Southern Hospitality? (Sampling VA’s Loudoun County Wineries)

Vinted on August 24, 2009 binned in commentary, on the road, wine review

Virginia, as the marketing slogan goes, is for Lovers.

VA may soon be for wine lovers, especially if you’re fond of Old World style  Cabernet Franc.

VA is not necessarily for wine writers, however.

Those are the tidbits of knowledge that I came away with anyway, after touring a handful of Loudoun County wineries with a group of other bloggers, sponsored by Reston Limousine.

To be fair, before I start making pronouncements on the state of wine in D.C.’s wine country – and I will make pronouncements about D.C.’s wine country, of course – my tour visited only a handful of wineries in the Harmony Cluster.  While it’s situated in close proximity to D.C. and Reston, Loudoun County gets particularly rural particularly quickly, and if you’re planning on a tour of the area’s wineries you could hardly do better than to hire someone else to navigate the narrow, twisting, unpaved roads between wineries, which I imagine would be harrowing to navigate in poor weather, darkness, or when you’re hammered.  Not that you’d do that, right?  Right?!??

I did come away quite impressed with Reston Limo, who sponsored our trip and offer public tours of the area’s wine trail.  Our driver was big enough to have been on NFL offensive lineman, and thankfully was quite funny, approachable, and talented (he possesses a very good singing voice, and is able to create – I am not making this up – cursive renditions of your name created from a piece of twisted wire).  So I came away from the tour fairly impressed by Reston Limousine.

The Loudoun country wineries, on the other hand, did not all impress me…

Don’t get me wrong, some of the wines showed a lot of promise. Dry Mill Vineyards & Winery (currently the area’s newest) and Zephaniah Farm Vineyard (possibly the state’s smallest family-run wine outfit) are making Cabernet Franc wines with promise – round red fruit and spice, the stuff of Old World beauty that, if they can continue improving on what they’ve started will certainly put VA on the map for Cabernet Franc lovers.  I’m a Cab Franc lover, by the way.  You know, in case you’re planning any birthday gifts for me and whatnot…

Zephaniah and Casanel Vineyards, in particular, seemed to relish the opportunity of hosting a group of wine writers, sharing their stories of day-to-day family-run vineyard life.  I’m pretty sure it would have been impossible to stop Brazilian-born Nelson DeSouza, owner of Casanel, from sharing the inspiring life story of how he came from entering the U.S. in his twenties without money or English-language skills, to owning several acres of vineyard lane in a beautiful and historic area of the country.  More on that when I get around to editing some of the video footage of the visit.

Leesburg’s Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, on the other hand, dropped the ball completely. My group was raced through tasting of predominantly pedestrian wines (their jammy and focused Petit Verdot excepted), standing at the counter in their tasting room, listening to scripted versions of introductions to their wines and being offered to take a self-guided tour of the farm and vineyards… from a portfolio notebook.


That’s not how you put your best foot forward when a group of opinionated wine writers visits your establishment.  And before you flame me for being a jaded wine snob who is letting the experience of having famous California wineries rolling out the red carpet for me going to my head, you need to know that what Willowcroft did is not how you put your best foot forward for anybody visiting your winery, especially if it’s a limo full of tourists who might know nothing about wine whatsoever but are going a few hours drive out of their way and taking time out of their holiday to visit your establishment.

It’s certainly not what I expected from the area’s oldest winery.  I believe the twitter term is FAIL.

Seems that some of VA’s wineries, like the area’s newly-planted Cab Franc vines, have a bit of work to do before they’re truly ready for prime time.


(images: 1WineDude)





  • john witherspoon

    Hey Joe
    Sorry again we didn't get a chance to meetup while you down here in the Commonwealth. First a slight correction, Woodland Vineyard, my in-laws winery, is the smallest family winery in the state. Funny enough, I am not sure if Dezel told you this, Dry Mill and Casanel have the same winemaker, and I'm pretty sure Zephaniah uses him as well for consulting. Nothing wrong with that, just an interesting point. As you know from my post that is still getting comments, I have been shocked at how VA wineries treat bloggers and fellow members of the VA wine trade – some of them definitely don't get it – but others REALLY do!! A few of which I have already started talking about TasteCamp 2011 with, and they are very excited. I guess more wine reviews of the trip will be under you 1winedudereview? Looking to see more of what you thought about the juice.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, man. I think you, Dezel & I are due for a VA meet-up soon!

      I did hear that several of the wineries there are using each other for winemaking, consulting, and bottling – which I think is great, by the way. Correction noted – Zephania is the smallest in the County, though they mentioned that they think they *might* be the smallest in the state.

      I actually hope more oft he VA wineries band together so that they can understand the collective power of marketing their region's wines together, and the power of engaging bloggers to help them do that. I'm sure that there are some who 'get it' – and I look forward to meeting them.


  • Dylan

    I'm sorry your trip left more to be desired. However, it all depends on the winery reactions to your post along with others on the trip. If they can take it in stride, they can improve from your feedback and offer a tour that would increase not only their sales, but the sales of your favorite singer's/wire bender's Limo service.

    • 1WineDude

      Wasn't all bad, of course – just disappointing that some of the wineries might consider my experience to be ok. It's not.

      As you rightly point out, this is all meant to be constructive and the hope is that they will read it, respond, and consider how to improve that experience.


    • 1WineDude

      Wasn't all bad, of course – just disappointing that some of the wineries might consider my experience to be ok. It's not.

      As you rightly point out, this is all meant to be constructive and the hope is that they will read it, respond, and consider how to improve that experience.


  • Roger

    Man, you got totally screwed on the wineries. I lived there for three years. You missed Rappahanock Cellars, James River… There are over 110 wineries in VA. The two I listed are really personable and treat you like family. Sorry you got bad scoop bro. You want personable? Come on down to my town Temecula, CA.

    • 1WineDude

      I'll consider that an invite! :)

  • Evan Dawson


    Comfort and passion vs. herding cattle. What a dichotomy, eh? Just another stark example of the value of great service — and the perils of poor service.

    We've had some very nicely made Cab Franc from down that way. I'm always curious to see what Spoony digs up, but I have to say I'm most enthused about Cab Franc so far. John writes on occasion about the Viognier; did you see any of that?

    Cheers — Nice post.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks. Got a touch or two of Viognier, but found the CF was the real star based on what we tasted. Cheers!

  • Bill Hatch

    We at Zephaniah Farm Vineyard always strive to welcome everyone. We provide personal attention to all guests to make sure they feel welcome. We constantly want to improve in all we do.

    Bloggers do have tremendous power, and we would hope that they, as well as all other visitors to Zephaniah, truly enjoy the experience.

    My son and I are the winemakers at Zephaniah, and we do not have a consultant.

    We love what we are doing- growing grapes and making wine with great care and passion.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Bill. I really enjoyed the visit and I think I speak for the entire group when I say that you made us feel welcome immediately. Thanks for sharing your passion with us – and the family history! Cheers!

    • john witherspoon

      Hi bill
      sorry to imply that you had a consultant assisting with your wine making, I thought I had heard that somewhere which is why I didn't state it emphatically. HOpe to visit you guys sometime soon.

  • Dezel

    Great meeting you this past weekend Joe. On the bright side, the day ended with some great aged wines! As a matter of fact, I plan on hitting up that “Cult Case” tomorrow evening. Also, I plan on putting together a small blogger tour together this fall with a list of my personal favorites – will keep you in the loop and hope you can join. Have a great week.


    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, man – great meeting you as well, looking forward to getting together again soon!

  • Jennifer Breaux

    Greetings from Breaux Vineyards in Loudoun County, VA! I was delighted to read that you toured LoCo wine country with Reston Limo and am sorry to read that the experience was not what it should have been…and could have been for you and your fellow writers and bloggers. To read that the wineries failed to impress was hard to swallow…excuse the pun.

    I’m dismayed that Reston Limo chose to take you to the wineries that they did with respect to the fact that you blog about wine. Although I support all wineries in Loudoun and want each to succeed, some of the wineries you visited have not yet had time to establish themselves and they are brand new to the industry (all within the past year). As for the established winery you visited, I’m not sure what happened there but I’ll forward this blog to Mr. Parker, the owner. For a true impression of what Loudoun has to offer, I urge you to visit those wineries that have been the cornerstone of DC's Wine Country and the leaders in the explosion of the global interest in Virginia wine.

    Loudoun is home to over 20 wineries and each one is unique in the wines they offer, appearance as well as their approach to hospitality. It would be unfair to assume that the 3 wineries you visited should be considered the “Standard” of what Loudoun has to offer. With that, I would welcome you to tour Loudoun County – DC’s Wine Country again. I’m happy to be your guide and can guarantee a great day of wine tasting with quality wines and warm hospitality. It’s an invitation – and a chance for me to win you over as a Loudoun County wine lover!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Jennifer. I appreciate the invitation and will most certainly contact you whenever I plan my next visit to Loudoun County!

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