By Bob Tagert
Northern Fauquier County
Wine and Dine
With the first touch of fall in the air, we decided to take a trip to northern Fauquier County here in Virginia and visit a few of the towns and some of Virginia’s best wineries…after all, October is Virginia Wine Month. This year will mark the 28th year we have been celebrating Virginia Wine Month – a month long celebration that encourages folks to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage, discover a new dining spot and, of course, enjoy some world class wines.
In Virginia there are over 250 wineries. This makes it impossible for us to mention all of them, so we have chosen some of the ones in northern Fauquier County because of the splendid wines and spectacular views. We will also touch on a few of the towns that offer a reprieve from the wineries as well as places to eat and shop.
There are few scenic roads to Fauquier County unless you really go out of your way, however, once in the county there are many connecting roads to the major arteries, and it is these roads that we will explore. The quickest way to get to northern Fauquier County is to take the beltway to I-66 south and then take route 29 South at Gainesville, which eventually joins Route 15. Before you get to Warrenton you will come to Georgetown road on the right and this road will take you to Pearmund Cellars, our first winery to visit.
Chris Pearmund came on to the Virginia wine scene with a bang, and out of nowhere became one of Virginia’s most widely recognized and well- respected winegrowers and wine makers. Chris has mentored many new wineries and has opened others beside his flagship winery. Vint Hill Craft Winery opened in 2006 on a former Army post in Warrenton known as Vint Hill Farms Station. The winery is located in a historic dairy barn that military personnel came to call Monitoring Station #1, also the name of their classic Chardonnay. Pearmund is now in the process of opening another location, Effingham Manor Winery.
The winery is located down a winding road and sits in the midst of other farms and farmhouses. The tasting room is roomy with tables outside on the patio as well in the adjoining side lawn. The tasting room is set in the middle of the vineyard. Wines range from a 2013 Ameritage, 2014 Petit Verdot and the 2014 Viognier.
After leaving the winery we drove into Warrenton, the home of the Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup office. There are many unique shops with likes of The Town Duck, Christine Fox, Inc and Vallie’s Vintage Jewelry…here you can find anything from gifts and wines, to fashionable ladies wear to vintage and designer jewelry. If you are looking for a bite to eat there are a several restaurants with Claire’s at the Depot and The New Bridge Wine Bar & Restaurant being my favorites. New Bridge has a retail wine store masquerading as a wine cellar. Be sure to check out their top deck dining this fall and the expansive view.
On to the next winery. Leaving Warrenton, take Route 211 west about 5 miles to Leeds Manor Road. This beautiful road winds its way over mountains, past horse farms, vineyards and great mountain views and through the little hamlet of Orlean, which is about half way to the town of Hume. At Hume, turn left onto Hume Road and continue to Desert Rose Ranch & Winery on the right.
Owners Bob and Linda Claymier met in Bob’s native Oregon on a large cattle ranch. Three generations grew the ranch into several thousand acres, and remains in the family today. After marriage Bob and Linda traveled the world where they were exposed to other cultures. Since retiring from the Federal Government and then relocating to the Hume area, they started a successful horse operation that included breeding, boarding and training. After growing a small plot of grapes for personnel consumption, the hobby took on a life of its own, and Desert Rose Winery was born. They continue to run the ranch operation and everywhere is a western theme waiting to be discovered.
The winery offers twelve fanciful named wines ranging from the 2012 Starboard Port to the 2014 Covert Cab, to the 2014 Desert Delight, Fiery Run Cab Franc, Wild Seed Norton (a grape that is indigenous to Virginia), 2015 Ole Moo Moo (a good ol’ porch sittin’ wine). These wines have a fun name and a great taste.
Now it is time to retrace our steps. Turn left out of the winery and head back to Hume where you will turn left on Leeds Manor road. About four miles down the road is Phillip Carter Winery. “In 1763, royal Governor Francis Fauquier, current governor of the Colony of Virginia, certified that the Carter family was successfully growing European vines at their estate. This is the first recorded history of successful grape production in Virginia with European vines.” “Our country’s Founding Fathers and Sons of Virginia, Charles Carter, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, all contributed to the development of a wine industry in Virginia…”
In 2008, Phillip Carter Strother, a direct descendant of the Carter family, founded Phillip Carter Winery. The winery offers about eight current wines ranging from the 2013 Corotoman and 2014 Nomini Hall Cabernet Franc to the 2013 Shirley Chardonnay made from 100% chardonnay aged in 80% French Oak. They also offer a 100% Vidal Blanc, a Rose and a Viognier. The winery also operates the Inn at Vineyards Crossing in Hume. The Inn offers a Virginia Wine Camp experience: a 3-day, 2-night immersion in Virginia’s Wine Country. Limited to twelve people, the camp features wines, dining and exploring. The next camp will run November 11-13.
