Boxwood Estate Winery epitomizes modern country elegance. On your way, you pass through Middleburg, often compared with a quaint English village, replete with over 150 structures awarded status on the National Register of Historic Places. Boxwood previously operated a Tasting Room right on the main street, but as of June 8, guests are welcome at the extraordinary property itself, a short half-mile drive to the south.
Boxwood, itself a National Historic Landmark, while harmonizing with the region’s overall character, expresses graceful refinement and a contemporary attitude. Importantly, its wines carry through on this stylish promise.
The winery is set on a 150 acre former horse farm that dates to the 1700s which was acquired by Boxwood’s owners, John Kent Cooke and his wife Rita, in 2001. Sports fans will recognize the name: Mr. Cooke’s father owned the Washington Redskins football team and the younger Mr. Cooke had expected to continue with that franchise until a twist of fate changed the direction his future would take.
No expense was spared when Cooke determined he would build a winery at the site. Planning began well before planting or construction: in 2005, noted Virginia viticulturalist Lucie Morton was brought in to advise on varietal selection and vineyard location within the estate.
Soils were analyzed and for two years, weather conditions monitored. Only then were the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot vines set into the ground.
The vineyard, set on rolling hills with natural drainage, comprises alluvial soil, well-drained rock-clay, and gravelly silt loam. Morton chose a classic Bordeaux layout: the rows are two meters apart, vines are spaced one meter on the south/west facing slope with a density of 2,010 vines per acre.
Rows run north to south to maximize sunlight on the ripening fruit. To assist in assuring maximum quality, a custom GPS system monitors each block to provide a history of best viticultural practices. The original 16 acres under vine were enhanced with seven additional acres in late May 2012. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah were planted, also under Lucie Morton’s supervision.
Executive Vice President Rachel Martin, John and Rita’s daughter, has been running the operation since 2005. Friendly and outgoing, the Charlottesville native has a sure hand on the til when it comes to managing the winery. Her father seems to have the effect of demanding a high standard of quality from all with whom he interacts. (While I’m short on sports-authority, I did come across several newspaper archives describing Mr. Cooke’s modus operandi. I’m sure sports fans can explain this in more detail.)
Cooke’s vision for the winery is further example of excellence: the five building complex was designed by Hugh Newell Jacobsen of Georgetown, DC, assisted on the technical side by Dr. Richard Vine, a leading professor of enology based at Purdue University in New York.
Nestled in the heart of the vineyards, it is constructed of Virginia fieldstone, concrete and glass, and enhanced with stainless steel accents.
High ceilings and natural light abound. The effect is understated, contemporary and elegant. There is a sense of solidity and quality at every turn.
When Rachel decided to accept the position her dad offered, she delved into a formal education in viticulture and enology, first attending Napa Valley College and spending time at the School of Enology at the University of Bordeaux.
Aspiring to produce nothing less than a world-class red, Rachel engaged Stephane Derenoncourt, the “world’s hottest winemaker” according to Wine Spectator, to consult. Characterized by Mitch Frank as “Bordeaux’s favorite rebel,” Derenoncourt works with a select group of about ninety clients worldwide.
On the ground at Boxwood, winemaker and vineyard manager Adam McTaggart, a Canadian with more than a decade’s experience, has also been on board since 2005, and cares meticulously for the vines while watching over the aging wines. McTaggart is confident and capable, and speaks eloquently about his methods and procedures.
He holds a BSc in Biology and a Wine and Grape Technology Certificate from Brock University. His first position in the wine trade was with The Malivoire Wine Co. in Ontario, Canada, where he devised an organic vineyard management strategy.
At Boxwood Estate Winery, all vineyard management practices are directed toward sustainability.
In 2007, The Washington Post reported that “McTaggart eventually wants the wine to be among the world’s best, sharing shelf space with such highly regarded brands as Cheval Blanc and Rothschild Opus One.” We’ll leave that for you to decide after you’ve had a chance to taste!
I was fortunate to be able to attend a private luncheon at Boxwood recently. Boxwood Rosé 2011 was served as the aperitif. A pleasing salmon-orange color, crisp and refreshing, the wine is filled with restrained strawberry flavor and notes of thyme evocative of the South of France. It is a blend of 46% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, and 19% Malbec. (See Scott Greenburg of WTOP’s May 31 review of Boxwood Rosé.)
Stylish tables were set in the state-of-the-art chai and food from Upperville’s Ayrshire Farm’s Garden Luncheon menu was served family-style. Ayrshire was the first farm in Virginia to meet both Certified Humane® and USDA Certified Organic standards and marries nicely with Boxwood’s green philosophy.
Boxwood Topiary 2007 and Boxwood 2007 accompanied the lunch selections. Both Bordeaux blends, Topiary is 50/50 Cabernet Franc and Merlot, while Boxwood is 42.5% Cab Sauvignon, 42.5% Merlot and 15% Petit Verdot. Topiary featured an excellent smoky nose with tea, cocoa and black fruit on the palate and is said to be in the Saint Emilion style.
Boxwood has intriguing herbal undertones, and leans to dense black fruit and even a bit of leather and tar. The winemaker equates the style to a Pauillac or similar Left Bank Bordeaux.
Amanda Galanis is the Winery Manager. She or Christina Harley, Tasting Room Manager, will be behind the circular stainless steel bar you find in the center of the room upon entry.
On the right, you can glimpse the impressive circular cave used to age the wines. With a single layer of French oak barrels resting on a concrete and stone foundation, the area is actually below ground level and thereby naturally temperature- and humidity-controlled.
This may need to be augmented if it’s found that visitors impact the needed conditions when the winery opens to the public.
Rather than trust his wines to hoses or other permeable pipes, Cooke invested in a stainless steel tube gravity-flow system to transport the wine from the fermenters in the chai (to the rear of the tasting room) into the barrels here. As the winery grows, a second layer of barrels is slated to be added, but likely no higher. Boxwood will hold production to a maximum of 5,000 cases per year.
Back in the tasting room, look to the left and you will see one of the few bottling lines ensconced in a Virginia winery. Many wineries here make use of a traveling bottling truck, but John Kent Cooke’s concern with quality again shows in this costly detail.
Boxwood continues to operate three additional wine bars, all called Tasting Room, in the area. They are in Reston, Chevy Chase, and National Harbor which opened in May 2011.
These gathering places are a wine lover’s dream, each with an Enomatic, the dispensing system that lets you sample a multitude of wines by the ounce. In March 2012, Washingtonian Magazine named The Tasting Room at Reston Town Center Best of Reston and Herndon for wines and wine bars.
Boxwood Estate Winery is in the care of a dedicated team of professionals. The standards for quality are high, be it in vineyard management and winemaking or architecture and ambience.
But with such rich, mouth-filling, flavorful wines, the elegant architecture is almost beside the point. Obsession with process is the secret to the unctuous wine that ultimately fills your glass.
Boxwood Estate Winery is at 2042 Burrland Road, Middleburg. (540) 687-8778.
As of June 8, the winery welcomes visitors Friday – Sunday 11-6. Business hours will adjust seasonally. Limos are welcome, but unfortunately tour buses cannot be accomodated.