Zephaniah justifiably puts the “Farm” in the name “Farm Winery”. As you drive past the milk shed and grain silo you can see this is indeed a working farm – complete with crops, cattle and sheep. All vineyards are by definition farms, but the term seems especially apt here.
Visiting wineries is about more than the wine itself – it’s about the experience. While I’ve always been a fan of Zephaniah’s wines, what makes their experience truly distinctive is your tasting is done in a 200-year-old manor house, complete with one of the nicest serving experiences in the state. Since you can’t discuss Zephaniah without talking about the history of the house, it’s best to start there.
The home was built by the Nixon family back in 1819; the Hatches purchased it from them in 1950. It has a long, rich history, as you’d expect from a building now in its third century. Ask them about the ghost stories!
Walking into the tasting room I passed antique furniture stacked with old photos and heirlooms. As I was about to introduce myself, the grandfather clock rang out. Everything about my visit gave me the vibe that I was stepping back in time.
If this all makes you feel like you’re entering someone’s home – that’s because you have! The Hatch family (now in its 4th generation here) still live upstairs, although the main floor dining room has been converted to a tasting room. Two smaller sitting rooms are available for visitors to enjoy themselves.
The crowds hadn’t yet arrived, so husband/wife team Bonnie Archer, Bill Hatch and their son Tremain took turns filling me in on their remarkable family history. I think the only adult family member I missed during my trip was their daughter Emily, their assistant winemaker.
Afterwards Tremain walked me out to the vineyard, first planted in 2002. Zephaniah has 10 acres of vines, roughly split between hybrids and vinifera. All told, they produce around or under 2000 cases/year, using only estate fruit. Since I’m a vineyard-geek Tremain took time to explain some of the experimentation they are doing, including the use grapes seldom seen in Virginia including Muscat Ottonel, Muscat Valvin, and Chelois, an older French hybrid.
Going back inside it was time to taste some wine – and the exemplary tasting experience continued. Zephaniah serves their wine tastings in Riedel glasses – a rarity in the state. Not only that, but it’s a seated tasting. No waiting in line at a tasting bar – the will serve you at the dining table.
As for the wines…
Blending is important everywhere, but it seems especially so at Zephaniah. Very few of their wines are 100% varietals; nearly everything has something else mixed in. Even the blending process is a family affair. When it comes to time to decide the makeup of their next wine, all the family members vote on the blend they like the best. It’s the best kind of family get-together!
Most places tend to (virtually) hold your hand by telling you the tasting notes you’re supposed to taste. No tasting descriptions here; they want you to decide what you like on your own.
What I tried:
2018 Rose: Orange color; reminds me of a Provence-style. The 8% Vermentino (another rare grape they grow) adds some punch to this.
2017 Steamship White (white blend): Zesty! Made primarily with Chardonnel.
2016 Viognier: No honeysuckle notes here! Subtle, with a slightly tropical flavor.
2017 Adeline: Aromatic, some honey notes.
2016 Cabernet Franc (with a dash of Petit Manseng): The PM makes it a little more aromatic, but the flavor profile is fruity with strong dark cherry notes. Favorite of the bunch.
2015 Three Captains Red (Red blend). Fruity but not overly so. Blended with Chambourcin and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.
2014 Three Captains Red (Red blend): Not sure what the blend is, but I detected darker cherry than the 2015.
2015 Chambourcin: Fruit forward, not sweet but could appease a sweet wine drinker.
2017 Friendship (50/50 Petit Verdot/Merlot). Long finish, lots of depth. I was surprised by the fruitiness of it, given the blend. Name comes from having received the PV from a neighbor; one of the rare times they don’t have a true estate wine. First time I’ve ever had this one!
Not tried was their 2018 Sparking, Emily’s pet project. Maybe next time?