Leaving the winery and turning right, the road will take you down the mountain, across a small stream to Route 55 right before I-66. Turn left on 55 and proceed to Linden and turn right on Freezeland Road and prepare to climb. Fox Meadow Winery is at the top of the mountain, and it is quite a climb! Situated on what once was the Freezeland Orchard, Fox Meadow commands some of the most majestic views. On a clear day, yup, you can see forever. Their wines range from traditional Old World-style dry wines like their Reserve Cabernet Franc or Le Renard Rouge to a selection of light refreshing aromatic fruity white like the Pinot Gris or Blue Mountain Mist.
There are seven white wines and range from a sweet Freezeland White to their European style 2014FMV Oak Chardonnay. There are also seven red wines from a sweet red to the 2012 Owner’s Select Meritage. Fox Meadow also offers previous vintages from their library that are available for purchase. This is probably the direct result from a practice that owner Dan Mortland has shown over the years. No matter how great one of his wines are, he will allow anyone to purchase it, but in small quantities, which can lead to some being held back. In 2011 Fox Meadow won Virginia’s premier wine competition, The Governor’s Cup with their 2008 Le Renard Rouge Meritage, and I was able to buy two bottles. Some other wineries, if they win the Governor’s Cup, will only sell to members of their wine club, which I think is not what the Governor’s Cup is all about.
Our next stop will be retracing your path. Go back to where you picked up Route 55 from Leeds Manor and turn left. Follow the road about a mile until you come to Naked Mountain Winery and Vineyards. Long known for producing the best Chardonnay in Virginia, new owner Randy Morgan has kept that tradition alive. On a recent visit and taste, this classic may be better than ever. Former owner Bob Harper came up with the slogan “Drink Naked”, which pretty much put Naked Mountain on the map and in everyone’s head. In addition to their Chardonnay’s, they also offer four reds, a desert Riesling and Port. On the lighter side, wines with names like, Make Me Blush, Red Light, Skinny Dipper and Birthday Suit encourage you to…”Drink Naked”.
For the next winery you need to back track again back to Route 55 and make a left. Follow this road until you come to the second stop sigh and turn left at Rote 17. Proceed across the railroad tracks and then turn left into Three Fox Vineyards. This winery is set half way up a small mountain with terrific views from the sky over the hilltop to the meandering Cedar Creek in the valley. This winery is our featured winery article this month and I encourage you to read it, as there will be a lot of information there.
For our final stop, once again retrace your route back up Route 17 where it merges with Route 55 for a short distance then take a left on Route 17 then a quick right and proceed to Barrel Oak Winery (BOW) on the left. BOW is one of Virginia’s larger producers of wine with a production of over 11,000 cases. Needless to say, if you are looking for it, BOW probably makes it. There are so many wines that I don’t have the space to run them down, but you can check out their website as with the other wineries as well.
Opening the first of October will be the only brewery that is part of a winery in Virginia. The Barrel Oak Farm Taphouse has been in the works for months and is finally brewing beer that will be offered for sale in October. After all of this wine drinking, it might be the perfect time for a beer. Check out their Kolsch, IPA, Orange-infused Wit, or Belgian Doubei with an ever so slightly sweet finish.
So what does the 2016 vintage look like in the long run? Randy Morgan (Naked Mountain) and Brian Roeder (Barrel Oak) both agree that the strong summer heat has ripened the fruit perfectly and the rains over Labor Day did no damage. “If the fruit is clean…a little weather is no problem,” Says Roeder. John Todhunter (Three Fox) went a little further, “A hot, dry summer saved the wine grape harvest from a cool, wet spring that gave a late start to the growing season. In spring wine growers were worried about being able to ripen a crop this year. At the end of summer we’re all hot and sweaty but looking at a great vintage and a slightly early harvest.” At most wineries all whites have been picked with the reds to follow in the next few weeks. “So far Brix have been in the 24-25 range, slightly higher than usual for our area. If the wine making is as good as the wine growing, 2016 could be one of Northern Virginia’s great vintages,” Todhunter tells me. Note: Brix is the measurement level of sugar in grapes that ultimately determines how much alcohol a wine will have.
When leaving Barrel Oak, turn left on 17 and it will take you to the towns of Marshall and then The Plains. In Marshall you will find the Red Truck Bakery and new a popular butcher shop, The Whole Ox. If you are really hungry, stop in at Joe’s Pizza for all kinds of Italian eats…and lots of it. About five miles down the road is The Plains where there is casual great dining. The Rail Stop is popular as is The Front Porch and Girasole. Each is different and each is pretty darn good.
I hope that you have enjoyed this road trip and have the chance to experience it yourself this month. It is your chance to see the harvest, de-stemming and crushing of potentially one of Virginia’s greatest vintages.