Delaplane Cellars: Elegance in glass

By Posted on Feb 20 2014 | By

Stylish tasting room pouring velvetly wines 

IMG_8395As you drive slowly up the steep entrance way—framed by vineyards—one is struck by the wall of glass windows at Delaplane Cellars.

Upon entering the sleek and tastefully decorated tasting room, a stunning artist-like mural of the Virginia countryside unfolds with waves of rolling hills stretching to the western horizon.

And you haven’t even tasted the wines yet. This is going to be fun.

Such are the impressions when visiting one of Virginia’s most respected wineries. Owners Jim and Betsy Dolphin opened their winery just five years ago, but accolades on what they’ve achieved are heard whenever quality Old Dominion wine is discussed.

“We want to be first class. We want to be at the ‘top of the mountain’…right up there with the big dogs,” says Jim Dolphin smiling. Whoof. Whoof. Goal achieved.

Passion is an overused word in the Virginia wine business but no term better describes what the Dolphins have brought to bear in creating their vision.

Jim Dolphin spent the better part of his career working for a real estate investment trust. When he joined the embryonic company in 1979, it had three employees. When he left nineteen years later, he was chief financial officer and the company had grown to 3,200 employees.

Betsy Dolphin was a portfolio manager at the same firm managing 12,000 apartment units. This couple knows from success.

Love of wine
As a young college student, Jim Dolphin fell in love with wine, especially Bordeaux from the Medoc region. “A fellow college student got me interested in quality French wine. Back then it cost four dollars a bottle,” he recalls fondly.

“By the time I opened the winery in 2009, I had a 1,500 bottle wine cellar. I know what good wine is and I don’t want to waste my time making plonk.”

So how did a man who carried one of the sharpest pencils in the financial trade become a vintner and winery proprietor? Enter passion, stage right.

After years of enjoying wine he asked himself “How’s this stuff made?” The question drew him to Jim Law, owner of Linden Vineyards. Law has a reputation for making some of the best wine on the East Coast. Several of the budding vintners who studied under him later went on to open their own wineries.

“I didn’t know anything about making wine. I took every winemaking and viticulture seminar Jim gave. Twice. In 2005, he let me help out with his harvest. I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Dolphin, while he continued to refine his home winemaking skills.

“I also enrolled in a UC Davis online winemaking course and began meeting many of the leading figures in Virginia wine.” The university has the most prestigious wine curriculum in the US and its graduates include some of the biggest names in American wine.

At the height of his home winemaking ventures, Dolphin had as many as 28 different wines in various stages of aging in the basement of his Maryland home. It became obvious turning professional was the next step and he launched his search for ideal winegrowing land, which is often steep and rocky to stress the vines and produced the highest quality fruit.

“In 2005, I started looking for land. I looked at more than a 100 properties finally settling on a 32-acre site in the northwestern part of Fauquier County, off Route 17. “I wished I had brought three times that amount of land so I could have put in more vineyards. I’m looking for more acreage now.”

In June 2009, he started construction on the winery and opened in November of that year; total investment in land and faculties ran to $2.5 million. He lives in a home nestled next to the winery and says, “I have a 150 yard commute.”

The wines
IMG_5664Given the influence of French wines on his palate, it comes as no surprise his focus is on reds, although his white lineup is impressive, including a medium bodied, lightly oaked Chardonnay.

Dolphin’s red wines are often blends that typically emphasize a single vineyard where the grapes were sourced from. The emphasis on the French concept of terroir—the somewhereness of where the fruit is grown—dominates his offerings with names such as, “Spring Lot” and “Williams Gap”, referring to the name of the vineyards producing the grapes.

In reflecting on the state of Virginia wine, Dolphin says, “A lot of people in the business have no business in the business. But that’s not news to anybody.

“Some people have gotten into the business who realize pretty quickly ‘This is not the romance I thought it was.’ There are twenty or so wineries that are always seeking to improve and get better and wines from those places will continue to get better and better.”

For those interested in tasting one of those producers’ efforts, a visit to Delaplane Cellars will enlighten.

For hours of operation, special events and more, visit  http://delaplanecellars.com/

 John’s Pick of the Month  

Delaplane Cellars 

2010 Left Bank Reserve 


OK, we’ll all agree the price tag on this beauty is steep. So let’s have no less an expert than the wine director at The Inn at Little Washington, Jennifer Knowles, provide us her take on it. “More Merlot than Cabernet, it has a core of rich cassis and crushed blackberries tempered by cocoa powder tannins and balanced acidity. Meaty and powerful.”

Gotta love the way those folks talk…and the wine. 


Published in the February 13, 2014 edition of the Culpeper Times.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES