Rappahannock Cellars – a Family Winery

Posted by on Oct 11, 2018 in Family Business, Wine Business | 0 comments

Rappahannock Cellars – a Family Winery

We visited Rappahannock Cellars for the third time Saturday. Located in Huntly, Virginia, an unincorporated community in Rappahannock County, Virginia, Rappahannock Cellars is a Virginia winery opened in 2000 by the Delmare family.

We stayed with my brother-in-law in Front Royal, Virginia for the Columbus Day weekend. I made the short trip to Huntly from Front Royal on my bicycle, always a wonderful way to start an adventure. My wife, daughter, brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and a couple of very good friends from Maryland met me at the winery for our visit. Mostly cloudy skies and pleasant temperatures made for a comfortable day.

The Setting

The northern tip of Rappahannock County, just east of the Shenandoah National Park, is the home of Rappahannock Cellars. The winery is just off U.S. Route 522 on County Road 635. The setting is rural Virginia farmland. As of the 2010 census, the population of Rappahannock County was 7,373.

Per Wikipedia, the county is named for the Rappahannock River that runs through it. The article says that “the name of the river comes from an Algonquian word, lappihanne (also recorded as toppehannock), meaning “river of quick, rising water” or “where the tide ebbs and flows.”” The Fredericksburg, Virginia website reports that the Rappahannock River is the longest free-flowing river in the eastern United Sates at 184 miles long (195 miles per Wikipedia.)

The Winery

The winery itself, surrounded by vineyards, is low-key and unpretentious. Rappahannock’s comfortable tasting room is open to the public daily, from 12 – 6 PM, 361 days a year. After a short visit to the tasting room, we discovered the Barrel Room for the first time. The Barrel Room is spacious and comfortable with more seating and a full tasting experience.

October is Virginia Wine Month. John Delmare, Proprietor and Executive winemaker of Rappahannock Cellars is featured in John Hagarty’s excellent article, “The State of Virginia Wine – 2018” published in “Dine, Wine and Stein” to highlight this year’s celebration.

In Mr. Hagerty’s article, Mr. Delmare discusses his journey from California to Virginia in the late 1990s and the opening of his winery in 2000. From a business perspective, he mentions that over the last six years, his winery has been growing at a rate of between 12 and 16 percent. Annual production has grown from 2,000 cases to over 15,000 cases a year.

The Wine Club

In Mr. Hagerty’s article, Mr. Delmare attributes much of his winery’s growth to Rappahannock’s’ wine club. He believes it to be the first wine club offered by a Virginia winery and, currently, one of the largest wine clubs in the state. The wine club generates about 80 percent of his winery’s revenues. More information about Rappahannock’s wine club is available on their website.

When structured properly, a wine club is beneficial to both wineries and consumers. For wineries, the wine club ensures a steady flow of cash throughout the year. More predictable sales and cash flow give the winery a better idea of how much wine to produce to meet consumer demand. When the family sells their winery, whether years, decades, or centuries from now, a predictable, growing stream of income will command a higher selling price.

Wines command a higher price at retail than at wholesale. Wholesalers need to buy at a discount to cover their own costs and make a profit. The higher prices enhance the winery’s revenues and profits. The winery often devotes a part of these added revenues to offering their wine club members discounts and other benefits.

Virginia wines are in high demand and not easy to find at retailers, especially the better wines and wines with limited production. Wine club members ensure predictable availability of their favorite wines by joining a wine club. Some wine clubs are popular enough to have waiting lists. Of course, to make a wine club attractive, the wine must be good!

The Wine

Our friends are members of Rappahannock’s wine club. Their membership in the wine club entitles them to a free wine tasting for six people with every visit to the winery. They were kind to share this benefit with us. Here are the wines we tasted:

  • 2017 “Black Label” Seyval Blanc – This white wine is very crisp and clean. This is the first Seyval Blanc I’ve tasted, but it won’t be the last.
  • 2017 Fizzy Rosé – According to the tasting notes, this wine is also known as “Fizzy Lizzy.” This wine is a Merlot base blended with lesser amounts of Viognier and Vidal. This wine is one of the better Rosés I’ve tasted.
  • 2015 “Black Label” Chardonnay – 100% Chardonnay aged in oak barrels.
  • 2017 Noblesse Rouge – a light red blend suitable for everyday drinking.
  • 2016 “Black Label” Meritage – A red blend and my personal favorite from this tasting.

All the wines we tasted were excellent. On Rappahannock’s website, Mr. Delmare mentions that Rappahannock’s “style is largely old world.” He also compares the overall fruit style in Virginia to that in Bordeaux. Rappahannock Cellars wines are among my favorites, as I favor the old-world style and red blends in my personal taste in wines. Rappahannock’s red wines compare favorably with many Bordeaux wines I’ve enjoyed.

We ordered a bottle of the Chardonnay to drink with lunch. Talk of the Mountain Seafood was the lunch vendor of the day. The Chardonnay was a perfect match with their delicious crab cake sandwiches. Talk of The Mountain also served fried shrimp, hushpuppies, and potato salad.

The Family

My passion as a business advisor is working with the families who rely on their businesses to sustain them. Mr. Delmare shares much about his large family on his website. It’s heartwarming to know that he and his family have found success over the 18 years their winery has served Virginia wine lovers.

When I ride my bicycle through rural areas I often see children working in the fields, playing in their yards, and riding their bicycles. It takes me back to my childhood and the time I spent working with my grandfather on his farms. What a wonderful life these children have!

We all enjoyed our afternoon at Rappahannock Cellars! It was good to spend time with special friends and family while sharing fantastic food and wine. If you have not yet visited, you may want to move Rappahannock close to the top of your list. In any event, please support your local and regional wineries. They work hard to deliver a memorable wine experience to you and your family.

 

Photographs by Susan Baldwin

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