Winery Brings the Tropics, and More, to Virginia

Jul 29, 2015

The wine industry is a growing and essential part of Central Virginia’s culture and economy. But with the presence of so many vineyards, it can sometimes be hard to stand out. WMRA’s Sefe Emokpae takes us through a winery that’s different in more ways than one.

[wine tasting explanation]

Glass House Winery… You can get a sense of it from the name itself.  The first thing any visitor will notice is the one-of-a-kind tropical conservatory where patrons can sit and enjoy a glass of wine after their tastings.  Owner Jeff Sanders explains a typical reaction to the tropical environment.

JEFF SANDERS: Something between tripping because they just start staring around and you know it’s a little bit of awe and then they enjoy it. It smells good in here; it’s very green so there’s a lot of oxygen. We do have music in here one day a week. The plants absorb the sound so it is a perfect acoustic room. I mean, we don’t do loud music, but for acoustic music or lightly amplified music, it is just perfect acoustically and so they respond well to all those things.

Sanders and his wife Michelle moved to the Charlottesville area from Honduras in 2006 before starting Glass House Winery. The vineyard, just a little north of Charlottesville, near Free Union, has been open for five years. The tropical conservatory was a result of Sanders’ longtime interest in tropical plants. He considered the possibility of a tropical plant nursery at his home like he had in Honduras… but when the need to support that grew, he and his wife decided to incorporate their passion for the tropics into the business. The resulting 2,000 square foot conservatory features plants mostly from Thailand, Puerto Rico and Florida.

SANDERS:  And it’s a mix of seeding and very lush tropical bananas fruits, exotic flowers, and we leave it pretty wild.  It's not well-groomed and maintained, its growing over the tables and that’s the look were going for. More like you’re in a tropical forest.

Sanders said the winery sometimes offers tastings with the tropical papayas, guavas and bananas that grow right in the conservatory… but that’s not the only treat that visitors get to experience.  Just as Sanders incorporated his love of plants into the business, his wife Michelle did the same with chocolate. As a chocolatier, she makes them by hand weekly at Glass House, and sells them by the box. It’s an added bonus for Virginia resident Cindy Greczek, who said she’s paying a second visit.

CINDY GRECZEK:  I think we came about a year ago and purchased a case of wine, we drank it all up and we were up in this area and made a point to come up here and we enjoyed some of their truffle chocolates to go with the red wine as well.

And speaking of the wine, Sanders said they do their best as a small to midsize vineyard. Although not quite there yet, the ultimate goal is to only sell wines that are fully estate grown.

[sound of bottling]

At Glass House Winery, volunteers are used to hand bottle. At the end of the process, bottles are topped off with a glass closure instead of a traditional cork. It’s a practice more often used in European countries, but Sanders says in Virginia, you’ll only see it at Glass House.

SANDERS: They’re analogically, from a wine-making perspective, the same thing as a screw cap. So there’s no oxygen movement that makes them a very safe closure, you’re not going to have wine go bad.  Wine ages slightly maybe 20, 25% more slowly in the bottle, but you don’t have cork taint, you don’t have other problems that come from using corks.

Most importantly, Sanders says, the glass closures bring a modern element to Glass House... a characteristic which encompasses all that the winery strives for with each of its other unique qualities. Glass House features 12 acres of more than 12,000 grape vines. In 2014, the facility produced 37,000 bottles of wine, the business’s biggest year so far.

SANDERS: We try to be a very welcoming place and I think that we have a reputation for doing so.