My latest Adventure in Virginia Wine brought me to Old House Vineyards in Culpeper, Virginia. Even though it’s practically in my backyard (it’s about half an hour from my house), I had never been before. One of the perks of having the kids back in school is the luxury of visiting a winery during the week — when it’s waaaaaaay less crowded. My girlfriend and I decided to have an early lunch at Foti’s Restaurant in Culpeper (the fried egg and country ham sandwich is killer, btw) and then head to Old House for a tasting.
The Old House tasting room is in . . . an old house (I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t) — a really lovely old farm-house, filled with ghosts (you know there are ghosts) and history.
Old House is planning on opening a World War II themed distillery in November of this year. Their plan is to make whiskey, rye, grappa and brandy — I’m pretty excited about that.
The grounds of Old House are truly stunning. The back of the Old House reminds me very much of a German biergarten. Lots of space, and a relaxed, communal atmosphere.
Old House is also a popular venue for weddings . . . you can see why.
We arrived at the tasting room just as a bridal party was finishing their tasting and heading outside. Praise Bacchus! Bridal parties at a winery are like Kryptonite for me. They’re usually liquored-up, and wearing pink feather boas that they want to share with you. Groan.
Which brings me to Rule Numero Uno for wine tastings (and this applies to tasters and pourers alike): Thou shalt not wear perfume or cologne. Not even a little bit. When we walked into the tasting room, we walked into a perfume cloud. My eyes watered. I couldn’t tell if the perfume assault was from someone in the bridal party, or from tasting room staff. Doesn’t matter. Someone OD’d on Estee Lauder. And I spent the next few hours smelling nothing but gardenias and jasmine. Before we tasted our first wine, my palate was foiled.
Disclaimer: I visited Old House Vineyards anonymously.
When I go to a winery for a tasting (whether I’m invited or anonymous), I take a lot of notes, ask a lot of questions, and take a lot of pictures. Most of the time, people just think I’m just a big dork who takes wine waaaaaay too seriously, but I think I really flustered our tasting room hostess. At one point, she asked us, “Are you girls from another winery?”
Is winery espionage a thing?
Old House Vineyards hired a new winemaker this summer — Andy Reagan. Prior to Old House, Reagan served as the winemaker at Chrysalis, Williamsburg Winery, and Jefferson Vineyards. I’ll be anxious to see the influence of Reagan’s hand in the Old House vintages to come.
I’m not going to rate any of the Old House wines. Because every single tasting note would say, “nose is gardenias and jasmine”. But I will try to give you some general impressions.
I was disappointed with the tasting sheets — there’s not much information to work with. No vintage years and no technical data. I realize not everyone is looking for technical data, but I always think it’s always better to give people too much information . . . than not enough. I forgot to write down the vintage years of the wines we tasted, and now I have no idea.
Clover Hill Vidal Blanc (label image borrowed from CellarTracker)
Had my palate been functioning, I think I would like this wine. 100% Vidal Blanc. Fermented in stainless steel. Mostly dry, with flavors of peach and grapefruit. $17. The label is a nod to the Clover Hill house, which sits only yards away from the Old House property. Clover Hill was built in 1775, and was once home to James Barbour, Virginia’s 18th Governor. General George Custer was wounded in the Battle of Culpeper Court house in 1863 — and recovered at Clover Hill. Custer and his bride, Elizabeth Bacon, honeymooned at the house in 1864. And later, Custer used the house as his headquarters. Mysteries and Conundrums wrote a great blog piece about Old House, along with some fantastic, but heartbreaking, pictures of the decline of the house over the years.
100% Chardonnay. Aged in French oak. Our hostess suggested the wine was similar to a Chablis in style. But since Chablis is mostly free of oak influence, I’m not sure I really get Chablis here. The oak is light, but present. Pear finish. $19.
A semi-sweet wine (less than 2% residual sugar) with tropical flavors. Kind of Riesling-esque, but I found myself craving more acidity. $17.
Rosie’s Red 2013
100% Cabernet Franc. Aged in stainless steel. Gorgeous color. On the mostly dry side, with flavors of tart raspberry. $17.
