I was recently in Delaplane doing a book signing at the newly-introduced John Marshall Tasting Experience, put on in the house belonging to the first Supreme Court Chief Justice by neighboring Barrel Oak Winery. After tasting around the hamlet, I was impressed by the number of wineries and the level of quality of the wines of this part of western Fauquier County (even if the Board of Supervisors is less than welcoming to the wine industry).
Barrel Oak Winery whose acronym draws a lot of dog lovers. Despite the informal, fun atmosphere, some of the wines are serious. The 2010 reserve chardonnay (fermented in stainless but aged in neutral French oak) won an impressive Double Gold medal at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle International Wine Competition. Rich and complex yet retaining firm acid and minerality, this wine shows Virginia’s potential to make world-class chardonnay. Aside from individual wine quality, Barrel Oak Winery has been acknowledged for its welcoming atmosphere, and in 2010 was chosen Best Winery in Virginia by the Virginia Farm Wineries Council.
A short ways up the road just across the railroad tracks, and then up the Delaplane Grade road, is another excellent winery as different as possible in its business model from Barrel Oak. RdV Vineyards only makes two wines, a “right bank” merlot-based wine called Rendezvous and a “left bank” cabernet sauvignon-based flagship blend called Lost Mountain (formerly known as RdV). Production is only 2,500 cases annually. The winery is not open to drop-in visitors but tours and tastings can be made by appointment (for $40/person) for small groups. Both the vineyard, eleven acres of vines rising dramatically from a hump of eroded gneiss, and the winery, with a silo as the center point and three wings radiating from it, make an impressive style statement.
The current vintage is 2009. The Rendezvous is 35% merlot, 32% cabernet sauvignon, 21% cabernet franc and 12% petit verdot. The color is almost opaque dark garnet. The nose has bright berries, earth, chocolate and roasted cherries and plums. On the palate, there are loads of cherries; the texture is rich and round with nice smooth supporting oak. Flavors of concentrated red fruits and chocolate follow, with a dense but smooth finish. Stylish but young. $55.
2009 Lost Mountain: 77% cabernet sauvignon, 14% merlot, 9% petit verdot. Opaque ruby/garnet. On the nose, hints of brooding dark fruits but much more backward and closed than the Rendezvous. On the palate, firm tannins, tightly wound fruit and oak, lighter weight than the Rendezvous. Flavors emerge of cassis with some cedar notes, and a crisp finish. Very young, but elegant; not over-done. Best after 3 more years.
Perhaps the happy medium between the popular, large Barrel Oak Winery and the small, exclusive RdV is Delaplane Cellars, just a couple of miles north of RdV on Rt. 17. Owned by Jim and Betsy Dolphin, Delaplane Cellars offers visitors a tastefully appointed tasting room with inspiring views of their own vineyards and the nearby slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thoughtfully, they positioned mirrors on the tasting room walls so you can benefit from the views while facing the staff and tasting wine.
The 2011 whites are clean and crisp, but because of the lean vintage, the reds are far more interesting. The 2009 Cinq2 is a blend of 4 red Bordeaux grapes and tannat, aged for 26 months in French and American oak. On the nose, it has very juicy bright red fruit, with the same style on the palate and despite the tannat, has a firm but not tannic finish.
The 2010 reds are the star of the show here, while they last. Jim’s top of the line reds are all single vineyard designations. The 2010 Springlot is 47% merlot, 33% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% cabernet franc. An impressively deep ruby color is followed by a nose of bright zesty red raspberries and cherries, almost like a cool-climate zinfandel. On the palate, the wine is bursting with red fruits, briar fruits and fresh acidity, with fine tannins and no obvious oak, a wonderful and zesty wine.
Delaplane 2010 Left Bank Reserve is made from estate fruit, 45% Cabernet Sauvignon; 30% Merlot; 18% Cabernet Franc; 7% Petit Verdot. Made from the first crop of young vines, this wine was the favorite of the winter barrel tasting, says Jim. The nose reveals deep black fruits, with smoky mocha chocolate hints. On the palate, there is finely elegant fruit with solid black cherry flavors and fine smooth tannins; very elegant. 140 cases.
Delaplane 2010 Williams Gap Reserve is a single vineyard “middle-of-the-road” Virginia-style red Bordeaux blend of 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot. When I tasted the 2008 version, I remarked how it reminded me of a Dry Creek Valley zinfandel. Deep color is followed by lots of black pepper and vanilla on the nose, still resembling zinfandel that way and also with lots of ripe, dense black fruits. On the palate, it is wonderfully smooth and round at first, then dense but plush tannins take over with a smooth velvet finish. The flavors are still closed, but the richness of the nose and texture say that this is a wine to lay down for a couple of years and break out in the dead of winter, maybe sneaking it into a zinfandel tasting as a ringer.
Delaplane 2010 Tannat: Deep purple and opaque. Nose: exotic port-like profile of black fruits, blueberry, pepper and cardamom spice. On the palate, very smooth but firm tannins, fruit flavors still a bit closed, exotic but the best American example I’ve had yet. Fans of big, firm reds that aren’t over-oaked will find this very stylish.
Nearby on Rt. 17 just a short distance north from the turn for RdV off Rt. 17 is Three Fox Vineyard; up at the top of the ridge is Fox Meadow Winery which won the 2010 Governor’s Cup with a 2008 cabernet franc. Close by near I-66 to the south are Capitol Vineyards, Chateau O’Brien, Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyard, and if you drive east on Rt. 713 turning right just before Delaplane, you’ll reach Vintage Ridge. As you can see from this snapshot, there’s a lot of diversity and fine wine in the Delaplane vincinity, in just in one corner of Northern Virginia that may well get more attention for growing fine wine than the county Board of Supervisors would prefer.