Archive for March, 2015


Anatomy of a winemaker

Posted on Mar 29 2015 | By

Note: This article was published with the numerals superimposed over each piece of equipment shown in the photograph at the bottom of the story.  Most of the equipment is self-evident but item #1 is the small instrument on top of the front right wine barrel. Item #2 is barely visible peeking out of the red-colored cylinder sitting on the small stainless steel tank to the right of the winemaker.

High & low tech gear employed in ancient art 

Wine GlassRarely does a wine drinker reflect on how fresh grapes evolve into a pleasurable bottle of wine. Or, who the magician is that makes it happen. We are simply too focused on the wine itself.

But without skilled alchemists working in Fauquier County wine cellars, locally made wines would not grace our dining tables.

There are more than 30 winemakers in the county domiciled in 23 different wineries. Let’s sneak down in the cellar and see how they do it.

#1  Refractometer: $40
This instrument is used to measure the Brix—or percent of sugar—in a grape. One Brix equals about one percent sugar. In the vineyard, a few drops of squeezed grape juice are placed on its glass plate and then observed through the eyepiece to determine the amount of sugar therein. Harvest decisions are largely based on achieving a certain percentage of sugar in the fruit. In Virginia, it’s typically between 21 and 25 Brix.

#2  Hydrometer: $30
A simple but critical device that monitors the rate of fermentation and alcohol levels in wine. It allows winemakers to figure the specific gravity of wine (the relative “weight” of liquid compared to plain water). Most wines are vinified to dryness (no sugar) and the tool is used to determine when that goal is achieved.

#3  Wine thief: $70
A simple hand vacuum that is inserted into a barrel to exact a sample of wine. The thumb is placed on an opening at the top of the thief to create a vacuum and remove a few ounces of the nectar. The device has been in use for centuries.

#4  Oak Barrel: $500 to $1,200
A hollow, cylindrical vessel made of oak staves and bound by metal hoops. It is an integral part of the production of fine wine, both whites and reds. The inside of a barrel is “toasted” to enhance the wine with an array of subtle flavors and aromas. Barrels are from France (most expensive), Hungary and America (often using Virginia White Oak). The ideal size of a barrel is 60 gallons and holds 300 bottles of  wine.

#5  Stainless steel tank: $4,000 to $60,000
An important innovation dating to the 1960s that permits the fermentation and aging of wine in a temperature controlled environment. The tanks are particularly useful in white wine production that benefit from fermentation in the 50 to 60 degree range to enhance aroma and flavor. Tanks used locally range in size from a few hundred gallons to over 1,000. By comparison, tanks used in large California wineries can exceed 200,000 gallons.

#6 Pump: $4,000
Pumps are the work horse of a wine cellar. They are used to transfer wines from and between barrels and tanks in a process called “racking”. The process draws off wine from its “lees” (sediment of spent yeast cells and other detritus) to clean, empty tanks or barrels. Racking is ongoing until the day of bottling.

#7  Hoses: $4 a foot
Used in concert with pumps, hoses are everywhere present on the floor of a winery. Large and a bit unwieldy, they are the arterial system through which flows all wine in a cellar.

#8 Wine glass: $5 and up
The ubiquitous wine glass is the vessel of choice for all wine evaluation. It is fitting that from birth to consumption the wine glass plays a pivotal role in the production of wine and its enjoyment.


Sharon Roeder

Sharon Roeder

Sharon Roeder is the winemaker at Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane. Roeder shares winemaking responsibilities with Rick Tagg. Their collaborative efforts produce 9,000 cases of wine a year. Yep, that’s 108,000 bottles.

“We pour our heart and soul into every bottle and the reward is in the faces of the people who enjoy the fruit—literally—of our labor,” said Roeder.


Published in the 2015 Spring edition of inFauquier magazine.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Croftburn Market treasures

Posted on Mar 23 2015 | By

One stop shopping for fine dining at home 

FullSizeRender (1)Characterizing the Croftburn Market as a butcher shop is like calling the Taj Mahal a building. Both are technically correct but belie the treasures held within.