Tastes like a Cab Franc — tell-tall green pepper and herbal notes. $18.
Wicked Bottom 2013
This wine comes with a great legend. Way back before the railroad came through Culpeper, trading routes converged on the village of Stephensburg. And not everyone who passed through the village could afford lodging, especially not when they were traveling with livestock. So, those travelers camped in a field at the bottom of a hill — an area that grew a reputation for debauchery. It’s nickname? Wicked Bottom.
100% Chambourcin, which is a French-American hybrid grape, parentage unknown. You see a lot of Chambourcin planted in the mid-Atlantic states. Aged in toasted oak. Almost a fuchsia color in the glass. Sour cherry notes, complimented by a strong herbal backbone. I thought Cab Franc was the champion of herbs in Virginia, but after this, I’m not so sure. $19.
The labels for Rosie’s Red, Wicked Bottom, and Bacchanalia are pretty great (kudos to the label artist):
A blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Petite Verdot. Our tasting hostess called this “very Bordeaux like”. I don’t get Bordeaux from this wine. Maybe the herbal palate of the Chambourcin is throwing me off? Perfume nose, or maybe it’s lingering Estee Lauder. $22.
This is Old House’s ice-wine style dessert wine. 100% Vidal Blanc. Aged in French Acacia cedar. Cedar? That’s interesting. The side-boards on the new distillery are made out of cedar. Coincidence? Dense and gooey, loaded with flavors of peaches and apricot. A little shy on the acidity. $25.
Chambourcin Dessert Wine
This is Old House’s port-style dessert wine. Aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and fortified with brandy. The flavor profile bends a little more toward raisins for me, but I enjoyed the bourbon undercurrent. $26.
A sparkling wine made using the methode Champenoise. I was intrigued, but Pétillant isn’t available for tastings (it’s only for sale by the bottle), so I didn’t get to try it. Bummer. $35.
Civil War Footnote: On our drive home, my girlfriend and I noticed this — at what looked like a little park, just a stone’s throw from the winery. Well, of course, we pulled over to investigate:
Sometimes I forget I live in the south. And from time to time, you see the Confederate flag in Virginia — sometimes at a private residence, sometimes on the back of a pick-up truck, and occasionally in the form of a hair scrunchie at Walmart (true story). But I do live in the South — I’m keenly aware that the Confederate flag is a symbol of heritage and tradition to a great many Southerners. For me personally, it’s a symbol forever tainted by its association with slavery and oppression. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
As a student of history, I couldn’t leave this stone unturned . . . if history (or tangents) bore you, you can stop reading now. 😉
Over 160 battles were fought in Culpeper County during the Civil War. The Battle of Brandy Station in June of 1863 was the largest cavalry battle of the war, and marked the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign. Beyond that, unless you’re a Civil War junkie, the details are pretty dry. But here’s my 5 sentence summary: Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart launched a surprise cavalry attack that was supposed to be a diversion (to screen Lee’s movement north toward Gettysburg). But Union forces suspected something was amiss, and surprised the surprisers. Historians call the battle a tactical draw, though it ended up being a much needed confidence boost for the Union cavalry. And Stuart got his butt chewed for being unprepared and almost losing on home turf. Regardless, Lee’s movements north remained concealed, and he continued his march toward Gettysburg.
What we stumbled upon on our way out of Old House Vineyards is a Civil War battleground and memorial to Captain W.D. Farley, J.E.B. Stuart’s aide and scout. Farley and a very small group of Confederate soldiers managed to delay Union cavalry here at Mountain Run with a handful of troops and a single canon, insuring reinforcements would not arrive in time to help the Union cavalry over at Brandy Station. Without that delay, Confederate forces would almost assuredly have been defeated — imagine the historical dominoes. Farley was killed by a ricochet from a single Union cannon shot, and he is memorialized here.
Old House Bottomline: A gorgeous venue, oozing with charm and history. I really wish the Old House could talk — I’d love to sit down with a glass of wine and listen to her stories. If you’re a history buff, a field trip to Old House is worth your time. You’ll find history in and around the Old House, in the wines . . . and even around the corner. If you’re not a history buff, you can hang out in the biergarten, drink some wine, and play giant chess.