Grapes and Goats at Hampton Roads Winery
Escape the shore for nearby Surry to imbibe Virginia wines at must-visit farm vineyard Hampton Roads Winery
Bountiful harvests, bucolic beauty and a whole lot of history. That’s what you can expect during your visit to Hampton Roads Winery. Behind the sips and stories of this countryside escape are former Bay Staters Dave and Diane Sheldon.
The couple turned to winemaking as a retirement venture more than 10 years ago and scoured the East Coast for the perfect place to set up shop. They settled on Surry in 2008 and quickly expanded their original vineyard to include a two-story tasting room and event space in Elberon. The sizable property hosts visitors five days a week, often with live music, special events and more.
Dave explains that the creation and success of Hampton Roads Winery have been nothing short of a full family effort. His son, Rich, singlehandedly manages the winery’s original vineyards in Surrey while Diane, a retired chemist-turned-winemaker, pours over innovative vintages and flavor profiles. Dave has his hands in nearly every part of the winemaking process, but his signature role at Hampton Roads Winery is as the consummate host. Between pours in the Tasting Room, Dave regales visitors with personal anecdotes and little-known facts about the winery grounds.
What is now the Sheldon family’s private residence was the former home Mr. Harry Spratley, a 19th-century Gatsby known for throwing some of the most extravagant and wild parties in Coastal Virginia. It was Spratley’s story and the unique architecture of the now-renovated carriage house that drew the Sheldons to the property. Dave was, in fact, so fascinated by the intricacies of the home’s design that he carried many of them over into the custom-built tasting room, a structure that also mimics a stable-like appearance as a nod to the property’s former identity as White Oak Stock Farm.
Separating the Sheldon’s manor from the tasting barn is unique curiosity that attracts most visitors to the Elberon grounds—the goat tower. Standing 34 feet tall, the winery’s goat tower is the tallest in the world. Dave designed the goat tower, once again drawing inspiration from the adjacent home as well as a South African winery, and employed a local tradesman to configure more than 5,000 bricks into the spiraling masterpiece it is today. The tower stands at the center of an enclosure that is home to three generations of Nigerian Dwarf Goats that utilize its winding staircase and serve as the unofficial mascots of Hampton Roads Winery.
The Goat Tower even has its own line of vino at the Hampton Roads Winery. Diane developed two Goat Tower wines. The first, a steel-finished chardonnay, breaths fruity aromas and sips clean, crisp flavors of white peach, pear and apple. The Goat Tower Merlot draws from fruit profiles as well, but boasts a smooth mouthfeel and bursts with rich, Bordeaux flavor.
New to the vineyard is yet another goat-inspired creation – the Drunken Goat Wine Slushie. Diane worked tirelessly to create the perfect summer sips to be enjoyed at the tasting room, on the beach or in your own backyard. The frozen pink concoction is as boozy as it is fruity. The mix became so popular that Diane packaged her secret recipe and sells the “just add wine” dry mix at local farmers markets.
Arguably the truest Virginia wine at the Elberon vineyard is the Hog Island Sweet Wine. Diane combined a Seyval Blanc with the native scuppernong grapes that grown in her countryside vineyard to create this affable bottle. “It’s a huge hit with the locals,” says Diane.
Hampton Roads Winery brings even more fun and excitement to Coastal Virginia this fall with its inaugural Oktoberfest, during which Rich will serve an exclusive line of small batch brews. Dave intends to host a Christmas Village come December, too.
Learn more at HamptonRoadsWinery.com.