produces grapes that ripen beyond the desired sweetness.  One other reason a wine may have a lower alcohol content than expected is because the winemaker didn’t allow all of the sugar to ferment in order to have a sweeter wine as the finished product.

Sometimes, though, a wine has a higher alcohol content than you would expect according to the Brix levels at harvest time.  In this case, the wine has been chaptalized.  Chaptalization is when sugar is added (in some form, be it juice or granulated) during the fermentation process in order to create a wine with a higher alcohol content. This technique is typically used in cool climates where the growing season is not long enough to allow the grapes to ripen to their desired sweetness.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this sweet nugget of information hit me like a ton of bricks.  I’m so glad I know the difference now, so I can tell all my doggie friends who come to hang out with me here at Brix and Columns!

Wedding Venue, Harrisonburg

View More: at The Columns at Six Penny Farm wedding venue it is hard to believe, but spring is just around the corner. Yes, in mid-January, it seems like it will be a long time until it gets warm. We look forward to the snows and winter rains we will receive yet during the rest of the winter. By mid-February typically tree pollen starts and not long after leaves start to appear on the trees. The grass will green up, blossoms will burst forth and before our couples know it, the last minute planning for weddings will be upon us.

If you are planning a wedding here at The Columns at Six Penny Farm don’t be surprised how quickly that big day will get here. We continue to make preparations for the spring wedding season. Call us if you have questions about planning for an upcoming wedding you have here with us. We get excited about your big day too! Keep us up to date on your plans so we can make sure the day is just as you planned.

While you may have planned for certain details for your wedding early on, you may now see your ideas are being fine-tuned. These last minute adjustments you make may be very exciting. You may have adjusted the colors you were going to use somewhat or decided to have more elaborate centerpiece or something simple and yet so very elegant. Maybe the groom will even have some helpful suggestions that you feel are just what was needed. Stranger things have happened! You may want to finalize the menu with your caterer in the near future depending on whether you have a spring, summer or fall wedding. If the groomsmen are wearing tuxedos, then make sure they have arranged for their fittings. This may require some planning especially if they are from out of town.

In any event, spring is on the way and your wedding day will soon be upon us with you here at The Columns at Six Penny Farm wedding venue. Enjoy every step along the way!

Farm Wedding Venue Near Harrisonburg

Farm Wedding Venue Near HarrisonburgOur beautiful, well-maintained farm adds charm to your wedding venue.

The farm is a 160-acre beef and hay farm located in McGaheysville, Virginia which is in Rockingham County a leading agricultural county for the state. Farms in the area yield a variety of products most typically poultry, beef, corn, and soybeans in addition to a wide variety of vegetables typically for the farms own family’s use.

For the locavore in you, Six Penny Farm produces food to use right on site.

Six penny farm raises a variety of products. We have traditionally raised Angus beef cattle, hay for our cattle as well as for some local stables and horse owners. We also have raspberries, chickens for meat and eggs. In addition we have fresh herbs, and a variety of vegetables have been grown as well. We have also started keeping some honeybees. The honeybee effort will produce some honey for consumption, but is also an effort to be a good steward of our farm and the land around us. Bees are so important for pollenating all kinds of crops.

Bring in the abundance of the Shenandoah Valley with local food sourcing.

You may want to have your caterer source much of what is used for your wedding locally. There is such an abundance grown locally that can be used for your receptions. Check with your caterer ahead of time to see if they have options that allow you to take advantage of locally produced foods. While there may be a lot of food that can be found locally, some of the food may not be in season when you are celebrating. Just ask ahead with your caterer to find what options they are aware of. We have berries, herbs, eggs, chicken and may have other ingredients that we may incorporate for our overnight guests and may also be available for wedding receptions with advance notice. The farm experience may be what makes your wedding or event standout as striking just the tone you are looking for as we are more than just a wedding venue.