When referencing either whiskey or wine, if you live in Northern Virginia, you probably have heard the name Catoctin Creek. I’m sure plenty of other people have confused the two as being made by the same company or entity. What most do not realize is they are not. Catoctin Creek is own and operated by a one man army named Jim Hanna. In 2004, after retiring from a well-known organization in downtown Washington, DC, Jim moved from Bethesda to a small development tucked away in the town of Purcellville. Jim decided to follow his passion for both photography and wine. With the help of some local wine experts by the names of Doug Fabbioli (owner and Winemaker at Fabbioli Cellars) and Dave Collins (oormer Winemaker at Breaux Vineyards), Jim began learning and producing some of the most appealing boutique wines I have had in Northern Virginia. He has been making wine now for over seven years and, in 2009, Catoctin Creek began making and selling wine commercially. Currently Catoctin Creek produces close to 300 cases per year that are available in fourteen restaurants as well as nine wine shops in Virginia.
On this particular weekend, Jaymie and I met up with Kurt and Carol of WineAboutVA Blog and Fred and Allison from This Is Wine Blog. We wanted to see just what Catoctin Creek has to offer. Jim greeted us as we walked up the walkway. The winery itself is located in the basement of his ranch style home. You will walk through his living room and kitchen and down the stairs to the basement, where at the bottom you will immediately see to your left the Tasting Bar and your right the wine cellar. The wine cellar contains a handful of racked barrels against the rear wall, while to your right hand side a couple of small steel fermentation tanks dwell. As you turn left to the tasting bar, there are four stools and counter space with some tasting settings placed appropriately on the bar. Above your head is a canopy lined with Catoctin Creek and Reidel wine glasses for decoration or any additional guests. There is also a pool table that is covered with a wooden board rendering it able to support the hand bottling and labeling systems.
After waiting a few minutes for the rest of our group to arrive, Jim gave us the lowdown on how and where exactly his grapes are grown. While a neighborhood with a decent sized backyard is nice, it isn’t the ideal place to grow wine grapes. Which is why Catoctin Creek began sourcing their grapes from Breaux Vineyards and Fabbioli Cellars through partnership lease agreements. Jim makes trips out to both locations during the year to check on the conditions and to keep tabs on what will eventually be his future vintage. After chatting about the great conditions in 2012, Jim gave us some insight of just what varieties to expect from Catoctin Creek utilizing the great 2012 harvest. Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, Syrah, and Meritage will all make an appearance under the Catoctin Creek label for 2012.
As for the tasting, we were able to try some of the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc (barrel sample), 2010 Cabernet Franc, 2011 Cabernet Franc, 2011 Malbec, and the dynamite 2010 Meritage. Lets start with the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc which is currently fermenting in steel. This white presented crisp minerality while adding hints of lemongrass and citrus, that intensifies mid palate, but finishes off dry with bright crisp acidity. With a little more time to go in the tank, this white will prove to be perfect to accompany a mid-Summer fish feast or even all by itself. The 2010 Cabernet Franc ($24 / 85% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, & 5% Merlot) produced classic notes of pepper on the nose while adding cherry and blackberry nuances on the palate, finishing supple with a burst of plum and dark berry flavors with a dash of spice. As for the 2011 Cabernet Franc ($23), Jim backed off of the Petit Verdot and instead incorporated a splash of Malbec which gives this usually spicy and bold variety a dark fruit forward nose, adding light berry and spice. This is a lighter style, medium bodied, silky smooth wine. Not bad, especially given the wet conditions towards harvest in 2011.
Next is the 2011 Petit Verdot (N/A) that was recently bottled and contains about 10% of both Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This normally bold red showcases intense characteristics of both cherry and violets, both aromatically and taste wise, while sporting some still young tangy tannins. With some bottle age, this variety will settle down and balance out. The last two wines of the tasting completely caught me off guard. When it comes to Malbec, I usually lean towards South American, and rarely does a Virginia Malbec stand out to me as anything more than a blending varietal at best. This particular bottle of the 2011 Malbec ($24) I will say changed my mind and further proves that with the right conditions, vineyard management, and winemaker, sometimes the impossible happens. Very aromatic with cherry pie dancing across the nose and palate adding light cigar box notes on the nose and succulent flavors of plum mid-palate, adding just a kiss of oak on the off-dry fruity finish. Medium to full bodied and drinking well right now.
The last of the tasting turned out to be the best of the tasting, the 2010 Meritage ($26), a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Merlot. This explosive red blend is very complex and doesn’t tote the usual bold firm tannins. Cigar box, fig, plum, and chocolate aromas converge on the nose while plum and blackberry mingle on the front of the palate adding notes of dark chocolate to this intense, full bodied, and silky gem. The tannins sparkle from start to finish while flavors linger on and on, tossing subtle notes of licorice for good measure. AMAZING. Not to mention that this, as described by Jaymie, turns out to be one of her favorite Virginia reds to this day.
Overall, the experience, hospitality, operations, and wine making skills of Jim Hanna exceeded any expectation I had set forth prior to visiting. This place makes all around phenomenal wine. If you haven’t had the pleasure to taste what Catoctin Creek has to offer, you are truly missing out. Be sure to visit Catoctin Creek online and setup an appointment today. Be sure to also mention you were referred by Virginia Pour House.
Overall Rating: 4/5 Corks
Catoctin Creek Winery
14426 Richards Run Lane
Purcellville, Virginia 20132