Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Although it is several weeks gone now, I am finally getting around to writing about Rappahannock Cellars, who was the gracious host for the inaugural TechAdventureDC event. Followers of Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and other social media platforms have probably already seen and read all that they need to about the event from the social media and techie perspective. I will add my three sentence write-up of the event from that point of view, then move onto the wine: It was a great way to continue online conversations offline and actually meet people face-to-face. I enjoyed receiving all of the positive feedback about the blog, and was surprised by how many people actually read it! It was a great way to get out of the city for a day, spending time in a beautiful setting, eating great food, listening to music in a barn and drinking some very good Virginia wines.

The winery was started by California transplants who moved to Virginia over a dozen years ago to start a family winery in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a member winery of the Blue Ridge Wine Way, and a winery that produces over 8,000 cases of wine a year, Rappahannock Cellars is now one of the bigger wineries in Virginia. Despite the many challenges that growing wine in Virginia has compared to California, the owners, winemakers, vine-growers, along with everyone else involved in the production of their wines seems to welcome the challenge. The ultimate payoff, of course, is what ultimatly flows out of the bottle.

During the tour of the vineyard, we were told that chardonnay does not grow well in Virginia, though they devote some acreage to it. From what I tried, I would agree that it is not the best white that they make, but their 2008 Noblesse Viognier was quite good, with a nice, dry blend of citrus and mineral flavors throughout the body and a rich, golden color.

Like chardonnay, Virginia is not known for its cabernet sauvignon. Rappahannock makes a drinkable one, however. It is not, by any means the thick, full-bodied wine that California has become famous for producing, but it serves as a good table wine that is more that able to accompany red meats, cheese and even pasta dishes. A better red that they produce is their 2007 Cabernet Franc. Perhaps cabernet franc just grows better in Virginia, or maybe I just know what to expect with Virginia cabernet franc, but I enjoyed it more likely because the cab franc had the subtle taste of peanut butter and jelly in the finish.

I found their dessert wines way too sweet and thick, with jumbled, muddled tastes that didn’t really offer anything too distinctive. The best way I could describe their 2007 Red Dessert Wine is like diluting a jar of jam with water and letting it ferment. Not my favorite, but many people on the trip enjoyed it - further reinforcing the fact that every palate is different, everybody likes and looks for different things in wine, and all tasting recommendations should be viewed as guideposts more than anything else.

Overall, a big thank you goes out to the organizers of TechAdventureDC and to Rappahannock Cellars. I would strongly encourage you to take a trip out to the winery, spend a day tasting what they have to offer and exploring their grounds. You will leave happy, with some very good bottles of Virgina wine.

Friday, September 11, 2009

One Step Closer to a Winery in Fairfax

Last week I wrote a post regarding Paradise Springs Winery, which is aiming to become the first winery in Fairfax County. There was a significant amount of media attention paid to the story because of the controversy surrounding the planned opening of a winery. As is usually the case, local officials and neighbors were divided on whether or not the winery should be allowed to open.

The good news is that Paradise Springs has cleared one major hurdle and is closer to being able to open its doors to the public. On Thursday of last week, the same day I wrote about it, for what it’s worth, the Virginia Alcohol Board of Control (ABC) issued Paradise Springs a license over the objections of local officials and concerned neighbors. Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post wrote an article detailing the decision on Friday.

There is 30-day window to appeal the decision.

I had the opportunity to speak with Kirk Wiles, the son in the mother and son duo that started Paradise Springs, yesterday. Kirk sounded relived that the ABC ruled in his favor and that they are now closer to being able to open. Kirk also mentioned that other Virginia wineries, and local wine trade associations, have been very supportive of the Wiles throughout this entire process.

With all the issues at play, from state and local elected officials supporting or opposing the winery, to the precedent it is setting for other wineries to open in Fairfax, and the growing influence of Virginia’s wine industry, I hope that the decision does not face an appeal and the Wiles will be able to open their winery sooner rather than later. If Paradise Springs was able to open as scheduled in May, the Wiles could have been open for the summer months – peak season for wine tasting. Instead, they faced numerous challenges and needed to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Hopefully, through the trials and travails that Paradise Springs has faced, others have learned how to navigate the Fairfax’s local government and won’t be dissuaded from opening wineries in the county. It could be a huge boon to the local economy, preserve acres of rural land, and further the reputation of Virginia as a wine-producing state.

If you live in Fairfax, please contact your local officials and let them know you support Paradise Springs. Then, once they open, visit the winery, taste their wines and let the Wiles know that you support their efforts to produce wine in Fairfax.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Winery in Fairfax County?

In recent days, the Washington Post, Fox5 and WAMU have all run stories about the controversy surrounding Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, VA. Supporters of the winery claim that it could be a boon for area tourism, could help preserve one of the last rural parts of Fairfax County (I didn't know there were any rural parts of Fairfax left) and further develop Virginia’s wine industry.

Opponents, on the other hand, are worried that a winery will lead to increased traffic and an increase in drunk driving. And of course, local politicians are getting involved. Fairfax County Zoning officials claim that the winery is actually a manufacturing plant, not a farm, and therefore should not be given a permit.

With the issue getting media attention, with residents, elected officials and others all having their say, it is worth it to step back, see where the Virginia wine industry has come and assess the merits that another winery will have for the region. Personally, I am of the opinion that Paradise Springs should be allowed to open as a winery. There is no big surprise there. However, I am curious how a winery in Fairfax will affect Virginia's wine industry in terms of labeling. Will Loudoun COunty want to get an appellation classification for itself? Will Fairfax be able to produce quality wines? Will there be other brave souls to follow Paradise Springs' lead? Can the county even support more wineries?

All those questions can only be answered if Paradise Springs is allowed to open. It seems like it is a good idea and will preserve what little open land is left in the county. I would much rather let the proprietors do what they want with their land, contribute to their local economy and help the state’s burgeoning wine industry than have the land divided up and sold to developers who will likely build more McMansions, strip malls and congested roadways.

If you live in Fairfax and have an opinion, one way or another, on this issue, please contact your elected officials and let them know your opinion.


In other Beltway Bacchus news, TechAdventureDC was last Saturday and it was a great time! Thank you to everybody who participated and especially to Rappahannock Cellars and their friendly and knowledgeable staff for making the event such a success.

More detailed posts on both the event and Rappahannock Cellars will be going up in the weeks to come.