Virginia winery a delicate blend of faith, family, and love of the land
HUNTLY, VIRGINIA, July 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - The view at Rappahannock Cellars is breathtaking. An afternoon in late June brings a cooling mist that hovers just above quiet hills blanketed in bright green vines. The remote locale, with quiet, homey rooms and giant windows overlooking the countryside, seem to breathe: peace.
Inside, after popping open a bottle of Merlot, owner John Delmare tells of how he once described the somewhat grim reality behind it all to an audience of prospective vineyard owners whose ideas were still a little too romantic.
“I just got done processing 80 tons of fruit almost by myself this year,” he told them, “I work 12-14 hour days, dripping wet. I’ve still got this massive cold. I haven’t got a haircut in six months - and I got a bump on my head because I was trying to get some wine down and a bottle fell off, and I figured the best way to catch it was with my head.”
Rappahannock isn’t nearly the size of many of its neighbors in the highly competitive Virginia winery market, certainly not big enough to take the bulk of work off the shoulders of Delmare and his family. Yet it is one of the most successful, with careful, sustainable growing practices, producing 6,000 barrels a year from its 20 acres.
Although clearly passionate about the vintner’s art, even optimizing different grape varieties within the property’s many “micro-climates,” Delmare said the key to success has been his homeschooled family of 12 children - which brings its own unique bragging rights.
“Most wineries brag about being family owned and run, but not many can brag about their young children (ages 9 to 14 at the time,) working joyfully on their hands and knees, planting our original 15 acres of Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Cabernet Sauvignon,” states the vineyard’s website.
Business is booming at Rappahannock despite a difficult location - the winery is a 1.5 hour trek from D.C. - and even less glitz: Delmare noted that the rustic Rappahannock lacks the “Taj Mahal kind of building that others do.” Meanwhile, the winery boasts 1,100 members, including some who have been with Rappahannock since its beginning 10 years ago - something “unheard of,” according to Delmare.
“Why are we more successful than most out there? We make really good wines, and I think we provide an atmosphere that people don’t get anywhere else,” he said.
While other wineries are often implicitly adults-only, the family orientation at Rappahanock is noticeable from the first: a corner full of toys immediately greets visitors with children. Although most of Delmare’s children are now grown, he started out, he says, as “the guy in the tasting room [with] my younger kids” keeping him company.
Maintaining a family life at Rappahannock is no easy task:. The winery is open 360 days a year, leaving only five days each year for everyone to relax together. But the work means more than just a business to Delmare, who says his journey of faith was what cemented Rappahannock’s foundation.
“God has blessed us here,” he said, “so we’re trying to give back, first and foremost.”
The couple originally hails from California, where John Delmare first fell in love with the winemaking industry, but as an unbeliever: “I didn’t come into the Church until my fifth child was in the oven. Here I was, an agnostic at best in California with a fifth child on the way.”
Although his wife Lisa was raised Catholic, Demare said she was “was voted in high school the least likely ever to get married or have children.” It was his wife’s reversion to her Catholic faith that sparked Delmare’s own conversion, and the family suddenly found themselves seeking richer spiritual soil. Although the California climate is far more favorable to grapes, they settled down to begin again near the Catholic homeschooling hub of Front Royal.
“Tending a vineyard, you can really understand why Our Lord chose it for so many parables,” said Delmare. While “not all crops are beautiful,” the vineyard is a very different story. “When you’re up [working] at six o’clock in the morning…you can’t help but raise your eyes to Heaven and praise God.”
“It was so clear that God just opened door after door…there’s no question in our mind that God put us here.”
The Delmares have made their vineyard home a site of gentle evangelizing. Above one large window framing a view of vine-covered hills is written, “Introibo ad vineam Dei, ubi copia faetitiae est”: “I shall go into the vineyard of God, where there is great rejoicing.” Crosses here and there, and a Sacred Heart statue on the far side of the barn, also give clues to Rappahannock’s religious roots.
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“We really don’t cram our family or our faith down people’s throats, but we don’t hide it either,” Delmare said. “Every once in a while you get that one person who will never come back as a result.” But for the most part, regarding their faith, “people I think have a certain warmness in their heart, whether they’re believers or not believers.”
Perhaps Rappahannock’s staying power comes from the fact that, unlike other destination spots in the D.C. area, what it offers is truly exotic to an isolated modern society.
“People don’t have families anymore,” said Delmare. “People come here and they feel like they’re a part of the family. And they connect with that.”