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Sugarleaf Vineyards: Vintner Turns Her Vision into a Dream Destination


A golden light glows through the vertical rows of grapes as the sun begins to set on the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fruit is almost near peak in the cooling breeze that blows through the 800-foot elevation along the Monticello Wine Trail. Harvest time at Sugarleaf Vineyards renews a powerful bond between the grapes and the people who turn them into handcrafted American wines.

“It’s very intense. There’s a real hardworking passion to the actual day of harvesting, processing and throwing grapes around and getting sweaty,” says Lauren Maillian Bias, Sugarleaf''s Chief Operating Officer and Proprieter, shown here holding a glass of wine. “It’s a very, very heartfelt, passionate day and I love partaking in it.”

In the early years, Lauren and Sugarleaf's founder and co-owner, Jerry Bias, hauled in the grapes with family and friends including  his now teenaged sons, Samuel and Jackson. Neighboring wineries won awards with the exceptional grapes bought from the vineyard until Sugarleaf started bottling its own wine in 2006.

Jerry bought the 126-acre Horseshoe Estate as a private retreat in 2001 and planted the first 300 vines by hand. A fellow rare vintage collector, Mike Taylor, suggested he use some of the land to make wine. After Taylor died in the 9/11 tragedy, Bias pushed forward with the idea to honor his friend.

It blossomed into something greater than either man ever imagined. Hired crews now harvest the tons of fruit made into exclusive varieties at Sugarleaf. As co-owner, Lauren savors the days she spends at the vineyard.

“I love everything. I take part in everything,” she emphasizes while describing one of the processes involved in making reds. “We do what they call bin fermentation for four to six weeks. The bins are punched down numerous times a day by hand and I love doing that. That’s what helps in part a lot of the color of the wines eventually.”

The opening of the winery’s tasting room in 2007 gave Lauren the opportunity to market the vineyards wines and expand public awareness of the Sugarleaf brand. She helped turn what started as a hobby into a thriving, state-of-the-art attraction located 12 miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia.  

“When I put my mind to something, I generally make it happen,” Lauren explains. “I’ve always been one to say if I can think it, I can be it.”

Lauren followed a step-by-step process starting out as a novice in the wine business. She negotiated her way through a maze of state and federal regulations to clear the way for the opening of Sugarleaf. For her, there is a sense of pride that comes from being a trailblazer in the

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