Family-owned and operated Rockbridge Vineyard is located in Raphine, Virginia, on the north side of Rockbridge County about midway between Staunton and Lexington, in the Shenandoah Valley. Here owner/winemaker Shepherd (“Shep”) Rouse tends 17 acres of estate vineyards at an elevation of 2,000 feet, encompassing a mix of vinifera, hybrid, and native American varieties. Working with fruit he sources from estate vines and from quality growers in neighboring Virginia counties, Shep produces a wide range of types and styles -upwards of 20 different labels, by our count. During a recent visit to the winery we tasted many of these and found them to be well-crafted, pleasurable, and reasonably priced. We were impressed by the following three, in particular, and recommend you try them.
Rockbridge’s DeChiel Reserve wines are named for Shep’s French Huguenot ancestor, who began cultivating American grapes in the 17th century. The 2011 DeChiel Chardonnay is a round and lush rendition of Virginia Chardonnay, full-bodied and fruit-driven, offering aromas and flavors of ripe tropical fruit, butterscotch, and vanilla-tinged oak. The wine was 100% barrel fermented and aged 10 months in American and French oak barrels. It would pair nicely with creamy, ripe cheeses, roasted poultry, and crusty pot pies.
Chambourcin is a French hybrid variety notable for its intense purple pigmentation and hearty aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum, and spice. This version, produced from 100% estate fruit, is a pitch-perfect representation of those qualities, medium-bodied and savory, with added suggestions of black raspberries and roasted red bell pepper. It’s a flavorful red table wine that would pair well with grilled pork chops, tomato-based pasta dishes, and fall casseroles.
Norton is a native Virginia grape variety originally cultivated by Dr. Daniel Norton in Richmond in the early 19th century. From the mid-1800s through early 1900s, wines produced from Norton grapes were widely popular throughout the eastern and midwestern states, but Prohibition took a near-fatal toll on the variety. Most Norton vines were uprooted and replaced with jelly-producing Concord grapes. But as the wine industry in the eastern and midwestern states arose from the ashes of Prohibition in the post-war years, so did Norton. Today, there are two principal hubs of Norton cultivation — Missouri, where Norton is the official state grape, and Virginia.
Norton can be polarizing for its take-no-prisoners intensity and brawny aromas and flavors, but the variety’s popularity is nevertheless on the upswing. Rockbridge’s 2008 Norton may help explain why. The wine is full-throttle on the palate, yes, but is deftly crafted to accentuate the variety’s more appealing attributes. It offers balanced and well-defined aromas and flavors of sour cherry, dark chocolate, and candied orange peel, with a splash of bitters on the finish. It was aged for 24 months in oak barrels before bottling, and the oak discreetly frames the wine’s bold character. Norton is not a wine that easily pairs with food, but we believe it would complement lamb, venison, wild boar, and other game meats quite nicely.
Availability: Rockbridge Vineyard wines are available through their website (direct shipping available to a select number of states), so visit them virtually at www.rockbridgevineyard.com for more information. They’re available too, of course, at the winery’s tasting room. Rockbridge staff are cordial and the surrounding scenery is gorgeous, so we encourage you to visit them. They’re located at 35 Hill View Lane, Raphine, Virginia 24472.