Archive for May, 2010


From the Byway to the Highway

Posted on May 24 2010 | By

One Man’s View of a Walk in the Woods

Footpath: n. a path for people to walk along, especially one in the countryside.

Verdant Footpath

I love to walk. In the woods. Where my footsteps connect with the earth at the same time my mind connects with…almost anything.  A walk is God’s prescription for a relaxed state of mind.

A good walk can solve problems, ease tensions and take you home a different person than when you started.

And so it was that I was out walking my community wooded trails recently, when I heard the sound of construction equipment up ahead. Hmmmm…perhaps some road work after the harsh winter? Or  a nearby homeowner’s driveway being resealed?

Nothing as pedestrian as that. My beloved trail was being repaired after several years of rains had eroded out a few small sections of the footpath. But, to my surprise, the small repair job continued on and on. “Oh my gosh, they are turning the trail into a roadway,” I thought to myself.

And indeed it was true. An extended segment of our community trails had small tractors and graders carving out a new road bed and dumping and then rolling tons of gravel in its place.

Technically, the road looked great. But why in the middle of the forest? Soon enough I would be back on the real highways of modern society, bumper to bumper with speeding traffic and exhaust fumes. Did we really need a mini-extension of our highway system dropped into our little world of green?

But so it is.  And I will adapt to the new look soon enough. But, I can’t help feeling something of value has been lost.

Growing up, I often heard the advertising refrain, “Progress is our most important product”.   Really?

New & Improved Footpath

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Team Winery

Posted on May 21 2010 | By

Creating a Successful Winery Requires Cluster of Critical Disciplines

Visit most Virginia wineries and your first impression is one of peaceful relaxation.

Meticulously pruned vineyards undulate softly across fields of green. The soft tinkle of wine glasses and murmured conversation fill the tasting room. During warmer months, couples and family groups are seen picnicking on landscaped lawns, or patios and decks.

The atmosphere and the wine exude a sense of well being and offer visitors a brief respite from the stress filled environment of modern society.

But, creating such a relaxed and enjoyable setting requires focus and commitment. Let any aspect of the experience falter and soon customers will be driving past the establishment to the winery down the road.

Fortunately, most Virginia wineries work hard to assure guests a good time. One such local establishment is Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly. The winery is located at the corner of Hume Road and Route 522, seven miles south of Front Royal.

Let’s listen in as the five individuals responsible for the success of this business briefly describe their wine world.


John Delmare

John Delmare is a native Californian who relocated his family, and winery, to Virginia in 1996. He had previously owned a winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and was drawn to Virginia as an inviting place to raise his growing family, and by its burgeoning wine industry.

“I was impressed with what was unfolding in Virginia. Both the state and the industry itself were supportive of newcomers. Yes, growing grapes and making wine here is more difficult than out West, but the challenge has been justified by the rewards. We’ve built a good life here,” states Delmare.

“I view my job as the general manager, or more specifically the “rudder” that navigates our business; as such, I continually monitor all activity in the winery. This includes keeping my finger on the pulse of sales and production, including which wines are selling best and tracking inventory. I make decisions today that will impact our business three years or more into the future. Growing fruit and making wine is not a short term endeavor. Misjudging the type or volume of wine needed can lead to serious supply problems down the road,” he underscores.

Delmare’s other duties include producing checks for up to thirty vendors a week, processing payroll, submitting monthly reports to federal and state authorities on the amount of wine produced, sold and warehoused, participating in tasting and blending trials of his new wines, holding regular staff meetings, hiring part-time staff to cover busy weekend traffic, and acting as his own bookkeeper.


Jason Burrus

Jason Burrus is a professional winemaker with an MS degree in Viticulture & Enology from the University of California, Davis, the nation’s most prestigious wine university. His resume includes stints at Robert Mondavi as well as other California and foreign wineries. He has been with Rappahannock Cellars for four years.

