In northern Fauquier County, there’s an eight-mile stretch of two-lane road between I-66 westbound and State Highway 50 that meanders through the historic Crooked Run Valley, in the shadows of Lost Mountain. That stretch is US 17 North. About halfway down sits a 33 acre winery called Delaplane Cellars, and recently I had the chance to spend some time there.
Founded by Jim and Betsy Dolphin back in 2007, Delaplane Cellars is a beautiful property that focuses on a line-up of Bordeaux inspired wines, with 11 acres under vine. Recently purchased by partners Daniel and Katie Gomez, Nicholas Jordan, and Thomas Duckenfeld, Delaplane Cellars is poised for its second decade of production, with the help of veteran Virginia winemaker Rick Tagg (Keswick, Pearmund Cellars, Barrel Oak), who has overseen all winemaking duties since 2016.
Philadelphia born and Alexandria raised, Tagg is a conscientious, meticulous vigneron whose passion for wine dates back to his early working days waiting tables in French restaurants. He cares about the fruit and ‘getting it right’ in the cellar…and it shows in his wines.
After an unrushed time spent wandering through the beautiful two-story tasting room building, hearing live acoustic music, and enjoying the valley views, I made my way to the tasting bar and was kindly guided through my flight by Julie, a Northern Virginia native who works there on weekends.
The White Wines
The first wine up was the dry Petit Manseng 2018. A grape of southwestern France, petit manseng has truly flourished in the Virginia wine world, and Rick’s production certainly holds up the ever-growing, state-wide standards. A beautiful gold color is complemented by aromas of candied fruit and spice, with a touch of brine and hints of honeysuckle. A wine of both great acid and weight, the palate is washed with fruits and texture.
If you’re a fan of white blends, you’ll enjoy the Melange Blanc 2018. An artful integration of 50% chardonnay, 25% viognier, 13% petit manseng and 12% white merlot (juice of the merlot grape without the skin contact), this was a fun wine to drink. Tasting sheet descriptors suggested ‘fresh peaches and tangerine, followed by flavors of lychee, clementine and lime on the palate’…whoever wrote this was spot on.
Rounding out the white wine list was the fantastic Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2017. With fruit sourced from a small vineyard site in northwest Loudoun County, this wine is whole cluster pressed and aged sur lie (on the lees) in neutral French oak barrel for approximately 8 months. I found this wine to be wonderfully reminiscent of central Burgundy blanc wines, ala Meursault, with both acidity and roundness. Melon, with hints of pear and peach, consume both the senses, and the finish is fantastic. This was probably my favorite wine of the day.
The Red Wines
As mentioned earlier, Delaplane Cellars is devoted to the production of Bordeaux influenced wines, showcasing the classic varietals that make Bordeaux permanently timeless. Bordeaux rouge is about blend, and the day’s flight of reds couldn’t have been more seamless in their parts.
The luscious Melan Rouge 2015 is a near 50/50 split of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, the champion grapes of Bordeaux. Dark berries, cherries, cocoa, and herbs are present, with silky tannins and a fading finish. Neutral French oak aging helped make this a very solid wine.
The signature Left Bank Estate 2016 was next. Awarded 91 points by James Suckling, LBE 2016 has received deserved national recognition. Driven by 50% cabernet sauvignon, 33% cabernet franc, 9% merlot and 8% petit verdot, this earthy wine is solely produced from estate fruit. Tagg’s commitment to proper care of each varietal, with one blending trial after another, allows for perfect unity and balance. Aged for 22 months in French oak barrels, this wine is structured and full of character.
Concluding the flight was the new guy on the red carpet, Rusticity 2017. A bold blend of 50% petit verdot, 30% merlot and 20% cabernet franc, this wine is intense and flavorful. In only its second vintage, Rusticity 2017 is already enjoying great popularity amongst the guests and is sure to please for many harvests to come.
One of the great joys of a winery visit is a barrel room tasting with the winemaker him (or her) self. On my visit, I was lucky to experience such a tasting, with both winemaker Rick Tagg and co-owner Nicholas Jordan, along with a few of their friends. We headed downstairs to a spacious two-room complex where a large fermenter and giant stainless steel tanks set the stage for a stacked barrels room, with rows of French oak barriques defining the space. An additional row of steel drums added to the charm of it all. It was here that Rick held center court. With his trusty wine thief in hand, he pulled one aging 2019 vintage wine after another. We spent more than an hour tasting through his work and listening to the details of how each wine was made, producing what he refers to as ‘arguably the best vintage I’ve ever seen in Virginia.’ From drum-steeled sauvignon blanc to barrel-aged chardonnays, left bank blends, and estate single varietal offerings of cabernet franc, sauvignon, and petit verdot, these future bottlings are going to be well worth the wait…the future is looking bright as the sun for Delaplane Cellars.
I hope you get out to Delaplane Cellars soon, taste through their wonderful wines, enjoy their incredible space and enjoy all there is to enjoy along that beautiful stretch of Highway 17.
My thanks to Nicholas and Rick, as well as GM Tom Stevens and Tasting Manager Ross Forry for the collective hospitality and kindness.
Until next time, Happy Vino’ing!
2187 Winchester Road, Delaplane