Ray Lazarchic was smitten. So was his daughter, Mitzi, and James Batterson, her future husband. On a memorable afternoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains, they fell in love with Gewürztraminer, a typically European wine with striking aromatics, an understated sweetness and an ideal balance. Ray’s affinity for what pleasantly lingered on his palate turned into something of a quest when future vintages didn’t ignite a similar passion. He traveled the Commonwealth in search of the wine that thrives in the cool foothills of the Alps. When his quest proved futile, Ray only grew more inspired. He transformed his Montpelier, Virginia farm into a vineyard of 20 acres, reserving a portion of it for the noble Gewürztraminer, a grape that is more challenging to grow in Virginia than it is to say.

The vineyard and subsequent winery that opened on June 1, 2001, James River Cellars, is one of Virginia’s pioneer wineries. Today Ray prefers to tinker in the flower beds alongside his pair of rescue cats. Mitzi handles most everything on the business side of the winery, and James makes all of the wine on the premises, including the Gewürztraminer, which has morphed into their signature varietal.

“It’s a drier European Alsatian-style wine,” Mitzi says. “We drink it daily. It’s a white wine with great character and complexity that goes with everything.”

That “everything” ranges from a homemade meal to a bowl of Fruit Loops! Credit Mitzi for organizing the quirky pairings offered inside the casual winery she refers to as another “Cheers,” a friendly spot to unwind where everybody goes by first name. The winery includes a second-floor tasting room with a sweeping view and a lovely landscaped patio perfect for a picnic. Stay for a while at this Hanover County respite and choose among a variety of reds or whites, including the Gewürztraminer, that label of love with white spice and floral notes.