Vineyard opens doors to public, but intends to stay small
By Jeb Inge -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of area winery profiles.
STAR TANNERY -- Ron and Chris Schmidt are taking the idea of do-it-yourself wine making to heart.
That may be why, even at 500 cases of wine per year, the couple still does most of the work at Cedar Creek Winery themselves.
"I like to think of it as a micro-winery," Schmidt said.
But there's nothing "micro" about the amount of work the couple puts into their wine. As owners of Cedar Creek Winery, the Schmidts do almost everything. From bookkeeping and distribution to distilling and bottling, the Star Tannery-based winery is truly a hyper-local affair. When the time comes for harvesting grapes, the couple asks neighbors for help. If they need an extra hand, they pay someone from the area. Outside work groups are not brought in, and anything done on the land is done by those familiar with it.
Schmidt likes it that way.
"The fact that we are small, we can maintain the quality of what we produce," he said.
He believes the people best suited to make wine are those tied to the land it comes from. It's their investment, and in the end, their reward. Which is why on any given day, visitors could see Schmidt in the fields spraying and pruning, bottling, boxing, and now, giving tours and tastings. In addition to being company book keeper, Mrs. Schmidt also helps her husband with the normal day-to-day activities including field work in the winter.
"Unless it's 20 degrees outside. I told him I'll only go down to 20 and then he's on his own," she said laughing.
Cedar Creek Winery started operations in 1999, following Schmidt's retirement from the U.S. Park Police in the mid-1990s. Familiar with the area, he and wife Chris moved to Star Tannery and started growing grapes. At first, the grapes were sold to other wineries until the couple decided to bottle wine on site. In 2008, they poured Cedar Creek's first vintages of Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.
This year marks the first year Cedar Creek will open its doors to the public, offering tours of the grounds and vertical wine tastings by appointment. While most wineries offer a greater number of wines, Cedar Creek tastings are structured around individual years of their Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.
Just don't arrive hoping to taste their 2011 selection.
A late-spring frost wiped out that year's entire crop. In one night, 500 cases of wine evaporated into thin air, and the revenue with it.
"It's really frustrating to say the least," Schmidt said, understating the disappointment.
It's a major setback that all vintners dread, and one that happens suddenly and without warning. Even after a frost takes away the year's crop, a wine grower must continue to maintain the fields -- a frustrating task made even more arduous knowing that money won't be coming in.
Part of keeping their operation small includes offering two wines rather than the six or seven offered at bigger wineries.
"Instead of expanding and doing more wines, we decided to focus on making two really good ones," Schmidt explained.
If medals are any indication of quality, then Schmidt made the right decision.
Cedar Creek's 2009 Cardonnay was the 2011 gold medal winner in the Virginia Wine Lover Magazine Wine Classic. The 2010 vintage took home bronze in this year's Governor's Cup and International Eastern Wine Competition.
Their Cab Franc is no slouch either. In 2008 it took gold in the Wine Lover Magazine, silver in the 2011 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition and bronze in the 2010 and 2011 Governor's Cups. In 2009, they brought home more gold, silver and bronze medals and, in 2010, a silver and bronze.
This all while competing with all other Virginia wineries and often with those as far south as Florida and as north as Canada.
But the success of their two wines hasn't sparked the Schmidts' to consider expanding. They consider their recipe successful and local design critical for success. For Schmidt, Cedar Creek stands as an example of what can be achieved by remaining a hyper-local operation.
"We're never going to get any bigger. ... We're never going to expand," he said.
Considering the quality of their wine, that doesn't seem to be a problem for this micro-winery.
Cedar Creek Winery is open to the public by appointment. They sell their wine at fine wine stores throughout northern Virginia and in area restaurants. They also offer wine shipping. More information can be found at www.cedarcreekvineyard.com.