Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zephaniah Farm Vineyard

The smallest bonded winery in Loudoun County, and perhaps the entire state of Virginia, is Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. Located just south of Leesburg, the family operated operation is also situated in one of the oldest structures hosting a winery: an 1830 manor house. In fact, the building was constructed by William Benton, who also built James Monroe's Oak Hill estate 10 years earlier. The house and surrounding dairy farm was purchased by William Hatch in 1950 - basically to keep his children occupied during his travels as a Naval Intelligence Officer. Capt. Hatch's military career could be a character in a Tom Clancy novel. During World War II, he served as an underwater demolitions diver, helping to clear the Chesapeake Bay and the Charleston harbor of mines laid by German submarines. After an officer heard him singing a Polish rhyme he was sent to the Naval Academy, commissioned as an officer, and was deployed to a U.S. minesweeper with a Russian crew in Murmansk. Eventually, he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for the remainder of the war. After the war, he joined Naval Intelligence and served in the Pentagon and throughout the war. Coincidentally he was the person who first notified Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. that his son was shot down in Vietnam.

Getting back the farm, Zephaniah Farm actually - named after William Hatch's grandfather shipbuilder Zephaniah Hatch, operated as a working dairy farm until about 20 years ago. At the same time as market conditions forced the closing of the dairy farm, William's son Bill began researching grape growing and envisioned planting a vineyard on the property. Long after the diary operations switched to raising beef cattle he planted Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Chardonel vines in 2001 and waited for the fruit. The Chardonel never fully prospered but the other two varieties did and after a few years harvest he started making wine for home consumption. In 2007, they bottled their first commercial product, the 2007 Cabernet Franc. Mr. Hatch believes his cabernet franc can distinguish itself from the many other excellent brands in the state, because he actively prunes the leaves at berry set so that there are only 2-3 shoots per foot. His winery consultant and son, Tremain Hatch believes this approach produces a less herbaceous flavor and instead allows the fruit flavor to stand out. He also recommends not "over-oaking" their Cabernet Franc so the wine is aged in neutral French oak. After gaining a masters degree in Viticulture at Virginia Tech and upcoming field work in New Zealand - Tremain should have plenty of additional advice for his father. Other family members also contribute to the success of the winery. Bill's wife Bonnie designed the wine label and daughter Meredith assists in bottling and winery\vineyard tours; her twin sister, Emily, sometimes travels home during heavy bottling sessions. A true family enterprise.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc is a nice wine, the first sensation noticed is the strong fruity nose. The wine itself, is very smooth with more black cherry than red cherry flavor. The tail is also smooth with low tannins. Bill also provided us with barrel samples from a couple styles of oak and it was a nice exercise to taste how the oak influences the wine. The Cabernet Franc definitely needs a little more time in the barrel, but look out for a Merlot that is aging from grapes sourced from neighbor Bill Tripplet. After only a few months in the barrel - that wine is drinkable now.

Over the coming few years Mr. Hatch hopes to improve the quality of the Cabernet Franc while simultaneously introducing new varietals such as a dry Petit Mensing and a Petit Verdot. In the meanwhile the winery is open by appointment, but the Hatch's encourage visitors. The only reason they don't provide set hours for tasting is that with a staff of one or two, they are usually in the vineyard or the basement laboratory. Just give them a heads-up and ring the family heirloom above the door when you arrive. This is a bell that was salvaged from the S.S. Monticello, a boat built by Zephaniah Hatch, but named after his hometown of Monticello New York and not the Jefferson estate. The Zephaniah wine is also available at the Leesburg Farmers Market, held every Saturday morning - regardless of weather.
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