The small Culpeper shop packs a big punch.

Quality locally raised and naturally fed beef, lamb and pork are available five days a week at the market. And if you leave without taking a tour of the rest of the store your dinner table will be disappointed.

The four-year-old business embodies farm-to-table freshness while supporting up a dozen local farms. The shop is a farmers market on steroids. It is opened 37 hours a week and features meats and a variety of other locally produced foodstuffs.

“We want to give people something different than what’s available in the grocery stores,” owner Andrew Campbell said. “It’s a store front for a number of local businesses instead of products just from our farm.”

Campbell conceived the idea for the market as an alternative to selling his farm beef exclusively to restaurants, farmers markets and other wholesale venues. The question was “how can we realize a little bit more from our animals” than simply selling wholesale.

The Campbell family operated a farm in the area for many years before opening the market. He realized there was a demand for naturally raised beef, chicken and pork that had not been raised on antibiotics, growth hormones, preservatives and other additives.

“The grocery stores sell meat that comes mostly from feedlots out west and fed all those additives because that’s what the U.S. system does to get weight on the animals quicker and keep them from getting sick. Our local meat is not raised in that manner.IMG_0899

“We grind fresh hamburger everyday and make a total of a dozen different sausages and also hot dogs; steaks and roasts are cut to order. The glass display cases are the first thing customers see when entering the shop. Proteins are our main focus.”

But not by protein alone does man survive so when your main entrée has been selected its time to swing to the right side of the store and select pastas, sauces or seasonally available fresh vegetables to accompany your repast.

And while animal protein takes center stage, fresh and fresh frozen fish is also available. And if hors d’oeuvres or snacks are on your grocery list, don’t forget to peruse the selection of cheeses, jerky, salamis, jams, jellies and more.

Local eggs, milk and other dairy products round out the food selections.

Most gourmands believe that good food should be accompanied by a good adult beverage. Such shoppers need to pivot left in the shop and head toward the wine and beer section.

“We try not to carry beer and wine that you can find elsewhere,” Campbell said. So while Bud Light is not on the shelves, a plethora of 75 different craft beers are. Virginia’s reputation for quality beer production has accelerated in the last decade and many of the best bottlings are sold at Croftburn; the rest of the selections are national and internationally known offerings.

IMG_0900For lovers of the fermented grape, an estimated 75 different wines are for sale. Selections hail from Virginia, the U.S. and worldwide.  Prices range from $9 to $30 a bottle but average in the $9 to $13 range. Campbell uses the quality-to-value ratio in selecting the wines.

Often on Fridays beer tastings are featured and on most Saturdays wine tastings help shoppers make that all important buying decision; “What are we drinking with dinner?”

Customer loyalty
Asked what skills he has acquired since opening the shop Campbell said, “It’s been a learning experience. I did not have any retail experience coming into this. It’s been interesting to develop a product mix and figuring out what people want and give them something they can’t find elsewhere.”

He goes on the say the business has been emotionally rewarding too. “I take a lot of satisfaction in repeat customers. When someone is willing to come back to a place—not once or twice but regularly—to spend their dollars and feed their family the products they buy at our store, it gives me the satisfaction we are doing something right.”

For shoppers who have not had a chance to taste Croftburn Market’s meats, Campbell invites them to the Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest in Culpeper on April 25. “We’ll be there grilling our sausages and brats.”

The shop is located at 16178 Rogers Rd, Culpeper. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. For complete information on their product line and operating hours visit:


John’s pick of the monthCroftburn wine

Gran Passione Rosso 


One of the more popular red wines at Croftburn Market is this Italian delight. It is a deeply-colored blend of Merlot and Corvina produced in the Veneto region. It is full-bodied, displaying a fine balance between silky tannins and structured acidity. On the palate, generous flavors of red and black fruit predominate.

The wine is created by drying a portion of the grapes in the sun and fermenting the raisins to release the wine’s unique flavors. It is a perfect accompaniment to the prime cuts of beef or pork that are available in the shop.   


Published in the March 19, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES