Rockbridge Vineyard Review
Address: 35 Hill View Lane Raphine,Virginia 24472.
Phone Number: 540-377-6204
Tasting Hours: Tues-Sat 10:00-6:00, Sun-Mon 12:00-5:00
Region: Shenandoah Valley AVA, Virginia
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Review Date: 11/16/2013
Reviewer: Brian Yost
This is what I love about exploring wineries. You just never know what you’ll find. There really are some hidden gems just waiting to be uncovered and one of these is not far from the village of Raphine, in the Shenandoah Valley. After exiting Interstate 81, we wound our way along Route 606 past farms and rural homes. If not for the winery sign and acres of vines, we might have easily mistaken Rockbridge Vineyard for another farm. It looks like a grouping of smaller outbuildings clustered around a large red barn. We pulled in to take a closer look.
After turning onto Hill View Lane and drawing closer to the barn, we noticed that the other buildings contain the tools of wine production. We were definitely in the right place. We parked in the small lot and entered the tasting room door, which was built into the side of the barn. Instead of the sort of rustic setting you might imagine, the door opened into a very cozy tasting room with an adjoining event hall. I’ve visited a few dimly lit, sparsely furnished little tasting rooms in some out-of-the-way vineyards, but this was definitely not one of those venues.
Shepherd “Shep” Rouse grew up in Virginia, but spent time in Germany where he had his first real exposure to wine. From there, Shep went on to study Enology at U.C. Davis and worked for a time in the California wine industry, but had a strong desire to bring his experience home to Virginia. In 1989, he and his wife Jane planted the first five acres of vines on their property near Raphine. Since 1992, when the first vintage was bottled, the acres under vine have grown to eighteen and Rockbridge Vineyard has established a reputation for innovation and quality wines.
Rockbridge is a fairly small, family-run boutique operation and, while Shep makes the wine, Jane manages the tasting room. She was behind the tasting bar on this particular afternoon along with one other wine steward and I was lucky enough have Jane pouring for me.
I should pause here and say a couple words about the Shenandoah Valley. First of all, as you could tell from my earlier description, it’s rural and its main economic engine is agriculture. The valley is tucked in between the Blue Ridge to the east and the Appalachians to the west, so the average elevation is significantly higher and much cooler than the state’s other main viticultural regions. As a result, with regard to wine production, it may have more in common with New York’s Finger Lakes than Central or Northern Virginia. The Rouse’s have taken this unique terroir and put it to good use.
Now, Rockbridge has some exceptional offerings on their tasting menu. They produce an excellent German-style Riesling and a nice Pinot Noir, neither of which do well in warmer parts of the state. Most of the more traditional Virginia varietals are also cultivated. The tasting list contains Chardonnay, Chambourcin, Merlot, Cab Franc, Syrah, a Meritage (Bordeaux blend) and a Norton Claret. All were well crafted and perfectly balanced, but the Meritage, in particular, was a real standout.
There were a couple wines that I thought were kind of fun, but some oenophiles might not take very seriously. Rockbridge makes two Concord wines, which were described to me as “grape juice for grown ups.” On the palate, it did strongly resemble grape juice and on the nose, it reminded me of the grape jelly I ate with peanut butter as a child. Jane wasn’t sure I’d be interested in tasting them, but I really approached the Concords as something new. Why wouldn’t I? It’s all part of the adventure. I think Shep Rouse is making something for everyone and I love that about Rockbridge.
I really had fun during my tasting. Jane was engaged and, of course, knew everything about the winery. So the tasting flowed with the conversation, and information on each pour was interwoven with discourse on local growing conditions, the history of Rockbridge Vineyard and insights about nearby wineries. It’s easy to think that this experience was possible only because I was talking to one of the proprietors, but I observed my fellow patrons interacting with Reba, the other wine steward, and she was just as engaged. This was no assembly-line wine tasting.
Rockbridge has dedicated wine-club members and they have a calendar of winery events to engage the local public. In addition, their is available for private events. So despite the rural location, this winery seems to be pretty busy.
If you’re out exploring Virginia wine country and happen to be in the Shenandoah, you have to stop at Rockbridge. Quite frankly, if you have any interest in Virginia wines and want to learn more, you should stop in at Rockbridge. They present an excellent example of what’s possible outside Central and Northern Virginia. There is nothing pretentious about Rockbridge. They are just doing their part to educate the public and promote Virginia wine. Stop in and see for yourself.