Owner(s): Howard O'Brien
Winemaker: Pascal Valadier
Open to Public
Daily Thu-Mon 11 to 5
3238 Rail Stop Road; Markham, Virginia 22643
Chateau O'Brien at Northpoint Profile
Written by Brian—Jun 3, 2014
In the very southwestern corner of the Middleburg AVA, not far from the Blue Ridge and the Appalachian Trail, there is a relatively new winery that has already established itself as a producer of world-class wine. Chateau O’Brien at Northpoint is all about making the best possible wine.
Arriving at Chateau O’Brien you’ll first notice the unobstructed view of the Blue Ridge as you look out across the vineyards. The tasting room is just up the hill in the original farmhouse that has been remodeled and the interior rebuilt to suit its current purpose. The elevated deck that has been added to the rear of the building offers a similarly spectacular view.
Howard O'Brien started planting his grapes in 2000 and let the vines mature for six years before bottling the first vintage. Today there are about forty-five acres under vine and Chateau O’Brien produces about 2200 cases each year from 100% estate-grown fruit. Howard brought in Jason Murray to manage the vineyard and also challenged him to make the wine. This is often an optimal scenario and many of the best winemakers are also winegrowers. The perfect marriage of these two skills is evident in the quality of the winery’s offerings.
There are two tasting options available. Whites and reds are tasted in different rooms, which limits the possibility of contamination. Actually, I made that up. It really helps disperse the crowd, limits the wines poured at each tasting bar and restricts the discourse to a smaller wine list. It’s the first time I’ve encountered this arrangement, but it seems to work. The reputation of Chateau O’Brien is built on its reds and so I elected that option.
All of the Chateau O’Brien reds spend twelve to twenty four months in French oak and as I said earlier, they are produced exclusively from estate-grown fruit. There were four wines on the regular tasting menu. First was the Malbec. It was a medium-bodied wine that was showing great structure and lots of black fruit. I was thinking it would be a hard act to follow, but the Cabernet Franc was even more fabulous. The oak lent some complexity without overshadowing the fruit and it had a beautifully long finish. So I thought I’d found my favorite, but then I tasted the Petit Verdot. It proved to be even better, with its dark fruit, spice and complexity.
This proved to be one of those tastings where each wine was better than the one before. The final selection, the the Northpoint Red, was hands-down the best of the lineup. It’s a Merlot-heavy blend of all the Bordeaux grapes. Twenty months in French oak imparted a great deal of character. It had lots of red fruit on the palate with a finish that just kept going. It demonstrates what’s possible with a Bordeaux blend in Virginia and certainly merits its price tag as one of the Commonwealth’s most expensive wines.
There are a couple other more exclusive tasting options available. There are Private Reserve Cellar tastings and vertical tastings of the late-harvest Tannat. I’m told that the Tannat is potentially one of the best in the United States and has been officially recognized by Uruguay. That’s saying something, because Tannat is Uruguay's national grape. Both of these options are by appointment only. I do intend to return and avail myself of these other opportunities. At a minimum, I’ve got to taste the Tannat.
This is a winery that doesn’t host a bunch of public events to try and draw a crowd. They don’t need to. Patrons visit because of the wine. What Chateau O’Brien does do, is take the time to explain the wines and educate each visitor. If you are interested in seeing the quality that is possible in Virginia wines, this would be one of your stops.