Burrus is responsible for all winemaking activities. Each year he oversees the purchase of off-site fruit and the harvesting of estate grapes, determining the styles of wine to be produced, converting the fruit to wine through fermentation, and ageing and blending the final bottlings.

“The public’s perception is that winemaking is a romantic occupation. And it does have its creative moments. But the day-to-day managing of a cellar containing up to 35 different lots of wine is a demanding job with ample opportunities for error. A sensitive palate and the ability to concentrate and work error free—coupled with being in good physical condition—is the mark of a successful winemaker,” says Burrus.

In addition to creating wine, Burrus evaluates and purchases barrels, tanks and all winemaking supplies, attends local and regional winemaking seminars, spends countless hours creating potential blends with associated spreadsheets, and manages the bottling operations of the final wines.

Vineyard Manager

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly has managed commercial vineyards for more than a decade, seven of those years with Rappahannock Cellars.

“Quality wine springs from quality fruit, so attention to horticultural details has me spending much of my time in the vineyard. In the spring, I perform soil analysis and amendments, and then oversee the pruning and spraying operations throughout the summer. Canopy management, or controlling the amount of light and air the fruit is exposed to, is also a critical concern of mine. It’s gratifying at harvest time to see Jason working with prime Virginia fruit,” says Kelly.

Outside the eight foot vineyard fence, Kelly’s other duties range from managing the wine warehouse, performing maintenance and repair on a host of farming equipment and cellar infrastructure, and attending meetings of Virginia grape growers.

Tasting Room Manager & Wine Club Manager

Anita Raiford

Anita Raiford oversees tasting room operations. Raiford, a former Capitol Hill staffer, brings enthusiasm and attention to detail to creating an environment conducive to sipping wine. Her job is analogous to a cruise ship director but with a wine glass as backdrop rather than a life preserver.

No amount of vineyard or cellar magic will keep the financial books from turning red, if the setting for enjoying the wine is not welcoming. Tasting wine in an uninviting room with indifferent staff is a sure route to slow business. The wine industry is much more than just the wine.

Raiford’s challenges are similar to many businesses today, training and keeping qualified employees. “Our busiest times are the weekends and having sufficient tasting bar coverage keeps our guests in a contented state.

“We are fortunate to have loyal and committed employees who are eager to make each tasting a fun and educational experience. We encourage them to continually increase their wine knowledge and share it with guests,” emphasizes Raiford.

Beyond staffing and scheduling, keeping the winery gift shop shelves stocked and making certain the club tasting room is in pristine condition is also focus one for her.

Allan Delmare

An additional full-time position is the wine club manager.  Allan Delmare manages the club which provides two bottles of wine each month to its several hundred members. “The club is our way of building a closer relationship with a vitally important group of customers. Our members enjoy the privileges the club offers while helping us build our brand,” says Delmare.

Most of these disciplines are employed throughout our state’s wineries. In smaller operations, the owners are often performing all the duties themselves. Inattention in any of these areas—regardless of the size of the business—is a setup for declining business. An important benefit for wine lovers is that Virginia’s rapid winery growth is fueling enhancements in both settings and wines. Failure to “keep up with the Jones” has real and negative consequences for inattentive owners.

So next time you leave a local winery, reflect for a moment on whether the experience was enjoyable. If it was, it’s likely the “five horsemen of wine hospitality” achieved their goals of attracting a steady stream of customers.

After all, enjoying wine is a social experience. And the more tasters involved the merrier the experience becomes.

Rappahannock Cellars

Published in the May 13, 2010 edition of the Rappahannock News.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

It’s a Miracle

Posted on May 13 2010 | By

It was a perfect spring evening. We sat on our screen porch and gazed at fading sunbeams pouring softly through the nearby forest, creating images of flickering firelight on the screening.

Glasses of chilled Sauvignon Blanc rested in our hands—my wife Jean, my son-in-law Drew and the Wine Guy. My daughter Colleen was upstairs hunched over her laptop. She was putting the finishing touches on a PowerPoint presentation being readied for a meeting the next morning in Richmond.

Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow. Plaintive. Pleading. Pathetic.

It was a sound that rendered all of us staring blankly as a small black cat passed at the edge of the forest and flopped on the ground forty feet away. What’s going on we wondered?

“Oh, my gosh, that cat is pregnant,” Jean murmured alarmingly. Drew and I only observed a small black patch breathing deeply, staring vacantly. Meow. Meow.

Within moments Jean had popped the lid on a can of cat food and slowly walked toward the feline. The animal didn’t move. This was not a feral. This was a house cat in distress. Perhaps abandoned.

Within minutes, the can of food had been consumed and the cat reclined again, lying in her original resting spot. Silence enveloped us all as we contemplated the scene.

Then, screeecchh! Sisssssss! Grrrrrrrrrr.

“Boots”, our local feral tom cat, arrived on the scene to find the interloper possessing his territory. The black cat’s back arched high in the air as it slowly backed off and then scampered quickly into the darkening woods.

The scene came and went quickly and we chatted quietly about the plight of the mother-to-be left to somehow survive on her own. Nature’s cruel beauty revealed.


That night Jean restlessly dreamed of the cat. In the morning she tried to shake the image of the distressed animal roaming a friendless world. Then about noon the animal reappeared.

This time Jean was ready. She grabbed her animal cage and placed a can of food inside and left it in front of the kitten-size cat. The animal trustfully entered the cage and began eating. She snapped the door shut.

That evening the cat slept peacefully in our garage, enveloped in an old comforter.

The next morning Jean whispered to me as I awoke, “She’s had five babies!”  “You’re kidding,” I replied. “That quickly?” “Yep. Go down and take a look,” our pseudo Mom replied.

Miracle & Babies

As I slowly opened the garage door, the new mother raised her head, gave me a glance, and reclined again. Arrayed around her tummy were five small furry bundles, each three inches a long and the thickness of a summer sausage. We soon realized one of the babies had been stillborn.

The cat’s arrival at our house and cry for help could not have been timelier. She was given the name Miracle. If we had not been on the porch when she wandered by,  her kittens would not likely have survived.

The episode highlights the need for spaying and neutering animals. It is estimated up to 12 million feral and abandoned cats roam cities and rural areas of America. Not only are most of them reproducing at alarming rates, they take a considerable toll on songbirds and other small animal life.

Baby Cameo

In our area, the Fauquier Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is dedicated to providing a temporary refuge for stray, homeless and abandoned animals, and to placing such animals in a caring, appropriate home whenever possible. Educating the public about the benefits of spaying and neutering is an extremely important part of its mission. Visit them at

So what’s the outcome for Miracle and her brood? They all still reside in our home and Jean is looking to place them in a safe environment. If you are willing to adopt a cat or kitten drop me a line at Miracle is a sweet, affectionate young mother less than a year old, and her kittens are all beauties.

In an era where life, in all forms, is often shown little respect, it was a privilege to save one young cat and her family. Might you be interested writing the next chapter to this tale?

Baby Slate

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Ask a winegrower what his greatest fear is—other than scoring low in wine competitions—and the answer would likely be, “Frost.”

This year the dreaded chill arrived in the dark of night on two occasions, injuring the county’s delicate vines. If frost hits during a period called “bud break”, it will kill the emerging grape cluster and deprived the winery of precious fruit.

On April 29 and again on May 9, temperatures dropped to freezing in the county and singed a number of vineyards.

Rappahannock Cellars lost small amounts of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and a somewhat larger crop of Cabernet Franc.

Conversely, Grey Ghost Vineyards dodged the icy bullet, attributing their good fortune to early bud break that occurred at the beginning of April.

Gadino Cellars estimated a one to two percent loss, focused mostly on its Chardonnay.

