Granted there are many “old houses” in Culpeper, but only one houses a vineyard and winery with a talented, young winemaker by the name of Damien Blanchon. As I drove up to the stately farm house of Old House Vineyards, I was brought back in time, and as Damien led me through the tasting room and private event dining room, both with fireplaces, the ambience of the exterior architecture continued within. It feels like a B&B, and in fact they do have some rooms to let, if you are attending a private wine dinner in the dining room. It is marvelous that owners, Pat and Allyson Kearney, decided to keep the rooms as they were. Just some painting and floor refinishing, and what they created is a most inviting and charming series of tasting areas. I can only imagine that it is next to impossible to get people to leave! Granted, I am a sucker for classic old farm houses with big sweeping porches, dark wood mouldings and fireplaces. I just wanted to move in! And combine that classic homey ambience with fabulous wines and a picnic lunch.
Damien told me that Old House has 22 acres under vine and he only uses Estate grapes in the 3,000 case production. Planted in the vineyard is Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and some newly-planted Tannat, not yet in production. BTW – Tannat is a main varietal from where Damien hails from in Peripignan, Southwest France. Born into a family of viticulturists, Damien started his education in his Grandfather’s vineyard. He then went on to receive his degree in viticulture and enology at the College of Agriculture LEGTA Charlemagne in Carcassonne. Coming to the United States to make wine was a decision led by his desire to experiment with different growing conditions, varietals and the freedom to blend any range of varietals that he so desires.
The first wine we tasted in the cellar was the ’09 Vidal Blanc Clover Hill. Aged in stainless steel and with a malolactic fermentation this wine sang of pear on the nose. Fresh and lively, it is the dry VB of the portfolio.
The first Chardonnay ’09 was barrel femented in a neutral barrel and is resting ‘sur lies.’ Damien also stirred the lies to prevent oxidation, and then did a malolactic fermentation. So you can imagine the roundness on the palate, yet acidity bounced in at the back end. The second Chardonnay ’09 is aging in a ‘toastier’ barrel and that showed in a nice way. These Chards will age for one year in the barrels.
The Cabernet Franc ’09 is bright, light and fruity, and well-balanced. It will be a great picnic & BBQ red.
Chambourcin ’09 is blended with some Cabernet Franc and is just wild strawberry fruity! It reminded me of picking wild strawberries in the field behind my childhood home in Maine. The second Chambourcin ’09 went through a cold soak and longer maceration. This will be used in the Bacchanalia blend….a favorite of Old House’s customers.
The Late Harvest ’09 Chambourcin grapes were immediately refrigerated, then de-stemmed and put into a stainless steel tank, and is now aging in a barrel. I really like red dessert wines and this is soooo South of France! And even for the summer, it would be great with a cheese course of Blues and Cheddars, oh throw in some Epoisses, too.
Ahhh…the Petit Verdot ’09….I am becoming a fan of this varietal as a single-varietal wine. This PV is still in a fresh, young stage and showing good acidity. PV is a grape that delivers a good level of acidity, another good reason for its blending capacity, but works in its favor as a single varietal. This wine will be aging for another year. In the meantime, The Petit Verdot ’08 is a classic inky, full bodied PV that will be released in the Bacchanalia blend this summer. Damien is still deciding on the final blend, but it may be something like 50% Petit Verdot, 30% Chambourcin, 25% Cabernet Franc…you heard it here first.
The ’09 Vidal Blanc Late Harvest has been fermenting since December and has about 3 more weeks. Then it will be racked and held in a stainless steel tank; then racked again and transferred to barrels to age for maybe one year….for as long as Damien decides it needs to. He is planning to release it towards the end of 2010…. maybe in time for Christmas.
I have never tasted a Port made from Chambourcin, and I was surprised to see that it’s amber color. The ’09 has brandy added to stop the fermentation….and that is called ‘mutage’…en Français. This is a very South France style, Vin du Naturel. Two barrels will be aging for 3 years….oh, take off that frown, because Damien is aging another batch for 1.5 years, that of course, will be available sooner. Besides, the ’08 Port is available in the tasting room. Although, I can’t wait for that 3-year aged batch…let’s see 3 years aging, bottled, released oh sometime around 2013. Yikes!! Considering the Ancient Mayans predicted total earthly devastation in 2012…pffft, never mind. I shall remain positive that we will be imbibing in this nectar. I don’t think even the Ancient Mayans prediction will convince Damien to decrease the time of aging.
Current Releases – no more teasing of wines to come. These are now available! ’09 Vidal Blanc, this is the semi-sweet VB of the portfolio. Damien did a skin maceration with this and delivered a 3% Residual Sugar. BTW – it’s fructose sweetness vs. saccharin, which would result from adding sugar. Just thought you might want to know that. The fermentation was stopped at 12.3% alcohol, so even though it’s semi-sweet wine, it’s not any higher in alcohol. Yes, that is a license to drink more. I’m planning to try this wine with grilled shrimp that I’ll marinate in a medium-spice curry paste, as a first course on greens. Vidal Blanc is aromatic and expressive, and it’s semi-sweet nature should be an interesting pairing with the spicy shrimp.
2007 Bacchanalia, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Tannat and Chambourcin. I undersand why I had so many customers asking for this when I was on the floor at Frenchman’s Cellar in Culpeper. A bold wine, but that strawberry thing with the Chambourcin softens it a bit and brings some female to the wine. Along with the earthiness of the Cab Franc and tannic blackberry of Tannat in the blend, it really paired nicely with a Chicken Marsala I recently made, using Crimini mushrooms. The richness of the Marsala wine sauce stood should-to-shoulder with this wine.
2008 Port – this is the older brother of the ’09 that is still aging in a whiskey barrel. Again, Damien used Chambourcin and it really works well for Port. Perfect with a cheese course, or chocolatey dessert. I can see just sipping it on late wintry evenings.
2006 Petillante, which translates as “bubbly, sparkling.” This is a yeasty, biscuit-like sparkling with a long finish. This elegant Sparkling is made every two years, and only 100 cases. As you may know, it is a rather tedious endeavour to make premium Sparkling in the ‘methode traditionelle” style, hence the price tag generally. But at $35 for Petillante, it delivers for the price. I can see this with foie gras as a first course; or with a lobster dish. Today, I came across a suggested pairing of Dom Perignon with BBQ ribs. So, go for it!
The biggest news from Old House is the introduction of their Lake Pavilion, an events venue that overlooks the “The Island,” which is perfect for wedding ceremonies. This is the newest and most unique wedding venue addition to the region. Imagine….dial in to your romance gene…strolling across the foot bridge over to the small island to say those vows. The Lakeside Pavilion is still having some final tweaks done, but will be ready in time for this season. As an event planner in Napa and on the East End of Long Island, I’ve done lots of weddings in beautiful locations, and Old House Vineyards certainly delivers a top notch site that offers a gorgeous view and setting without any puffery.
Check out their upcoming winery events.