Monday, April 9, 2012

Village Wine Stop #3: Waterford

Waterford is in the middle of Loudoun County, but it may as well be in the middle of rural central Pennsylvania. There is something decidely Lancaster Dutch-like about this village. Maybe it's the age of the village itself (1733). Or maybe it's the Quaker history of the village. Or the rolling hills leading to narrow streets in the village itself. Having the town as a home residence name on your address instantly increases your property value. This is the quiet Middleburg. Don't expect fancy dress shops and restaurants here. But there are several unique and highly underrated wineries surrounding the village.

Corcoran Vineyards was actually named Waterford Vineyards several years ago, until a certain crystal manufacturing company took note and sent them a not-so-nice letter. Lori Corcoran is the popular winemaker here, and in addition to making the excellent product at her winery, acts as a tasting room manager at nearby Sunset Hills Vineyard on an ad hoc basis. There are several fun "summer whites" here, perfect for chilling: Traminette, Cello (Petit Manseng), and a delicious apple wine. But the stand outs are the reds, in particular their Chambourcin and rosé, made from the Chambourcin. The tasting room is rather tight, inside a small cabin, and the property does have a few McMansions within sight (welcome to Loudoun county), but there is an intimacy here missing from many wineries in the county. Corcoran recently got into the brewery mold, and you can dabble in craft beer on the same visit as their brewery is very close to the winery.

Sunset Hills Vineyard is a totally different world than Corcoran - bustling, full of wine enthusiasts as well as what we call "the amateurs," there for one reason and one reason only--get sloshed. But Sunset Hills proves that bustling and commercial does not equate to inferior. Many of their wines are award-winners, and the tasting room is located inside a barn restored several years ago by Amish builders (another link to Pennsylvania). The owners, Mike and Diane Canney, are frequently onsite. Mike left a lucrative career as a nuclear physicist in Reston (Sunset Hills is actually named after the road his company was located on), and also races cars in his spare time. Being a scientist, he is very analyical and admits that his first vineyard was planted improperly. Now he has four distinct vineyards and specializes in Viognier, Cab Franc, and Cab Sauv. A Petit Verdot is on the way.

Village Winery is properly named, just a stones' throw away from the Waterford village limits. Owner/winemaker Kent Marrs is a Kansas native with planting and harvesting in his blood. All of his wines are entirely hand-crafted - no mechanical pumps (more Amish influence, perhaps?) His Petit Verdot stood out as a big bold red, and he has a fun apple wine as well as a few typical Virginia offerings (Viognier, Merlot, Cab Franc). However the big draw here is his elderberry products: Not only wine, but chocolate/elderberry syrup for desserts, a sparkling beverage with no alcohol, and a vinaigrette salad dressing. The tasting room is located inside a quaint, rather drafty barn, and there are plenty of picnic tables surrounding the rustic barn.

Casanel Vineyards is a blogmaster favorite, sandwiched between the Waterford area of Loudoun county and the small town of Hamilton. Named after owners Nelson and Casey DeSouza, the tasting room is a family affair, and usually every member of the family can be spotted there. Nelson is an entertaining native of Brazil who came to the U.S. and spent years as a successful construction contractor. Currently Nelson is working on an adjacent tasting room for buses, limos and loud bachelorette parties, "so our loyal longtime guests can enjoy a quiet tasting and we can still expand to appeal to big groups." It's a great idea and would be fantastic if other wineries followed his lead. Their Viognier is excellent--crisp with just the right amount of citrus tartness, and perfect chilled. The reds are the stars here: Norton and Merlot, in particular. Both are recent award winners. Grab a bottle for their gazebo located in a pond (you read right). Three Fox has its table in the sky. Casanel has its table in the pond.

The last stop is only a mile from downtown Leesburg: Dry Mill Vineyards. The horse on the label comes from the history of the barn that serves as the tasting room--this was once home to the horses of the Loudoun Hunt Club. The barn is a combination of the very rustic spot in Village Winery and the restored, highly impressive barn at Sunset Hills. And a corporate meeting room exists above the tasting room, for your next business meeting. Wines are good to outstanding, most under $20. Their two chardonnays (one steel barrel aged, the other oak) are worth trying back to back, to get a feel for what your palate prefers (steel vs. oak). Dry Mill is another location doing great things with Chambourcin, which is well on its way to join Cab Franc and Petit Verdot as official Virginia reds.

Loudoun County now has more wineries than many U.S. states. Waterford is a perfect starting point to branch out and experience a few lesser-known spots in the county.

Corcoran Vineyards
Sunset Hills Vineyard
Village Winery
Casanel Vineyards
Dry Mill Vineyards

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