Yesterday I capped off a great family vacation at the beach with a visit to the very first farm winery in the state of Delaware. At Nassau Valley Vineyard, I tasted 6 wines each with my wife and sister-in-law. We all picked different ones, with some overlap. I wanted to tell you about a few that I had and enjoyed. But first, the stories!
This one has an interesting story as at the time of its inception by former Les Amis du Vin International and The Friends of Wine writer and would-be winemaker Peg Raley, farm wineries were not allowed in Delaware law. A farm winery is a place where the grapes are grown, made into wine and sold all in the same place. So she lobbied the state to create the legislation, succeeding in 1991, and the winery opened in 1993. It’s therefore the first and only farm (and international-award-winning) winery in Delaware. Also, I got to experience my first veraison which was really exciting. I missed fruit set but I did see a few preseason vineyards in March in Long Island, and then the beginning of the canopy growth in May in New Jersey. I intended to visit another vineyard last month but it was not so. And fortunately, I will be experiencing my first Harvest in Bordeaux in the beginning of October! So I am happy I am able to experience at least this many stages of the vineyard cycle this season.
The berries were about 3/4 through the process, or rather only about 1/4 of them hadn’t changed color, and none of them had grown from the small size as of yet. But it was really a perfect example and you can see so in the photo. This winery also had a full museum (they call it a self-guided tour) with all sorts of artifacts and important moments in wine-making history in panels along its walls — with facts, photos and quotes. This included a quote from my favorite wine connoisseur, Thomas Jefferson (see last photo.) My family learned a thing or two, as did I. The tastings were set up in the museum, with a nice view of the barrels and steel tank cellars below via glass windows along the lower part of a tasting room wall. Here are some notes on a few of the wines I tried.
2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – This is not 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is more of a Bordeaux blend and so there is also some Merlot and Cab Franc in there to round it out, and I am just opening a new bottle as we speak. It pours a deep ruby, and again on the nose I get powerful cherry and plum, and subtle enticing oak and spice from 12+ months of barrel aging. There is also a hint of violets and some earthiness. On the palate I pick up more of the spice and the deep cherry (especially on the finish) and less of the oak. Tannins are a little grippy, but I don’t dislike that sort of thing in this type of wine, especially when paired with food. I recalled thinking it was a very nice wine but that it would be better paired with food than on its own to make the palate equal the nose. This I think of almost any good Bordeaux blend, honestly. And so I just tried it with some salami and cheese slices and it really does open up even more nicely. Tonight I will pair it with a grilled chicken Paillard and rice.
Peach Ambrosia – This is a white wine made from 100% fermented peach juice. We all loved this one, especially with the suggested ginger snap wafer for a before-and-after taste test. The first peach aromas were prominent and ripe, and it was sweet and a nice dessert wine for sure. This was proven after a bite of the ginger snap, with the flavors just coming so much more alive!
Cape Rosé – This was very much in the style of a southern French Rosé. It is dry with just a touch of sweetness, and this is my preferred type of pink wine. It sports the artwork of nationally known artist Abraxas on the label, which depicts a lighthouse scene in local Cape Henlopen for which it is named. It doesn’t state the varieties on the label from which its made but based on what they focus on at the winery, I’d guess Cabernet Sauvignon. Probably my favorite of the wines I tried.
I also enjoyed their house red which was a lighter style oak-aged red made up of mostly Cabernet and Merlot, with some Chambourcin, and local variety Cayuga. It is more of a table wine but it had a nice balance and was an easy drinker.
I finished with their “Delaware White” which is a sweet white made from a local variety actually named “Delaware.” It has green apple and honeysuckle aromas and flavors. It was my favorite of the whites I tried.
(I also tried their “True Blue Blueberry” red wine made with 100% fermented local blueberry juice — no added flavor here. I am going to review that alongside the Finger Lakes Wine Competition medal-winning “Blueberry Champagne” from Renault Winery in New Jersey that I picked up in May. That too is made using real local blueberry juice.)
We brought home all of these as well as an extra Peach Ambrosia and a “Meadow’s Edge” semi-dry white which my wife loved, made from Vidal Blanc, and Seyval Blanc with a touch of honey sweetness. It has a hefty list of awards to show for its quality. I would also recommend their “Redneck Rouge,” as much for sweet spicy flavor as for the humorous name and description. It is made with mulling spices and therefore you are just a cinnamon stick and a little heat away from a treat on a cold fall night.
I also saw a sign a few miles down the road at a local fruit and produce stand for “wine juice for sale,” so my guess is that if it is from Nassau, that they do what many wineries do and sell their remainder for bulk wine production or individual winemakers’ use. If not, perhaps there’s another local small grower in the region. This was my first experience with wineries in the state so I don’t know a lot about the trade here.
The tasting staff were friendly and knowledgeable and there was a nice art exhibit on display in the tasting area. Pay them a visit yourself, whether or not you’re coming from the beach! It’s located at:32165 Winery Way, Lewes, DE, US, 19958 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 302-645-9463