Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Rappahannock Cellars Keeping it Real in Hume

Often when a small business enjoys success and grows it loses that special touch that helped create its good fortune.  A recent tasting trip to Rappahannock Cellars proved that Founder and Executive Winemaker John Delmare and his family have not only stayed true to their old world wine making philosophy but also retained one of the warmest and welcoming tasting bars in the Commonwealth.

Founded in 1998, Delmare makes no bones about why he chose to build his winery in,Virginia “What we found in the Blue Ridge Mountains that Virginiahad it all; a burgeoning wine industry, a great community, and regional beauty that rivals the best. It Santa Cruz MountainsVirginiahappens to be uniquely situated in the mid-Atlantic region, capable of producing the highest quality wine grapes; no region is better than what we found here in the Virginia Piedmont.Blue Ridge Mountains”

Delmare is also very proud of his family’s significant involvement in the enterprise.  “Most wineries brag about being family owned and run, but not many can brag about their young children (ages 9 to 14 at the time,) working joyfully on their hands and knees, planting our original 15 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard has been tended in the past by my six oldest children; it is currently tended by three in the middle; and it awaits the youngest three, who can’t wait to give it a try. And yes, if you’re counting, that is twelve kids,” Delmare wrote. Indeed both his Marketing Director son, Allan, and his Tasting Room Manager daughter, Kelly, continue to build on John’s original vision.

With an annual production of between twelve and thirteen thousand cases, one might think the craftsmanship of the wines has been reduced as the quantity increased; nothing could be further from the truth.  Delmare, working with Winemaker “Theo” Smith, has expertly managed the growth of the volume of wine while maintaining a handcrafted feel.

In last year’s prestigious Governor’s Cup wine Competition Rappahannock’s 2010 Meritage not only won a Gold Medal it was also selected as a part of the Governor’s Case [representing the best 12 wines in the competition].  Back in 2006, the winery won the ultimate prize The Governor’s Cup with their Viognier.  As I write this the 2014 Governor’s Cup competition is underway, don’t be surprised if by the time this issue hits the streets, Rappahannock has addedn another Gold medal (or trophy) to its long list of awards.

The vineyard is nurtured by long time vineyard manager, Tom Kelly. Kelly monitors vine health year round focusing on fruit condition and soil health.  In addition to growing great wine, Kelly strives to do so as environmentally sustainable as possible.  Kelly is proud of the composting of the winery waste (grape seeds, skins, and stems) and the use of such repurposed waste to replenish the soils on the farm. Composting in the vineyard allows Kelly to dramatically reduce the amount of chemical fertilizers needed to use to feed the vines as well as improve soil structure and health. AlexandriaRappahannock

Rappahannock’s tasting room calls to visitors with its large open porch.  Walking inside and shaking the cold off in the foyer, the tasting room beckons on the left.  A large room surrounded by tasting stations at different style bars.  While incredibly efficient, it was rather busy when we arrived, however Rappahannock makes visitors feel like they just stepped into their living room.

The hospitality extends beyond just architecture and it is clear the employees at Rappahannock the winery want visitors to enjoy and learn more about their wines.  Tasting with Anita, I was struck not only by her positive demeanor but also the friendly manner she shared her significant wine knowledge.

Longtime Grapevine readers know of my negative reaction to most Virginia Rosé.  Anita patiently explained the blend of Rappahannock’s 2012 Rosé (49.5% Cabernet Franc, 27.5% Merlot and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon) while I explained my issue with what is often a wimpy wine.  Once I did get to taste I found a lovely, bright vibrant vintage filled with watermelon and strawberry notes.  While not my favorite, it clearly is one of the best Virginia Rosé’s I have ever tasted.

VirginiaRappahannock is well known for its ability to grow Cabernet Franc of distinction.  The sandy loamy soils of area Rappahannockproduce exceptional fruit.  In the 2012 Cabernet Franc, a full 25% of the wine is actually Cabernet Sauvignon.  Such blending allows the winemaker to boost and round the flavor profile of the Franc while maintaining the varietal designation.  Brick red in the glass, this wine features a full bodied, albeit young, nose with cherries, white pepper and coffee.  The midpalate expands nicely to expose dark fruit highlights and a touch of anise.  The finish is supple and memorable with hints of spice.  I believe this wine, while drinking nicely now, will hit its stride in about nine to twelve months.

In what is best described as largely “old world” style.  Delmare embraces the challenges of vintage to vintage variation and celebrates them as strength.  To that end the Tasting Room is also pouring the 2011 Cabernet Franc which can best be described as a sibling of the 2012 version.  While they are stylistically the same the flavor profile is very different.  The blend again includes 25% Cabernet Sauvignon but the appearance is much lighter and the aromas are more muted.  I actually purchased both Cabernet Francs because of their delightful differences. I will pair the 2012 with heartier fare such as braised beef while saving the 2011 for lamb or pasta.

John Delmare, his family and his passionate employees have nurtured Rappahannock Cellars to the elite of the Virginia wine industry.  With their steadfast commitment to excellence in the vineyard, winery and tasting room, the future is as bright as the vineyard snow on a sunny day.

Vintner Profile: Rappahannock Cellars Winemaker Theodore “Theo” Smith

Theo Smith

: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Item that is always in your refrigerator: Cherry peppers

Worst Thing about VA Wine Industry: Humid Virginia summers

Best Thing about the Virginia Wine Industry: Burgeoning. A young industry that is still realizing its potential.  With an increasingly better understanding of what grows well here and how to grow it (Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Merlot) our ability to make world class wines from these varietals has taken off.

Most Difficult wine/food pairing (and how you solved it): Fish with red wine. Paired pan seared trout with 2008 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. Worked brilliantly.

Most embarrassing moment: I assume you mean within the wine industry. Accidentally hard bunging a barrel of Norton while it was going through ML. It is quite difficult to temper the violent nature of Norton through primary and secondary fermentations. The bung eventually blew, now the cellar ceiling is stained blue.

Comfort Food: My wife’s Coq au Vin

Quote: “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”

Favorite wine: 1990 Domaine Romanee Conti

Neil Williamson is the Chairman of The Virginia Wine Club Tasting Panel and the Editor of The Virginia Wine Journal.  He can be reached at

Written by: Neil Williamson

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