Winemaking has a long history in Virginia and wine lovers are often treated to glimpses of the past when they visit local vineyards. The newest offering from the Barrel Oak family brings these two elements together – wine and history – in a new way. The John Marshall Tasting Experience at Oak Hill Estate brings the best of wines from around the world and the Commonwealth together at the historic home of Chief Justice John Marshall, the longest tenured Chief Justice in U.S. history and the man credited with establishing the role of the Supreme Court as an independent branch of government.
Marshall inherited Oak Hill from his father in 1785 and maintained the home until his passing in 1835. Although recognized as a significant historic site, the property had fallen into disrepair and was unoccupied when Brian and Sharon Roeder and their team took it under their wing. Adjacent to their Barrel Oak Winery, Oak Hill shares the same magnificent views, but offers a very different experience.
While Barrel Oak has been recognized by Wine Enthusiast as the number one family friendly winery in the country, at Oak Hill, guests are asked to leave the dogs and kids at home. The welcome is just as warm, but here, the emphasis is on having a top flight food and wine pairing experience, while soaking up the atmosphere and history of the site.
Upon entering, guests are seated at tables in one of the tasting rooms, decorated with local photos and thirty year old vines from the former Piedmont Vineyard. Each tasting starts with a glass of sparkling wine to cleanse the palate, and a menu of tasting experiences is provided. There are five experiences to choose from; the Supreme Red or Supreme White tastings feature the best wines of the world (we enjoyed a fabulous Châteauneuf-du-Pape,) the Appellate Tasting highlights the best of Virginia, the Superior Tasting culls the best of the Piedmont and the Circuit Tasting is an assortment of sweeter wines from the Piedmont region. The experiences are paired with small food items that enhance the flavor of the wine, and guests are provided with a tasting sheet to help them capture their impressions.
It is in the subtleties, however, that the “experience” is created. Having your own table is a nice change from the standard line-up-at-the-bar winery tasting. The tasting sheets have a circular guide divided into four quadrants: fruit, balance, acidity and tannins, with indicators as to where each wine falls. The closer the dots are to the edge, the more boldly you can expect to find that quality. And perhaps most different is the role of the winery staff. This is a somewhat self guided event, but partner and wine navigator Andy Melton makes the rounds helping people explore the wines they have chosen. Rather than tell you what you are tasting, “this wine has hints of cherry,” Andy’s role is to help you determine your wine preferences and how a particular wine speaks to you. His knowledge of local history makes for pleasant conversation as well.
The food, prepared in-house by chef Lisa Trujillo, is small pairings for the wine only, and is not available for purchase, but includes delights like dates wrapped in prosciutto and Watsonville strawberry mascarpone. Guests are welcome to bring food to enjoy after their pairing at one of the patio and picnic tables and the wines are available for purchase by the bottle.
In all, the John Marshall Tasting Experience is just that, an experience, and one that we hope to repeat in the future.
The John Marshall Tasting Experience at Oak Hill: 3623 Grove Ln. Delaplane, VA; 540-364-6402; www.experienceoakhill.com. Tastings range from $25 to $75. Open weekends 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October. Reservations can be made at Open Table, by calling directly or on the winery website.