Reports of other frost damage have been heard but are unconfirmed. Damaged vines can grow secondary shoots but will produce less fruit.   Also, some damaged shoots might well have been thinned later in the growing season, so initial losses do not equate to a preordained loss of berries.

The full impact of Jack Frost’s visit may not be known until later in the growing season.

Spring frost underscores the fundamental farming nature of operating a winery. Nature’s bounty produces beautiful wines but it’s often not achieved without the tension that’s part of a life in agriculture.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Virginia Wine Comes of Age

Posted on May 04 2010 | By

Fauquier County Reaping Benefits of Centuries of Virginia Winemaking Challenges

Winery at LaGrange

By the end of 2010, it’s anticipated Virginia will be home to 170 wineries. Here in Fauquier County, twenty bonded wineries are providing citizens and visiting wine lovers a relaxing life style and a healthful libation undreamed of thirty years ago.

Simply put, Fauquier may well be on the path to becoming the new Napa Valley if this extraordinary growth continues.

This accelerating expansion is all the more startlingly coming from a state known more for tobacco, battlefields and presidents than fine wine. How did it come about?

Virginia’s emergence as a promising wine powerhouse has been a long time in the making. About 400 years long. The English colonists who landed at Jamestown in 1607 recognized the lucrative potential in winemaking. Their new home abounded with native grapes and within two years they had produced their first wine. It tasted awful.

Thus began a 350-year trail of tears, as generation after generation of winemakers tried to commercially produce wine in our state. Our forefather vintners encountered a host of problems, not the least of which was the climate, soil, and varied insect life, or what the French call terroir…the “somewhereness” of the fruit’s cultivation.

One of the major hurdles that could not be breached was the disappointing aroma and flavor of our native grapes. Yes, they grew in profusion and still do. But achieving anything resembling a quality bottle of wine was not possible. One of the abiding characteristics of indigenous wine is its foxy aroma and taste, or more pointedly, “wet dog” nuances. Taste a cabernet sauvignon along side a scuppernong and you would not be spending a lot of time fermenting the latter.

An interesting cultural phenomenon emerged because of this failure to produce wine in Virginia. Our nation was launched on a path of beer and hard liquor consumption. Since fruits, grain and corn were cultivated with relative ease folks fermented or distilled these agricultural products so as to have an alcoholic drink at hand.

Alcohol was consumed in prodigious amounts in our nation’s early history. Think of it as that era’s social libation, plus an over-the-counter painkiller and physic drug cabinet, containing Prozac, Zoloft and Valium. Alcohol was the genie in a bottle and it granted our ancestors many wishes. Not all of them good.

After the initial failure to produce palatable native wine, French vines were imported, followed by French vinegrowers, or vignerons, to work their magic. This time the vines did not even reach maturity before they withered and died. It became apparent wealth was not going to be amassed pursuing winemaking. Instead, the colonists decided to plant a crop that grew like a weed, tobacco. And while it was commercially viable, it also destroyed the land not to mention countless addicted smokers.

Then in the 1970s, vine growing embraced science and a wine industry began to emerge. One early leader was Dr. Konstantin Frank, a winegrower from New York State who expounded the idea that the delicate Vitis vinifera grape could thrive in the mid-Atlantic region. This species of vine produces all of the world’s most popular wines.

The good doctor traveled to Virginia and taught a small group of dedicated growers the methods of deep vine planting, proper root stock selection, correct trellising systems, canopy management, targeted spray programs and a host of other techniques he had perfected in the Empire State.

Fauquier County resident Treville Lawrence, who owned an estate in the The Plains called Highbury, was an enthusiastic supporter of Dr. Frank. His experimental vineyards produced some of the first classic Eurasian grape varietals in Virginia. The seeds of success were planted.

Based on these early achievements, Virginia began to take tentative steps into the world of serious winemaking. It was a thrilling and scary time for these wine pioneers as they rolled grapes onto the roulette wheel of fine wine production. It was also when the technique of keeping your fingers crossed while holding a wine glass was perfected.

