Exceptional spirits surface at Rappahannock Cellars

Not all grapes grown at Rappahannock Cellars wind up in bottles of wine.

Now, along with its award-winning chardonnay, meritage and cabernet franc, the renowned winery in Huntly is pouring a brandy mojito with spearmint, pressed vodka tonic with lime, brandy tonic with orange, and a Rappahannock mule with vodka and ginger.

“There are so many wineries and breweries cropping up these days, and there’s only so many places you can go in one weekend, and we want to be on that list,” explains Allan Delmare of the winery’s added attraction, Dida’s Distillery (pronounced did-uhs, which means “grandfather” in Croatian), a tribute to the Delmare family’s grandfather who established a legacy of fruit farming stretching from California to Virginia.

With the soft opening of Dida’s this past month, and the official grand opening soon to be announced, Rappahannock Cellars becomes the first Virginia winery to capitalize on the state’s booming craft distilling industry, specializing solely in spirits made 100 percent from premium grapes produced on site.

“So much flavor comes from the grape,” notes Allan Delmare, whose custom-made stills resemble large woodwind musical instruments. Photos by John McCaslin

“Grapes have some major advantages over grains — grapes have a lot more flavor and aroma,” educates John Delmare, Allan’s father. “More flavor and aroma going into the still provides for more flavor and aroma in the final spirit. And not only as brandy: grapes also make for incredibly smooth and flavorful vodkas and gins with character you can’t get from grains.

“Making exceptional wines isn’t easy, nor is it cheap,” John continues. “And distilling them is much more difficult and complex. But with three decades of winemaking experience behind us, we’re crafting world-class wines and distilling them into exceptional spirits.”

To launch Dida’s, Rappahannock Cellars spent nearly three years planning and navigating the unique challenges of distilling solely from grapes, including timing the distilling around the annual grape harvest when fresh wine needs to be turned into spirits immediately.

That accomplished of late, Dida’s now has an ample supply of bottled pressed vodka, immature brandy (one will have to wait two years for the first barrel aged signature Brandy), and soon to arrive will be a barrel finished pressed gin, says Allan, who is Dida’s distiller.

Dida’s tasting room is located one floor above the new distillery, in the winery’s main building, and is open Friday thru Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grab a stool or else belly up to the tasting room bar and enjoy either a spirits tasting or a full-size cocktail.

This writer selected the spirits tasting, which is a smaller sample of each product — best described as mini-cocktails. Tastings consist of a total of 1.5 ounces of spirits (half the “allotment” allowed by the ABC), which means that in addition to a tasting flight visitors might opt to enjoy the full size version of a cocktail (also 1.5 ounces of spirits).

“Then we have to cut them off,” Allan laughs.

Bottles of Dida’s vodka and brandy are also available for purchase in the tasting room (they slide snugly into a Christmas stocking).

For more information visit www.DidasDistillery.com.

Rappahannock Cellars is a family-owned and operated vineyard and winery located in Huntly. After selling their California winery and moving to Virginia in 1996, the Delmare family founded Rappahannock Cellars, and has been producing internationally acclaimed wines since 2000. Rappahannock Cellars & Dida’s Distillery is a member of the Rappahannock County Artisan Trail, Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop, and the American Distilling Institute.

About John McCaslin 466 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.