Otium Cellars has one of the best ‘this is who we are’ views I’ve ever encountered. You drive up the dirt road past the horse barn and find yourself at what looks like an alpine ski lodge. It’s like you’ve taken a trip to Bavaria, except you’re here to drink wine instead of beer.
The German theme doesn’t stop there. Otium has a total of 18 acres under vine (and a production of 2-4000/year), with a decided focus on German varietals. Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch, and Dornfelder all have a home here (not Riesling though; not cool enough). Saying these grapes are “rare” in Virginia is an understatement; a handful of VA wineries have one or two of these, but I dare you to find another place in the state that concentrates on German-style grapes like Otium does.
Of course, this makes perfect sense once you realize who the owner is. Gerhard Bauer is an immigrant from Germany who was living here in Loudoun with acreage to spare. When the tax bill came he decided to put that land to good use. His solution? Grow grapes! And not just any grapes, but ones from his homeland.
Tasting room manager Chris explained that opening a winery wasn’t the original plan; Gerhard wanted to stick with only operating a vineyard. But when it came time to sell their fruit – surprise! Nobody was familiar with German grapes, so Gerhard couldn’t find a buyer. So quite accidentally, the vineyard became a winery.
Otium opened its tasting room in 2012 – and the place is stunning, both inside and out. It’s a tribute to the quality he put into his wines (and the local’s thirst for vino) that what Gerhard thought was a 2-year stock in wine only lasted 8 months. I don’t blame them one bit – Otium’s wines here tend to be exceptionally well aged, with a tendency towards full bodied reds. Gerhard’s son Max may not have set out to be a wine maker, but he learned to become an exceptional one.
After my tasting I sat down at one of the inside tables with my picnic lunch and enjoyed the view – accompanied by a bottle of the Malbec. I wish we could have visited the horses’ stabled next door, but as Otium doesn’t own them we couldn’t get up close. I suppose admiring the log-cabin room would have to suffice. The Riedel-style glasses were a nice added touch.
I spoke at length about the German varietals, but I’m going to give a special shout-out to that Malbec. This is another hard to find varietal in Virginia, especially as a 100% vintage. I thought they were going to rip it out because of its difficulty, but – surprise! – it’s going to stay!
2017 Grüner Veltliner: Pineapple-y notes, made in steel.
2016 Chardonnay: Creamy but smooth, butterscotch ending.
2015 Chardonnay: Also nice but toastier.
2014 Blaufränkisch: Lots of black cherry; 24 months in Hungarian oak, cranberry-ish notes.
2014 Merlot: Black currant, some oakiness to it (but in a good way), and good mouthfeel.
2015 Malbec: Favorite of the day! Very different from other Malbecs; full bodied but less fruit notes except that strong emphasis on black cherry.
2015 Cabernet Sauvignon: More black currant notes, also lots of tannin.
2015 Dornfelder: Some pepper notes, but even more earth.
2015 Merlot Reserve: Cherry notes