So with today’s vineyard successes, is this end of our story? Not at all.

What started as an embryonic industry, with one commercial Virginia winery in 1975, has blossomed into a thriving enterprise with over 3,000 acres of vineyards statewide. The next ten years will see even greater advancement as the caliber and knowledge of our viticulturalists and winemakers deepens.

As a result of the efforts in the 1970s, we are fortunate today to be growing numerous classic wine grapes. Two in particular are performing beautifully in both the vineyard and the wine cellar. Let’s take a closer look at the grapes that are enhancing the landscape of many Fauquier County vineyards.


As with many French names, this grape can be a bit difficult to pronounce at first. Say vee-own-YEA. The grape hails from the northern Rhone Valley in France and is thought to have originated from the Romans who introduced it into Gaul over 2,000 years ago. It was once widely planted in the Rhone Valley but slipped into obscurity as it became more difficult to grow.

During the 1960s, there was less that thirty acres of Viognier planted in all of France, a nation with over two million acres of vineyards. The grape was clearly in decline.

In the mid 1980s, a California winemaker of wide repute, Joseph Phelps, adopted the vine and anticipated it might be the next Chardonnay, one of the most popular white wines in the world. Unfortunately, it did not achieve the popularity in California he anticipated. Then, about twenty years ago, it was introduced into Virginia’s vineyards. Here, it has taken to our terroir like a kitten to catnip.

The wine produces a medley of luscious aromas and flavors redolent with honeysuckle, peach, pear and melon. It can be vinified in oak or crafted in a clean, crisp style that eschews oak undertones. In either case, its ancient lineage glows with a creamy mouth feel and soft spice finish. It is a wonderful alternative for those drinkers known as ABCers–Anything But Chardonnay.


This grape has been the workhorse of red blended wines for centuries. The majority of appellations around the world use the grape to enhance other classic reds. Since it produces a wine somewhat lighter in color and tannins than Cabernet Sauvignon, many Bordeaux reds contain 20% or more of this grape. It is aromatic with a wide range of flavors centered on raspberry, plum, cherry and spice. And its firm acidity produces a food friendly beverage.

The attributes that favor growing the grape in Virginia are its cold hardiness and early ripening traits. Coaxing the best out of a wine grape requires meticulous management of the vineyard. Possessing inherent strong qualities in the vine itself eases the vineyard manager’s work. Cabernet Franc’s qualities are well suited to our state’s soil and climate.

In Virginia, many Cabernet Francs are blended with a touch of other reds. For a wine to be labeled the name of a grape it must contain at least 75% of that specific wine. Often you will find our state’s Cabernet Francs contain a dash of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot or Malbec. This blending strategy mirrors in reverse the technique used in Bordeaux.

As with Viognier, our Cabernet Franc has garnered a host of competition medals and awards. We can count on even finer bottlings in the years ahead as our winemakers learn more about showcasing this wine’s unique character.


So the next time you are visiting one of our Fauquier County wineries, take the time to linger over these two winning wines and a host of other quality bottlings being produced locally. Experience more fully the magic of handcrafted wine enjoyed in beautiful settings typical of our county wineries.

There’s no need to travel to France or California to experience world-renowned scenery and wine. In less than a thirty minute drive from anywhere in the county you may well discover your next favorite tasting room and bottle of wine.

As an added attraction, county wineries host a variety of events on most weekends throughout the year. In addition to the traditional wine tastings, look for live entertainment, barrel tastings, luncheons and the ever popular wine dinners. And if you have house guests from out of town, you will easily impress them with the delicious vintages and sweeping scenery that is the hallmark of our local wine country.

Indeed, Virginia and Fauquier County are poised on the threshold of wine greatness.

Our first winemakers must be softly smiling.

For a listing of all of Fauquier County wineries, tasting room hours and directions, visit:

Published in the May 2010 edition of the Warrenton Lifestyle.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES