Lauren Bias calls it “a hobby gone wild.”

Jerry Bias (Col ‘90) says it’s “almost surreal.”

However you describe it, Sugarleaf Vineyards has exceeded any expectations that might have been planted with the first vines in 2002.

“It’s overwhelming. I told a friend of mine to pinch me,” says Jerry Bias. “It’s been a dream come true.”

Lauren and Jerry Bias (Col ‘90)

On the heels of awards in Governor’s Cup and regional contests for several varieties, Sugarleaf won gold for its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and bronze for the 2006 Viognier at the prestigious Town Point Virginia Wine Festival this month.

“We’re kind of like the new kids on the block, and we won the gold,” says Lauren Bias.

Sugarleaf occupies a four-acre block in a 126-acre tract in the foothills south of Charlottesville. Massive oaks and maples climb the slopes of what began as a country getaway from New York, where Lauren was born and where Jerry works as a founding partner of a hedge fund firm, Cyrus Capital Partners.

A vineyard wasn’t in the plans until Mike Taylor, a friend and fellow wine connoisseur, issued Jerry a challenge. “He said, ‘You like drinking great wine, why not make great wine?’”

Before embarking on the venture, Jerry called on Robert Davis, a professor in UVA’s Department of Environmental Science, wine guru Gabrielle Rausse and others to analyze soil characteristics, elevation, drainage and other qualities.

The first vines were ordered shortly before Sept. 11, 2001, an especially dark day for the Biases. Taylor died in the tragedy.

“He has always been in our thoughts of what to do and how to go forward,” Jerry says.

He personally planted the first 219 of the eventual 2,075 vines the following spring, and before long the business was building a reputation for supplying great grapes to other wineries. In 2004, the Biases broke ground for a winery designed to blend modern technology with a welcoming, rustic character.

When the first bottles emerged, kudos and medals followed. Much of the credit also goes to Daniel Neumeister, winemaker and vineyard manager. Lauren, a former model and mortgage banker, also plays a key role as chief operating officer.

Though no longer strictly a rural retreat, Sugarleaf still provides a Virginia base for the Biases and their sons. Jerry maintains a strong relationship with UVA as a member of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company (UVIMCO) board and a Class of 1990 trustee.

Jerry also feels a connection with Jefferson’s enthusiasm for the state’s potential in viticulture.

“Virginia is really the first state to make wine. So why shouldn’t we be one of the best states in winemaking?” he says. “I think we’re getting to that point.”

Sugarleaf Vineyards is on the Monticello Wine Trail and is open for tastings and tours on the weekends 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and during the week by appointment.

Sugarleaf Vineyards