The term “farm winery” fits some Virginia wineries better than others. From the moment you pull up to the Rockbridge tasting room, in a converted barn, visitors know they are at a true agricultural enterprise. But the Shenandoah Valley farm, located just off I-81 is just the current milestone in an eclectic career in the wine industry.
Winemaker Shepherd “Shep” Rouse, along with his wife Jane Millott-Rouse, own Rockbridge Vineyard. Shep’s family’s Virginia heritage dates back to the 17th century while Jane’s heritage is California based.
Educated at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, Winemaker Rouse studied both Geology and Biology. He also earned a Master’s Degree in Enology from the University of California at Davis.
Living in Germany in the 1970’s Rouse considered wine to be the perfect synthesis of science, art, and lifestyle. He made it his goal to produce fine wine in Virginia.
Since graduating from UC Davis Rouse has worked in vineyards in Germany, California, and Virginia.
In 1988, Shep and Jane found the perfect site in northern Rockbridge County at 2,000 foot elevation and near two busy interstate highways.
It has been said by many that the Shenandoah Valley is one of the country’s most exciting wine producing regions today, with positive critical reviews being found in major food and wine publications nationwide. As the praise and awards continue to accumulate, Shenandoah Valley (AVA) wines have become sought-after products in fine restaurants and wine shops from coast to coast and internationally.
The vineyard has now grown to 17 acres and is complemented with grapes from other top-quality growers from neighboring Virginia counties. Utilizing high quality outside growers provides Rockbridge with both geographic and climate diversification. In addition, the variety of soil types and grapes provides Rouse an extensive palette of vinifera, hybrid and native grapes.
Many of these contracted vineyards are under long term leases. The relationships (and friendships) between Rouse and his growers is larger than just winery business.
One of his growing teams, Len and Kay Thompson, has served as the face of Rockbridge at wine festivals for as long as I can remember. Ambassadors, like the Thompsons, that know first hand what goes into growing a wine is one of Rockbridge’s competitive advantages.
In building their wines, Rockbridge believes in letting the fruit, not the winemaker speak in the glass. For aging, Rouse tends toward more toward neutral oak. Such a barrel program imparts the rich complexity of the oak but not the often astringent tannins.
By focusing on traditional, small batch processing and cultivating great grower relationships and great vines, Rouse spends more time on each wine; and it shows.
Photo Credit Rockbridge Vineyards