Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy 20th, Tarara!

Tarara Winery in Leesburg is celebrating its 20th year in operation. To think of how far the Virginia wine industry has come since Tarara first opened its doors two decades ago is amazing. Of course, once upon a time - give or take the generations surrounding the Founding Fathers - Virginia was known for tobacco. Sure, some of its former residents - Thomas Jefferson, for example - dabbled in wine making, but having an established and respected winemaking industry is a fairly new development for the Commonwealth.

It must have been with some skepticism and perhaps a little anxiety that Whitie and Margaret Hubert opened their doors back in 1989 with the goal of producing wines that could be enjoyed by both the novice and the snotty aficionado alike. I doubt that the Huberts could have realized, back before the Internet, cell phones and laptops that they were going to be seen one day as a new breed of pioneers forging the reputation of Northern Virginia’s wine culture and industry. Whitie passed away last year, but Virginia’s wine landscape is spotted with “Glen Graduates,” as his disciples in Virginia winemaking are known.

Long story short, 20 years on Tarara casts a large shadow over DC’s wine country and is one of the true destination wineries in the region. It is not just its sheer size, but its prominence and reputation that help to distinguish Tarara. Their secret to success, as far as I can tell, is based on both the atmosphere and the wine that it produces. The winery has beautiful views of both mountains and water, a friendly and cozy, albeit often very busy, tasting room, and a good program of events that invites the community in to see what the winery has to offer. On top of that, Tarara makes some very, very good wines.

With all the high praise and bromides out of the way, Tarara does have some room for improvement when it comes to customer service. When I called up Tarara recently to get a bit more information on their “Toast to the Tunes” concert series, I called five times, and never once got hold of a live person on the other end, as there is no way to reach a live human on the weekend, even though there was an event that evening. Even after the frustrating phone ordeal, Caitlin and I headed out to Tarara, picnic in tow, to spend an evening at one of Virginia’s great wineries.

Back to the bromides and high praise for the place. Tarara is a beautiful, destination winery for good reason. The Toast to the Tunes series takes place on a bandstand that overlooks a pond, and while under-staffed, they set up a tasting bar in the center of the activity. There was plenty of space to set up on the lawn, if not at the tasting bar. Even though the event was well attended, it was not so crowded as to make it uncomfortable.

To be honest, though, I seriously doubt if anyone headed out to Tarara for the music alone. People were here for the wine first and foremost, and Tarara makes some great ones. Of their whites, my favorite is their 2007 Viognier. It was very crisp with a touch of acidity on the palette that gives the wine an almost, but not quite, sparkling quality. The nose has some fruit to it, but also has a bit of a chalky hue. In case you’re wondering, that is actually a good thing for this wine. Don’t ask how I got “chalky.” I did, and it’s not a bad thing. For $30 a bottle, their viognier is a bit pricey for a Virginia wine, but if you want to splurge on a great Virginia white, Tarara’s viognier is worth it.

In terms of reds, I tried a very nice Cabernet Franc and a less-impressive Pinot Noir. Stick with the cabernet franc. It was a bit darker than most cab francs, and had a nice, full body to it. The nose was lighter than the color was, though there was a nice hint of plumbs and a little whiff of chocolate to both the taste and the smell.

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