Early Mountain Vineyards
Maya Hood White
Owner: Jean & Steve Case
Winemaker: Maya Hood White
Vineyards: 55 acres, including four primary vineyards, plus sourcing from growers with whom they have long-term relationships
Vineyard management: Conventional, with a focus on low-input farming
Soils: Varies by vineyard, including silt, loam, greenstone, quartz, and clay
Grapes grown: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Tannat, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Malvasia Bianca, Muscat, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin
Annual production: 180,000 bottles
- Early Mountain is exploring the potential to produce world-class wines that are uniquely Virginian.
- Maya Hood White took charge of winemaking in 2022 after eight years as part of the team.
- The tasting room at the winery regularly features wines from other Virginia producers because they’re passionate about the growth of the Virginia wine industry as a whole, and they believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.
- They’re one of the few Virginia wineries making low to no sulfur wines with their “Young Wine” line.
When Jean Case and her husband Steve first tried Virginia wines in the early 2000s, what they tasted was potential. They saw a region capable of producing high-quality wines, but one which almost none of their wine-loving friends knew anything about. They founded Early Mountain in 2012 to help tell the story of what’s possible in Virginia.
The key to producing high quality wine in Virginia is careful site selection. The Cases have sought out mountainside vineyards where the combination of rocky soils, constant wind, and relative elevation allows vines to thrive and grapes to stay healthy despite the characteristic Virginia humidity. The best sites have south or southeastern exposures, which lengthens sun exposure during the growing season and encourages ripening. It’s also key to select grape varieties well suited to the challenging climate: Early Mountain has had success with Petit Manseng, Albariño, and Cabernet Franc, for example, and they’re working with farmers growing hybrids such as Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc for their “Young Wine” line.
The Early Mountain estate encompasses four primary vineyards: the eponymous Early Mountain vineyard, with clay and loam soils interspersed with quartz rock; Shenandoah Springs, with deep, well-draining silt and loam soils formed by material weathered from limestone bedrock; Capstone Vineyard, with well-draining weathered greenstone and silt soils; and their newest site, Quaker Run, with clay loam soils with high rock and mineral content. They also source about 45% of their fruit from other local growers with whom they have long-term relationships with exclusive purchase contracts. They feel fortunate to work with “older” vines (for Virginia, at least)–their estate vineyard was first planted in 2005, and some of the growers they partner with have vineyards from 1999 and 2002.
While their farming would still fall under the umbrella of “conventional,” they seek to reduce the use of chemicals where possible, using no herbicides and only a very limited and targeted use of pesticides. They use cover crops to improve soil health and moderate compaction. They also have a couple of experimental blocks where they’re trying out organic treatments.
Winemaker Maya Hood White has been a part of the Early Mountain team since 2014, and she took charge of wine production in 2022. The goal in the cellar is to create balanced, textured, and complex wines. They employ native yeast for long, slow fermentations, increasing complexity and adding texture from the extended yeast contact. Each wine is also the result of blending, whether that’s among grape varieties or clones, fermentation methods (e.g. destemmed or whole cluster), barrel sizes, or many other factors. For example, the Rosé is usually a blend of 9-12 different fermentation approaches to create the desired dry, aromatic, and layered style. Virginia is a region with significant vintage variation, so the Early Mountain team has decided to approach each year’s changes with creativity and artistry, making wines that embrace the uniqueness of each season.