868 Estate Vineyards Profile
Written by Brian—May 8, 2014
Driving north on Harper’s Ferry Road, toward the Potomac and the tri-state border of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland, you will pass four wineries. Here in this little valley, tucked in between the Blue Ridge and a smaller ridge line known as the Short Hills, you will find 868 Estate Vineyards. The winery takes it’s name from the elevation of the valley’s tallest hill that shares part of the 120 acre parcel along with the vineyard and winery.
I’m told, there is an unobstructed view of everything in the valley from the top of the hill, but this terrain feature is far from the property’s only attraction. The acreage was originally a working farm dating back to the early nineteenth century. Many of the outbuildings and the old Conrad House, which was built in the 1840’s, are a few of its remaining features. The 868 property also contains a Monarch way station, where milkweed is cultivated each year to attract the butterflies. As if that’s not enough, directly across from the tasting room, is the Grandale, which is one of Virginia’s top-fifty restaurants. Basically, it’s just a gorgeous tract of land with many things to see and explore.
I was able to talk at length with both Peter and Nancy Deliso, who are two of the owners. Nancy filled in many of the winery details and Peter walked me around the property pointing out all of its various features and talking about the future of 868. Nancy explained that six more acres will be added to the ten currently under vine. The goal is for the wine to be produced from 100% estate grapes and a new winery just opened on the premises with a capacity of 5000 cases per year. Peter would like to see production eventually expand to 10,000 cases and then evaluate next steps. There is room for an additional winery building and many more acres of vines on the property, so it will be interesting to see how 868 evolves in the coming years.
Carl DiManno is the winemaker at 868 and also owns part of the business. He, graduated from U.C. Davis and worked at several Napa wineries before transitioning to 868. The vines will not produce their first vintage until this fall, so Carl has been working with fruit from other vineyards. I found all of his wines to be well crafted and I can’t wait to see what he does with the estate grapes.
There are three different tastings offered at 868: wine only, wine and chocolate, or a food and wine pairing. The pairings sound interesting, but we went for the standard tasting. There were seven wines on the roster and we were lucky enough to try an additional wine not listed on the menu. So a total of eight wines and they were all quite good.
Of the whites we tasted, the Chardonnay was my favorite. It spent six months in French oak, which was enough to give it some creamy notes without covering up the fruit. It displayed nice balance and a great mouth feel. It’s a definite winner. Among the reds, I loved the Cabernet Franc, but then we were served the Reserve Cab Franc. Wow! I ran out of room on the tasting menu. I had to continue my notes on the back. This one is unfiltered and unfined with a beautiful cherry aroma and more cherry on the palate. It had quite a bit of complexity and a little bit pepper in the finish. I thought it was a fabulous wine and my absolute favorite of the tasting.
Our wine was poured by Sam, who is a student at Shepherd University just across the border in West Virginia. College students working at wineries typically recite a script and are unable to answer questions beyond what they’ve memorized. Sam was a pro. Kudos to 868. They either trained her well or made a great hire. She guided us through each of the offerings, adding insights about the wines and engaged us in conversation. It was just the type of tasting I'm always hoping for. Very well done.
So what more can I say. It was a great visit. We’re planning to return for dinner at the Grandale and, as I said, I’m excited to see what happens when they start harvesting their own estate fruit. If the wine and varied features of the property are not enough to lure you out there, 868 hosts numerous public events. You’ve got to see it for yourself.