In our continuing coverage of wineries in a county whose leadership is sadly "anti winery" (thanks to some old money grumps who sport bumper stickers on their Lexus SUVs that read "Welcome to Fauquier County....Now Leave"), we turn our attention to Chateau O'Brien at Northpoint, a unique spot that has its share of fans, and detractors (just check them out on Yelp).
The blogmasters are fans. The tasting room is housed inside a French-style farmhouse, high above I-66 (you can see it, but not hear it), accessible from state highway 55 on the way to Front Royal. Cross the railroad tracks, pass the old apple cidery, and climb the hill. Northpoint is the name of the old railroad depot, which brought apples from nearby Winchester to this outpost decades ago. As a tribute to this apple past, Chateau O'Brien offers a delicious apple wine. Now a word about the rules in this tasting room. Yelp reviews are full of complaints about the "no children under 18" and "no dogs" rules. The blogmasters welcome the rules. There are plenty of wineries in this county (despite the leaders' attempts to shut them down), and most do allow kids and dogs. But as this is a tasting room, not a Chuck E. Cheese, the no kids rule works fine for us. Sometimes you want to get away from kids, even if you're a parent. This rule sets Chateau O'Brien ahead of other wineries in the area (with the possible exception of Linden).
As for the "no dogs" rule, the winery owner has his own dog (named Buddy) and Buddy is rather high strung. The owners calmly explain that other dogs would just create turmoil for the other guests, not to mention Buddy. Both of these rules are posted in signs throughout the property. Please do not attempt to break them, as you will be told (politely or not politely, depending on the mood of the owner) to leave. Now that we have the rules out of the way, on to the fun stuff: The location, and the wine. Howard O'Brien, the aforementioned, slightly neurotic (and he'll be the first to tell you that), New York-bred owner, will welcome you with a smile (provided you didn't bring kids or dogs), and offer two different tasting processes: Classic ($6 per person) or Cellar ($12 per person). Howard himself usually conducts the Cellar tasting, and is rather generous with the pourings. Plus the wines are incredible, so we suggest the Cellar. (The Classic is designed more for casual Virginia wine fans, and includes the Virginia mainstays such as chardonnay, rosé, and that apple wine). Some of the wines in the Cellar tasting are really up there in bottle prices (think $79, the price of the tannat). Tannat is a varietal common to Uruguay, and a few Virginia wineries are experimenting with it. Howard has visitied vineyards in Uruguay personally to research and we think this wine is absolutely one-of-a-kind, on par with some of the best (and priciest) red offerings from California. At $79 a bottle, rather pricey, but you get to sample it during the Cellar tasting.
His syrah and petit verdot are also noteworthy, also rich and complex, but also a bit steep in price. Back to average Virginia wine prices, Buddy's Bistro Red is a lighter, pinot noir-like wine, and Padlock Red is a terrific blend of cab franc (60%), cab sauv, and petit verdot. The Cellar tasting is more red-focused; if you crave whites, go for the Classic tasting; the Northpoint white is a chardonnay/pinot grigio blend that is crisp and aged in steel, and great for warm afternoons for sipping on Howard's impressive, shaded deck. And his apple wine is one of the finest in the Commonwealth (actually, our third favorite apple wine in the state, after North Mountain, near Winchester, and North Gate, near Purcellville). This is not an events and live band heavy spot, so most likely you will have a very low key time here, as long as you follow the simple rules.....
Chateau O'Brien at Northpoint