Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Day in the Potomac Cluster

As much as we enjoy exploring all of the wineries in the Commonwealth, we seem to land in Loudoun County most often. With over 40 wineries (more wineries than most states), in such close proximity to Washington DC and Northern Virginia (and the western Maryland DC suburbs), these wineries are a natural fit. Not that we would love to check out the wineries in the far-off regions of Virginia the Notebook has not explored yet (for those familiar with the Virginia winery map, the "yellow region," in particular–the wineries in south central Virginia on the North Carolina border). Our day jobs don't allow for such long weekend journeys, and our vacations are usually occupied with family members not especially interested in the winery scene.

We have been to over 155 wineries in the state, with more to come (hopefully). Loudoun County draws us back for the aforementioned reasons, plus the wines are uniformly fantastic, and with such heavy competition from other wineries, the prices are not as high as you'd expect.

The county is divided into six clusters, making a day (or weekend) jaunt to wineries relatively close to each other more enjoyable (i.e., less time in the car driving). Choose a cluster and then select your wineries.

On a whim last weekend, the Notebook descended on the Potomac Cluster, appropriately named as most of these wineries are only a few miles from the river and the Maryland border. A right turn off northbound route 15, onto Limestone School Road, about 7 miles north of Leesburg, leads you to Fabbioli Cellars....a place the Notebook has been visiting since their opening. Anyone with even a passing interest in Virginia wine knows who Doug Fabbioli is, and he was taking care of his guests via tractor, offering to ignite fire pits on a sunny, almost-too-cold-to-be-outside, Sunday afternoon. We skipped the food and wine pairing here, as we know that every wine is a winner. The new round house-style tasting room was open (it had been open for 6 weeks), and bustling with people. Although the previous tasting room was memorable, the place could get packed on the weekends. The new tasting building is two stories, the second story over 21 only....and a ground-level deck is in the works.

Fabbioli Cellars' new tasting building:

The aforementioned food and wine pairings are set up in individual stations on the ground floor of the tasting building. Upstairs, the space is airy, with tables tastefully arranged, and has the potential of being a great wedding reception and parties room:

The Notebook wrote about new tasting rooms in "Washington DC's Wine Country" a few months ago, and Fabbioli's is a worthy addition to the article.

Down Fabbioli's driveway, making a left turn, we pass by Winery 32, about 2 miles up the road (which seems like 10 miles because of the quality of the gravel road). We spotlighted Winery 32 a few years ago, and with other destinations in mind, we decided to drive past their entrance (the 32 peach trees planted along their driveway seem to be doing well). The next stop was The Winery at Lost Creek (formerly known as simply Lost Creek Winery). We haven't visited this winery in over ten years, when it was owned by the Hauck family, one of the first wineries in the county. Back then, their wines tended to be on the sweeter side, although we always enjoyed their location and hospitality. New owners Todd and Aimee Henkle, and consulting winemaker Sebastien Marquet (from Doukenie Winery), have shifted gears and now concentrate on drier Burgundy and Bordeaux styles. Three Chardonnays (two oak barrel aged, and one steel barrel aged), Vidal Blanc, an off-dry (not too sweet) rosé, and three red gems: A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and two Bordeaux blends. We got the feeling during our visit that Lost Creek, with Marquet's assistance, is striving for the notch above the typical winery offerings in the county.

The tasting room, with its gas fireplace, is just as we remembered. Outside, the location on the bluff invites you to stay a few hours, especially if you're a fire pit fan:

Enjoying a glass of the Lost Creek Provenance, 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc and 4% Petit Verdot:

After visiting The Winery at Lost Creek, the next winery is literally a stone's throw away. Pushed back from the main road and surrounded by pine trees, the log cabin-set Hidden Brook Winery was the sister winery of Lost Creek Winery, run by the son of the previous Lost Creek owners and his wife. Eric and Deborah Hauck continue to run the winery, and the relationship with Lost Creek next door is no longer "in the family," although it is a friendly competition (there are signs on the driveway leaving Lost Creek leading visitors to Hidden Brook).

As is the case with Lost Creek, Hidden Brook matured from the previous line up of sweeter offerings. Most wine fanatics start with the sweet stuff, and then evolve into dry wine fans. That is certainly the case with Hidden Brook. The current (April 2016) line up of wines contains only one off-dry style, Vidal Blanc. Chambourcin and Merlot are the stand-outs here, both perfect for the unseasonably cold April day we visited. To the best of our knowledge, this is the only true log cabin tasting room in the state, although we have yet to discover the "yellow area" of the Virginia wine map. The surrounding pine trees make you feel as if you're in rural Maine, not suburban Virginia.

Inside the Hidden Brook tasting room:

Kicking back with Chambourcin, which despite its "American" label, is grown and made in Virginia:

The front porch at Hidden Brook:

No trip to the Potomac Cluster would be complete without a visit to Tarara, one of the original Virginia wineries. Stop in and try their latest Tranquility Red.