Philip Carter Winery sits in a bucolic setting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Hume, VA. The Carter Family of Virginia—whose roots go back to the earliest Virginia settlements—purchased the former Stillhouse Winery in 2009 and has professionalized the tasting room experience for visitors while initiating upgrades to its vineyards and wines.
Philip Carter offers wine tourists a very pleasant and oenologically evocative experience, with outdoor picnic area adjacent to the vineyard and a tour of its gleaming wine cellar. Their version of Viognier, perhaps Virginia’s best white varietal, Sabine Hill Viognier, receives a touch of oak and is pretty much the perfect summer picnic wine. The 2012 Rosewell is made from the high-quality, low-yield Tinta Cão grape from Portugal and ranks with best of Virginia’s dessert wines.
One issue with the winery —one that is either a great promotional gambit or a self-inflicted wound —is the idea floated by the winery that a member of the Carter family, Charles Carter, made vinifera wine out of the so-called, “the white Portuguese summer” grape in 1762 at the Carter estate at Cleve in King George County.
The chief evidence on the winery website for this claim comes from correspondence with a London wine society that received a dozen bottles of Carter’s wine in 1762. The Londoners remarked of a wine made from the “white Portugal summer grapes,”—were so pleasing to taste—“they were both approved as good wines.” And in 1763, Royal Governor Francis Fauquier, then current governor of the Colony of Virginia, certified that the Carter family was successfully growing European vines at Cleve. *
The pleasant “white Portugal summer grapes” may have been vitis rodundifolia, commonly called Muscadines. Muscadine is a grape native to the southeastern United States that was used by Spanish missions in Florida to make wine as early as the 16th century. The natural range of Muscadine grapes extends from Delaware to central Florida, an area that includes King George County. Thomas Jefferson, it should be noted, received a sample of Muscadine wine from a North Carolina correspondent and called it an “exquisite wine.” **
Despite these documents, it is very unlikely—almost to the point of certitude—that Charles Carter successfully grew Vinifera grapes at Cleve in the mid-18th Century. It was only in the 1970’s that the modern fungicides to counter black rot and downy mildew were available and made possible the opening of the first modern Virginia wineries. (See the upcoming, Jefferson-era attempts at growing European grapes in Virginia)
Nevertheless, the Philip Carter Winery offers wine tourists a very pleasant and evocative experience. The Winery is 90 minutes away from the D.C. metro area on Route 66. Because there are a number of wineries in close proximity to Philip Carter ⎯including Linden Vineyards, one Virginia’s top producers of Cabernet Sauvignon— it makes an excellent staging point for a day in Virginia wine country.
* According to the website, The London Society commented on another Carter wine sample: “A dozen bottles of his wine, made from the American winter grape, “a grape so nauseous till frost that the fowls of the air will not touch it. ” The website says that the “American winter grape” was probably vitis cordifolia, which is a possibility, but it could have been made from a half dozen other native grape varieties, each of whose wines would have been equally noxious. Curiously, Lucie Morton’s Winegrowing in Eastern America, says that commercially successful wine have been made in Iowa and Missouri from vitis cordifolia.
** Jefferson and Wine, edited by R. de Treville Lawrence, III, Second Edition Revised Edition, “North Carolina Scuppernong: Jefferson’s Exquisite Wine by Annette A. Penney, pp. 239-246.