One of Virginia’s top five wine producers, Prince Michel offers standout wine tastings and a self-guided tour of their operation, giving you more than just a peek into how they make their magic. Couple that with gorgeous countryside, abundant indoor and outdoor spaces, a must-visit gift shop, and you’ve just found a great way to spend a day enjoying (and learning about) Virginia wine. Where better to learn than one of Virginia’s greatest success stories?
The Facility . . .
Zooming among the traffic on US 29 in Leon, Virginia, it might be easy to pass Prince Michel. And boy, would that be a misfortune. Good thing there are two entrances in case you pass the first one. (In a stroke of serendipity, the site was originally slated as a weigh station, hence the easy on/off.)
Their building is reminiscent of a traditional California winery. In fact, we had the pleasure of having Susan as our wine educator, the wife of the architect who designed the facility some 30 years ago!
Decades ago, there were virtually no other wineries in Virginia. Susan’s husband, Hunter Spencer III, flew to California and studied the architecture of the predominant wineries at the time as a basis for designing this facility. To this day it stands out as one of the finest wine facilities in Virginia, rich with beams, arches, and brick features. Carefully carved private areas surround grand center rooms.
The Wines . . .
Like its big five sibling, Barboursville Vineyards, Prince Michel produces a great deal of wine by Virginia standards: 40,000 cases a year and counting. And like Barboursville, their wine tasting is enormo. We tasted 16 wines for a mere $12.00.
The full lineup for our tasting included the following:
Whites: 2014 Pinot Grigio, Viognier (non-vintage), 2012 Chardonnay, 2008 Mt. Juliet Petit Manseng, 2012 Barrel Select Chardonnay, Prince Michel Très Bien (100% Petit Manseng), Rapidan River Semi Dry Riesling (non-vintage);
Reds: Cabernet Franc (non-vintage 95% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot), Merlot (non-vintage 97% Merlot, 3% Syrah), Merlot-Cab Reserve (non-vintage blend of 85% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon), Cabernet Sauvignon (non-vintage blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot), 2009 Mountain View Cabernet Franc, 2010 Crown Orchard Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (non-vintage), 2010 Symbius (non-vintage Bordeaux-style blend of 42% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Cabernet Franc), Prince Michel Port-Style Dessert Wine.
The price per bottle ranges from $15.99 to $49.99, with an average price of about $25.
The Tasting . . .
Susan informed us that while most of their grapes come from their vineyard in Charlottesville, the grapes for all of their wines are 100% Virginia grown.
I’ve found taking tasting notes not only essential for creating a detailed post for you, it helps me remember what I liked about wine #3 when I’m on wine #15! Their tasting had us bouncing between their fine wines and premium wines so we could taste single varietals side by side. And the character of each stood on its own.
Within their large roster, I found these to be their star players: The Merlot-Cab Reserve won me over. Aged 14 months in French oak barrels, it managed to maintain a fruit-forward presence. I picked up a mildly oaky nose alongside cherry, and definitive cherry and currant on the palate, with a nice long plum finish capped with vanilla.
The 2010 Crown Orchard Cabernet Sauvignon made it for the home collection. Earthy, mildly spicy, and riddled with dark cherry, this Virginia Cab could easily find its way into regular rotation.
The Très Bien was a definitive treat. With an abundant aroma of peach and nectarine, the palate shifts to honeysuckle and rose, and finishes with raisin. I am loving Petit Manseng more and more, and this wine accelerated my affection. The Très Bien has 12% residual sugar.
Accompanying the Cab Sauv for the ride home was the Rapidan River Semi Dry Riesling. With less than 4% residual sugar, it offers a delightful peach nose and floral finish. A great summer wine, but this bad boy will be gone long before then.
The Winery . . .
Any visit to Prince Michel should include a walkabout. The inside spaces are abundant with little nooks as well as large open-concept rooms for you and your friends and family. Got a picnic with you? Grab a table and relax, or find your own little space for relaxing.
They have a large secondary bar facing a wall of windows with additional tables. The day we visited at least 100 people were present, and there was no lack of elbow room and no rushed tastings.
Got the whole family? Not to worry. Prince Michel is one of the most family-friendly wineries we’ve visited.
Another area off the main entrance offers pub tables that overlook glass-enclosed shelving adorned with awards and wine memorabilia.
Among its many cozy spots, you can easily find a lush sofa in the lounge area for relaxing and enjoying the interior spaces. I know I did!
The Self-Guided Winery Tour . . .
One of the coolest things about our visit was the self-guided winery tour. They designed a catwalk that winds through the entire production facility with backlit information stations explaining where you are in the winemaking process. I actually learned a good bit! My kids thoroughly enjoyed it as well. How about that–just like Barboursville and the Winery at La Grange, you get in a good lesson with your bottle of wine!
From the catwalk, you can look down upon the barrel room. Beyond that you will tour through the production/bottling area.
As you finish the tour at the end of the catwalk, you’re brought to the gift shop. I could have spent a half-hour there all on its own. Brimming with everything from snacks to wedding gifts to games, the shelves held one treat after another.
Oh, and what better gift could there be . . . than wine.
The Vineyard . . .
In front of the building there are special areas for sipping and eating, equipped with space heaters for those chillier days. Let the sun warm you as you enjoy that Viognier! Make sure to check out their calendar in advance for days with live entertainment. And it’s not uncommon to find planned activities for the kids!
Before you leave, how can you pass up a quick walk through the vines? Weather permitting (Virginia winters can be like a slap across the face), the terrain is perfect for a little stroll or even a private picnic.
The Prince Michel Winery Experience . . .
Don’t let the rural location deter you. Just 90 minutes from downtown Washington, 90 minutes from Richmond, and a mere 41 hours from Sonoma (hey, maybe you’re just that kind of wine lover). An excellent choice for turning a wine tasting into a full day event for you and your family. You will quickly realize why they are one of Virginia’s largest wine producers.
Visit Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery, located at 154 Winery Lane, Leon, Virginia.
If you’re seeking another large Virginia winery with rich history, check out Barboursville Vineyards. Or if its space and fresh air you seek, consider Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn, Three Fox Vineyards, or Barrel Oak Winery in the Delaplane area.
Want to tour another winery with me? Check out my full list of winery and vineyard visits!