The Story of Muse is Steeped in History

Muse Vineyards is a boutique vineyard in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley where art, science, passion, and reverence for the tradition of classic wine making converge to produce award-winning wine.

In 2015 just a few short years after our founding, Muse’s 2009 Clio, a Bordeaux-style, blend, was named Virginia’s top wine and awarded the coveted 2015 Virginia Governor’s Cup, besting some 400 entries from across the state.

At Muse Vineyards, our inspiration, our devotion to time-honored farming and wine production techniques and our passionate pursuit of excellence are an homage to the legendary domaine vineyards of France and Italy. Rarely larger than 35 acres and often family-owned and operated for centuries, such vineyards represent for us the ideal of artisanal, premium wine-making craft.

Muse, Briefly

Muse’s proprietors are husband and wife, Robert Muse and Sally Cowal. Robert is an international lawyer who (as an Arizonan) trained as a barrister in England. Sally is a former United States ambassador who is now Senior Vice President of Global Cancer Control at the American Cancer Society.

Shenandoah River Fork at Muse VIneyards

Shenandoah River Fork at Muse VIneyards

There’s always a river. Like many Americans, farming is a large part of Robert’s background.  In the 17th Century, his French Huguenot ancestors came to America and settled into farming on the banks of the Potomac, where their property adjoined George Washington’s birthplace.

In 2003 Robert and Sally drove to Woodstock, Virginia to look at a property with an overgrown vineyard with a tangle of grape varieties. They bought the property specifically for the vineyard and began working to resuscitate the vines, slowly figuring out which varieties of grapes were in fact growing there.

Muse Vineyards StoryThat was then, and this is now.  Robert & Sally next purchased a 200-year-old Mennonite farm adjacent to their property on the banks of the Shenandoah River and expanded to nearly thirty acres of vines. After much research they were reasonably clear about how to combine the qualities of Muse’s soil, its topography, and its proximity to the river to produce a range of exceptional wine grapes.

Muse has planted some twenty different grape varieties. According to Robert, “The varieties we’ve planted produce interesting wine: for instance, Sangiovese is the grape from which Tuscan wines are made, mid-weight with cherry notes; while the Nebbiolo grape produces the complex wines of Italy’s Piedmont region. It’s wonderfully cerebral stuff.”

  • Muse Vineyards sits at an elevation of 1,000 feet and rests on shale bedrock. There are three contiguous vineyards each with a distinct soil type. The top vineyard sits on a terrace formed millions of years ago by the Shenandoah River that today flows one hundred feet below. The soil is a loose loam formed from crystalline rock. Red gravelly clay begins at a depth of about three feet. Gentle inclines combine with the rocky soil to ensure good drainage.
  • The middle vineyard, where Grenache and some white varieties are grown, plunges down a steep shale outcropping.
  • The lower vineyard is on the river’s bank and consists of silt loam alluvium formed from sandstone and shale.
Muse Vineyards Wine Barrels

The Result: Exceptional Wines Crafted with Care, Patience, and Expertise.

Viticulture, a La Muse

According to Robert Muse, Muse Vineyards’ viticultural philosophy and practice is that of minimalist agriculture. “We aim for as few sprays as possible.  Our commitment is to employing only the latest generation of low-impact materials and taking great care when and how we use them.”

Our Winemaking

Clio 2014

Clio 2014

“When grapes are allowed to speak for themselves,” Robert notes, “they speak of the place where they were grown. They speak of the climate. They even reveal things about how the vines were treated.  But, just as many abused life forms become mute, you can silence vines through adulteration of their fruit.  There are catalogs with hundreds of things to add to a wine. Resist the impulse.”

Muse chooses to make its Chardonnay using the classic Burgundy method of fermentation in oak barrels. This adds to the complexity of the wine. “But,” Robert explains, “there still remains a fine line between winemakers pursuing their own visions and then trying to pour the results down the throats of consumers and being respectful of other’s preferences. Honestly, nobody’s right. Nobody’s wrong. As long as a wine’s cleanly made from grapes grown with integrity, drink what you like.”

“Our choice to follow time-honored wine making methods and models does not affect the price we charge for our wines. The price is a reflection of their quality.”  Choosing to make a classic Chardonnay and Roussanne, rather than mass-produced wines is expensive. (An oak barrel costs more than $1,000 and holds three hundred bottles of wine.)

“We also grow grapes with low yields. Industrial wine production can produce ten tons per acre, whereas our Chardonnay vines produce less than a third of that. Our pruning, hedging and thinning are all done by hand. So, Muse wines will never price-compete with a $10 bottle of mechanically-farmed Chardonnay from a one-thousand-acre vineyard and tank-farmed into wine in something resembling an oil refinery. But on a price-to-value ratio, our wines are very fairly priced.”

  • Among the white wines currently produced at Muse are Chardonnay, Thalia (a blend of Rhone varietals: Roussanne Marsanne and Viognier), and Erato (a Chardonnay blended with Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat).
  • Our signature red wine – Clio – is a  blend of the five Bordeaux varietals, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. The proportions vary according to the year. We also produce single varietals of several other vinifera varieties.