Taste Camp 2012: Loudoun County, DC’s Wine Country

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being one of 40 wine writers participating in Taste Camp 2012.

After meeting in Long Island, the Finger Lakes and Niagara the last three years, Loudoun County was chosen for 2012…Washington, DC’s wine country. Lucky for me, and everyone else that lives in / visits the DC metro area, it’s only twenty-five miles away. It also happens to be where I was born and raised. It was quite surreal, and very cool, to drive through and spend time in these areas I’ve known so well, now full of grapevines and wineries.

We visited 8 wineries / vineyards in 48 hours for tastings, lunches, dinners and vineyard walks. Lots of wine and lots of information. In this Taste Camp 2012 series, I’ll share my highlights of the weekend.

  • DC’s Wine Country: Let’s start with a little bit more on Loudoun County and the wineries we visited.
  • The Wine Stand Outs, Part 1 & 2: My favorite wines from the 26 producers who poured for us throughout the weekend.
  • Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers: This was the most exciting part of the weekend for me…spending time among the grapevines with the person who tends to them and turns them into wine.

Loudoun County…now 33 wineries and tasting rooms strong (by my count). Loudoun County is part of Virginia’s Northern Virginia Region, now rivaling Virginia’s original wine region, Central Virginia, for biggest number of wineries.

Loudoun splits the wineries into five scenic clusters. We zigzagged across the county and were only able to hit three of the clusters in two days. Here are the wineries who graciously hosted us, all worthy of a stop on your wine tour.

Boxwood Winery

Just outside Middleburg in the Mosby Cluster, Boxwood Winery is gorgeous and state-of-the-art. Started in 2001 by John Kent Cooke, he and the family have brought in the best to make their wines, including renowned viticulturist Lucie Morton to design their sixteen-acre vineyard and Bordeaux’s great winemaker Stephane Derenoncourt, to consult on winemaking. Boxwood focuses on red wines in the Bordeaux-style from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, producing 5,000 cases per year.

Rachel Martin and the team welcomed us into the beautiful Tasting Room for a glass of their crisp juicy Boxwood Estate Rosé 2011 before lunch in the Chai among the stainless steel fermentation tanks.

Served with the local Ayrshire Farm delicious sandwiches and salads were served some of Boxwood’s special 2007 vintage…a great comparison of their two wines, Topiary Right Bank Bordeaux-style and Boxwood’s Left Bank Bordeaux-style. I also had the pleasure of sitting next to Richard Leahy, author of the new book Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, we all received as a gift.

Winemaker Adam McTaggart took us into their underground circular barrel Cave where he talked Boxwood wine with us. Big news that a Middleburg AVA designation is in the works! Then we were out to the crush pad for the Grand Tasting (more on that in The Wine Stand Outs).

Great news for all…Boxwood Winery, once only open by appointment, will be open to the public for tastings and tours Friday through Sunday from 11am to 6pm beginning Friday 8 June.

Breaux Vineyards

As we pulled up the drive-away of Breaux Vineyards’ 404-acre estate outside of Hillsboro in the Loudoun Height Cluster, I was reminded of why I love Virginia. The green rolling hills are stunning…these covered with 105 acres of eighteen different grape varieties. Paul Breaux purchased this land in 1994 with only three acres of grapes, and in April 1997 produced his first vintage and opened to the public. By the following year, they were already producing 3,500+ cases of wine. Now up to 10,000 cases per year, Breaux is run by Paul’s daughter Jennifer Breaux Blosser and her husband Christopher Blosser with fourteen wines in their portfolio.

The awards and recognition are many…”Loudoun County’s most impressive wine undertaking” says the Washington Post, Breaux’s Viognier was named to Oz Clarke’s 250 Best Wines of 2012, AND for the fourth consecutive year, Breaux was voted “Virginia’s Favorite Winery” in a public poll done by Virginia Wine Events. When you visit and taste their wines, you’ll know all of these to be true. And the great thing is, NONE of this goes to their head.

Jen and the team welcomed us onto the Patio Madeline for a wine tasting with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. You could sit here for hours taking in the views and sipping the delicious wines. After tastes of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Viognier, 2010 Jen’s Jambalaya (cajun Louisiana nods abound :)) and 2002 Merlot Reserve, we went into the Tank Room for a lovely four-course dinner prepared by Tuscarora Mill Restaurant in Leesburg.

More great wines accompanied each course including their recently introduced Syrah Rosé. The 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon are great finds and examples of Paul Breax’s desire to age Virginia wines and help figure out what was possible in the state. A taste through 2001, 2002, 2005 Nebbiolos with a barrel sample of 2007 was a unique opportunity, and the 2007 is shaping up nicely. After a trip to Piemonte, Italy, Paul decided to grow this tough to cultivate grape here.

Breaux has big plans for the future. We met the new winemaker David Pagan Castaño who will help them get there. Great to see a Spanish winemaker in Virginia and he fits right in with the southern hospitality!

The warm and inviting tasting room is open daily and definitely worth your visit!

Fabbioli Cellars

Our first stop on Saturday just north of Leesburg in the Potomac Cluster was Fabbioli Cellars. Doug Fabbioli and the team are a down-to-earth team ready to pour you their wines. I’ll share more in the Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers article.

Tarara Winery

We spent Saturday early afternoon further north in the Potomac Cluster along the Potomac River at Tarara Winery. This sprawling 475 acres of winery, vineyards, farm and event space was started in 1983 by Whitie and Margaret Hubert. Winemaker Jordan Harris hosted us for a vineyard walk, yummy lunch by Pizzeria Moto and Grand Tasting of more Virginia wines in their wine cave (more in The Wine Stand Outs and Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers).

Tranquility Vineyards & Otium Cellars

Last afternoon stop was outside Purcellville in the Loudoun Heights Cluster for a vineyard walk with Ben Renshaw, winemaker at 8 Chains North and manager at Tranquility Vineyards (more in Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers).
Then we stopped in across the road to the newly opened Otium Cellars Tasting Room for a 8 Chains North and Otium Cellars tasting. Gerhard Bauer of Otium is staying true to his German roots growing several German varieties: Lemberger, Dornfelder and Grau Burgunder (a German clone of Pinot Gris). Tasting Room is open 11am to 6pm daily.

North Gate Vineyard

We spent Saturday evening back in the Loudoun Heights Cluster at North Gate Vineyard’s 26-acre vineyard and public tasting room built to LEED Gold specifications. You’ll notice the solar-paneled roof as you approach the winery. Mark and Vicki Fedor have been growing grapes since 2002 and were winemakers for Corcoran Vineyards in Waterford. They graciously hosted us for our BYO dinner with Smokin’ Willy BBQ after a tasting through their wines. Tasting Room is a great spot to hang out with a nice patio, open Friday through Monday from 11am to 6pm.

Linden Vineyards

We spent Sunday morning with one of the Virginia wine’s masters, Jim Law, at his vineyard. More on that incredible morning in the Walking the Vineyards with the Winemakers article.

And with that, we barely scratched the surface. Loudoun County has plenty to offer for a wine country weekend.

Cheers to DC’s Wine Country!