Muse Vineyards, Virginia Blended Wines Sure to Stand Out
Serendipity is a word used to describe the positive impact of lucky moments in one’s life, an experience close to the owners of Muse Vineyards, Sally Cowal and Robert Muse. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley and conveniently located on Serendipity Lane lies their business built 18 years ago with a leap of faith guiding the first four-year growing process. Without knowing how this land would take to the grapes and not having any viticulture experience, Sally and Robert were happy to yield a plentiful harvest of excellent grapes, fully by chance.
Both Sally and Robert began their careers in fields outside of the ones where they grow their fruit. Robert has been working his entire life as a lawyer, and Sally spent 30 years traveling abroad as a United States diplomat. Although they came from different occupational backgrounds, the two had a shared love of wine that sparked the idea of beginning a vineyard and winery.
During her time working for the federal government, Sally shared that her exposure to “good wine” also fueled this interest in viticulture. “You don’t go to a diplomatic reception, either at the American Ambassador’s house or the French Ambassador’s house, and not have a sample of some of the finest wines that are available from those countries,” she explained.
With this desire to create their own wines, Sally and Robert took the next step as they purchased a historical farming property in 2005. In a picturesque area where the Massanutten Mountain meets the Shenandoah River, the property saw its first fruit planting the following year. Starting out with 10 acres of growing land, Sally shared that Robert was inclined to start out with “some grapes.”
“I didn’t understand that ‘some’ was an elastic term because ‘some’ grapes has turned into about 35 acres of premium vinifera grapes,” Sally noted.
Focusing on learning the business throughout the years while reading books, enrolling in courses, and through experimentation, the two fell into their primary roles in the business. With much of the customer-facing and operational business work landing on Sally and the technical viticulture tasks on Robert, Muse Vineyards has been able to create an efficient and inviting on-site atmosphere.
Muse Vineyards grows over 20 different grapes. They produce single varietal wines, such as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, but many of their wines are blends of up to four of their harvested grapes resulting in the uniqueness of their products year-to-year. Even though red varietals are their more abundant crop, Muse Vineyards offers both red and white wines along with rosé and a sparkling option in the mix.
Their current winemaker began his career as a chef. With the support of Sally and Robert, he worked with a consultant winemaker and took courses to learn winemaking. Muse Vineyards opened this new full-time role for him once he completed his training, which was funded by the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG).
Accessing their $250,000 matching grant in late 2021 did not simply benefit the new winemaker role. On top of this position, the money was used to hire a new manager, promote the brand, and fund the many supplies and materials needed in the winemaking process.
Every batch of Muse Vineyards wine is aged in barrels that must be repurchased each year. To ensure their wine is created with the best materials on the market, they put in the extra money to buy French oak barrels. Along with the costs of bottles, corks, and labels, the winemaking process is far from affordable. That is where the VAPG has been beneficial in making this company more efficient with their purchasing and allowing them to create products for their wholesale and in-person customers.
When working through the VAPG process, the financial assistance was matched with the level of aid Muse Vineyards received from the Virginia-based VAPG office. Laurette Tucker, a USDA representative from the state, has been a substantial help to Sally and Robert as they took on this grant experience. Everything from her quick responses to her submission-related guidance made all the difference for the company.
“Without that kind of support, small and new producers like us wouldn’t have been able to benefit from this really tremendous resource,” she said.
This past year, the company has seen a 25% increase in revenue for which they thank the VAPG. After six and a half years of having their on-site tasting room available for customers, they are now able to see the change that financial assistance can have on their business.
While visiting the tasting room, customers are treated to an experience of both quality wines and stunning sights. Whether it is those of the local community, travelers off Interstate 81, or even international customers, Sally continually hears the following phrase from these visitors: “This is my happy place.”
Because the recent COVID-19 pandemic created recurring stress in people’s lives, Muse Vineyards has made it a priority to be accessible for those who might need to take some time to relax. “It’s important that we’ve created an atmosphere that helps people’s mental health and outlook on life,” Sally emphasized.
Events are a large part of the company’s on-site experience, which allows visitors to immerse themselves into different forms of entertainment or activities. On a monthly basis, there are artists, musicians, and speakers who promote their work in the beautiful environment surrounding the property. Connecting with those in the community and showcasing their work is a great way for the business to feel fulfilled and adds to the feeling of peace people feel when visiting.
“We want the wine to reflect this space,” Sally expressed. “Wine is about place, and so everything that we do here, whether it’s art or music or lectures or yoga, we also want to reflect this place.”
Despite not knowing what would become of this place years ago, Sally and Robert have built a business that has made them immensely proud. Continuing to believe in themselves and recognizing the new growth opportunities the past few years have offered is keeping the serendipitous story of their company alive.