"Unique" doesn't even begin describe Glass House Winery in Free Union, Virginia -- how could it, with a tropical conservatory, private lake and on-site confectionery?
Michelle Sanders and her husband, Jeff, planted their first vines in 2007. They opened Glass House Winery in December 2010, and now have roughly 12 acres under vine.
While the wine's important, it's hard not to be dazzled by all the extras you'll find at Glass House. Michelle Sanders said the inspiration for their tropical conservatory came from their time living off the coast of Honduras, which they did for three and a half years.
"My husband was a huge plant lover," she said. "When we moved back to the States, he said he was going to build the coolest greenhouse you've even seen. We now grow papaya, mango and banana trees in our greenhouse. Customers love it."
One good reason why? When the fruit is ripe and ready to be picked, the couple pairs the fresh fruit with their wine. "Customers can't get enough," she said.
The wine also goes quite well with their homemade chocolates, made on site weekly. The couple makes 600 to 1,000 pieces of chocolate per week, depending on the season. Sanders mixes six flavors, with occasional special flavors for an event. It takes three days to make the chocolates.
When you're too full of chocolate, fruit and wine to move, consider another unique extension of the winery, the five-bedroom Glass House Winery Bed & Breakfast, located in walking distance.
It was named a Top 10 Vineyard Inn of 2014 by BedandBreakfast.com; the Caribbean aesthetic that flows through the B&B is a good indicator of why. The open, simple decor and outdoor pool make you feel like you're on a tropical island, or at least a tropical resort.
Now, as for the wine: Glass House Winery offers four whites, a rose and seven reds. They produce about 3,000 cases per year.
"The wines we make vary from year to year a little bit, as mother nature isn't so reliable, but we try to remain as consistent as we can," said Michelle Sanders.
The couple grows about 90 percent of their own grapes on site. They also buy grapes from nearby Virginia vineyards for a few varieties.
Michelle and Jeff Sanders chose to live in the area because of the school district and their love for wine, but the most surprising element of starting their own Virginia winery was the feedback from other local wineries.
"We were surprised at all the helpful advice we received from fellow wine makers," she said. "Our competitors wanted us to succeed and make good wine. They said, 'If you're going to be a winery, you're going to be a good one. Otherwise you'll make us all look bad.'
And so far, so good. "It's fun," Sanders said. "We grow good grapes and make good wine. We experiment together. The entire industry is all very helpful to us."
The Glass House Winery is located at 5898 Free Union Road in Free Union, Virginia, about 2.5 hours from downtown D.C. Visitors are also encouraged to bring their own picnic and pets.
The tasting room is open Thursdays from noon to 5:30 p.m.; Fridays from noon to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from noon to 5:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5:30 p.m.
Wine tasting are $8 per person.