Barrel Oak Winery is not hard to find. Driving west on Hwy 55, just past Marshall, Virginia, look to your right and when you see dogs, you’re there. Barrel Oak Winery loves dogs so much, the acronym of their name is B.O.W., like, bow-wow.
When we arrived after 5pm, the place was barking. The enormous barn winery sits on the side of a hill that rolls to the highway, with patios and picnic areas on all sides. Adults, kids and dogs were everywhere, inside and out, and the noise level was not unlike a busy food court. And, with the cheese plates being served, it felt like one.
We elbowed into a place at the bar and tried almost everything, starting with white wines. The clean and zesty Bowhaus White is a blend of vidal blanc, chardonnay, and viognier ($24). Then, the crisp, dry, and grassy 2009 Seyval Blanc, a popular hybrid in cooler climates ($24). The 2009 Reserve Chardonnay was full bodied, spicy and steely with nice acidity on the finish ($28). Another hybrid, the 2009 Traminette was superbly floral with exotic spice notes, orange and a green tea finish ($25). The 2009 Viognier tasted rich and buttery and imparted a vodka-like finish, possibly due to the Hungarian oak aging ($27).
On the red wine side, the 2008 Bowhaus Red – a blend of merlot, chambourcin, syrah and malbec – was almost opaque in the glass and featured well-integrated black berries and cassis and fine acidity ($25). The 2009 Merlot was fruit forward with smoke, tobacco and espresso expressions. ($29). Their 2009 Tour’Ga Franc is a blend of the Spanish grape, Touriga Nacional with Cabernet Franc and was elegant and dry with notes of plum, white pepper and cocoa.
Finally, we got to the 2010 Norton, my chance to compare this Real American Grape! to the releases at Chrysalis Vineyards. This one had a dash of chambourcin blended in, but overall it tasted very similar. Tart, forward black fruit, and mineral on the mid-palate and finish, I’m guessing that’s is how it is with Norton.
After our tasting and as the place was clearing out, we met the owners, Brian and Sharon Roeder. Brian designed the buildings and seems to be the general manager, and Sharon is the co-winemaker with Rick Tagg.
Sharon took us down to the cellar and showed us around. At one point I said, what’s with the plaques on the barrels, which looked a little like park bench dedications. It’s a Barrel Owner Program, she explained, in which people own the barrel for a period of time while the winery rents it and uses it to hold wine.
The owners will “own” new barrels for four years until the wood becomes neutral. Or they own an aged, four year old barrel for two years. The winery still owns the wine and they pay the barrel owners a rental fee of a case of wine per year, plus other tasting room perks. After the two or four years, the owners can take the barrel home with them or the winery will pay them a small price for it. And, the barrel owners can come down to the cellar to visit their barrel and pet it like a dog.
What helps them find their barrel is the winery’s OXO racks, a modular system of circular steel tubes that hold the barrel on rollers so that the winemaker can perform all the procedures of vinting – filling, topping, stirring, cleaning and draining – without having to move the barrel an inch. The racks are functional and attractive and can be arranged in ways traditional racks would never allow, like over the door.
Getting back to the historicalness of Virginia’s wine trails, after experiencing a log cabin, a ghost and a gravestone, we found that BOW sits right next door to the original homestead of John Marshall, one of the country’s first Supreme Court Justices. Not only that, but Brian and Sharon are purchasing the property where they intend to plant a Norton vineyard next year.
It seems you can’t raise a glass around these parts without bumping into the past.
Sharon and Rick will be pouring wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference, July 22-24. It’ll be great to see her again. I wonder if she’ll bring her dogs.
It’s been announced that the WBC 2012 will be in either Willamette Valley, OR, Santa Barbara County, CA, or Okanagan Valley, BC. Great locations all, I voted for Okanagan for two reasons. I happen to live in BC, and the Okanagan is in a foreign country.
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