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Fox Meadow Winery: A View from the Mountaintop


Consulting winemaker Tom Payette credits the Mortland family’s dedication, excitement and attention to detail for the delectable wines being turned out at Fox Meadow Winery in Linden, VA. “They are putting their entire hearts, bodies and souls into this,” says Tom. “More importantly, they have the ability to follow through in making their dreams a reality.” Dan Mortland has a different take on the business: “Lunacy helps!”

Fox Meadow the Mortland Family

Bob, Cheryl and Dan Mortland of Fox Meadow. Photo by Mary Ann Dancisin

Dan Mortland and his wife Cheryl had no background in wine when they decided to pursue the idea of owning a winery following their success in technical careers. Fortunately for us, Dan has quite a bit of smarts in addition to the lunacy component.

The search for a site moved through several states, including Pennsylvania and Maryland. The Mortlands planted their first vines in Linden in 2003 for several reasons. One was the elevation and slope at the vineyard. High up a mountain just north of Interstate 66, there is a noticible difference in temperature. This moderating influence enhances the ripening process, as daytime temps stay somewhat lower than in the surrounding valleys, and likewise heat is better retained overnight. As is true in most of Virginia, high moisture is a fundamental challenge, a frequent breeze over the ridge helps alleviate that.

Another factor in the Mortland’s decision-making process was the excellent infrastructure in place in the Commonwealth, with resources like Bruce Zoecklein, Enology Extension Specialist, and Tony Wolf, of the Agricultural Research and Extension Center, at Virginia Tech. The fact that there is a state-supported Wine Marketing Board played a part in locating here as well.

Fox Meadow’s first release was in 2005. Son Bob Mortland is Vineyard Manager and helped to plant the initial five acres, since grown to about 10 acres at the Linden site. Possible expansion up to an additional seven acres may be in the works in the future. In the meantime, estate fruit provides about 40% of the winery’s output of 2500 cases. Careful sourcing of grapes from Charlottesville, Lovettsville and Woodstock is done under the direction of consultant Jeanette Smith of Vinesmith Inc. Dan espouses a philosophy of fair compensation for superior fruit and intends to nurture long-term relationships with his most trusted growers.

Dan believes that having different sources for his fruit helps mitigate the vagueries of weather complications, ie if there is a hail storm in a particular area, the risk is managed through having alternate vineyard sites that are not affected. Just when things are going along well, “Mother Nature will surprise you,” Dan says.

On site, Bob takes care of Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris and Cabernet Franc vines. Green harvesting is practiced, which involves dropping part of the crop in order to increase flavor in the remaining grape bunches. Dan and Bob are still experimenting to find the ideal yield so were unable to pinpoint a number. They look for the balance that is so important in creating an concentrated, full-bodied wine.

“Wine is a continuous journey,” Dan says. At Fox Meadow, they constantly tinker and tweak, trying different blends and variations in the quest to put out a consistently superior product. Merlot, for instance, struggles in this vineyard and the reason for this – lack of nutrients in the soil? disease? weather? – is under investigation. That being said, Fox Meadow Vineyard Merlot 2006 is quite successful: dark ruby in color, dense with flavors of smoke, chocolate and a hint of tea leaf. Maybe it’s true what they say about vines needing to struggle!

Having a good consultant in the winery helps enormously too. Tom Payette is quick to share the credit: “The Mortlands do it all themselves, from leaf-pulling in the vineyard, to moving the must via bucket after pressing (no pumps!), to racking roughly every four months – this family is personally involved in every aspect of the operation.”

Tom’s background of 24+ years of winemaking, writing for the trade in Vineyard and Winery Management, and serving as judge at the Indy International and International Eastern Wine Competitions among others,  makes him a valuable resource for the Commonwealth’s burgeoning wine scene. Several concepts presented to Fox Meadow provide the framework for helping to achieve positive results: 1) sustainability in the vineyard: balancing the crop yield to generate premium fruit; 2) information in the winery: regular critical analytical tastings backed up with internal and external lab evaluations; 3) integration: aging/racking methods to optimize flavor; 4) fining/filtering:  typically reds won’t be fined since the fruit quality is high, but each wine is reviewed for potential improvement. Filtering is done lightly by gentle plate and frame.  In addition to personal consultations, Payette is regularly a featured speaker at the annual industry conference Wineries Unlimited held in Pennsylvania every spring.

Tom finds a distinctly flinty quality in Fox Meadow wines, brought about by the stony soil in the vineyards. In addition to the Merlot noted before, estate-grown Fox Meadow Cabernet Franc 2006 and the meritage Fox Meadow Le Renard Rouge are stand-outs. The Cab Franc was lush with cherry fruit, and enhanced by notes of white pepper and sweet tobacco; not at all green or acidic. The Renard Rouge (“Red Fox” Dan explains, as I had forgotten my French for the moment) is multi-layered. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, velvety fruit marries superbly with typical Bordeaux cigar-box/tobacco notes. Payette identifies gooseberry, black current and baked bread on the palate. Structure and body are not lacking either.

A tasting at Fox Meadow is an enjoyable outing. Cheryl and Dan greet you at the door, and guide you to the long roomy bar.

A tasting at Fox Meadow is an enjoyable outing. Cheryl and Dan greet you at the door, and guide you to the long roomy bar. You will have a choice of a “Standard” or “Premium” tasting, each poured in elegant stemware. Whites include Chardonnay, oaked and un-oaked, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, Riesling and a proprietary Freezeland White. Ranging from lightly sweet to creamy with vanilla/brioche flavors, the whites are lovely. In addition to the reds mentioned above, you can sample Syrah and Freezeland Red.

The Mortlands remind you that wine is meant to accompany food. To enhance the flavors in several selections, you will be presented with little delicacies in addition to the usual crackers. These might include an aged darby from a local boutique cheese producer or surprisingly, a rice krispie treat to bring out the exotic mango, kiwi or honeysuckle notes in the whites. Whatever is on offer, you will be made to feel special, a part of an exciting adventure. Dan, Cheryl and Bob Mortland are sincere in the desire to turn out fine wines. And the view from the mountain isn’t bad either!

Fox Meadow Winery is located at 3310 Freezeland Road in Linden, VA 22642. (540) 636-6777