By Robert Harlee
How does one create a successful winery? Make delicious wines, promise an engaging customer experience, and site the winery in a beautiful place. The new Septenary Winery at Seven Oaks Farm has done just that.
Todd and Sarah Zimmerman, who met in graduate school at the University of Virginia, bought the Greenwood estate in 2014 and opened the winery last year. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places and contains 14 buildings, including a manor house built in 1847. It has had several noteworthy owners and neighbors, from Lady Astor, a next-door neighbor who later became the first female member of the British Parliament, to local music mogul Coran Capshaw, the most recent owner. Beyond grapes, Seven Oaks has been a working farm for its entire history—free-range ducks and grass-fed beef are still raised here using traditional, sustainable methods.
The site’s vineyards, planted during Capshaw’s ownership, are about 15 years old. That gives winemaker Sebastien Marquet an advantage in making quality wine, as newly planted vineyards must wait until at least their third harvest to begin producing wines, and even then the wines can be simple and bland.
Marquet has been making wine at the Zimmermans’ other vineyard, in Essex County, for nine years. A native of Burgundy, he has 30 vintages under his belt—valuable experience for any winery, new or established. Assistant winemaker James Phillips worked five vintages in New York’s Finger Lakes region.
In honor of the property’s history, Septenary’s wines are named for its buildings, with labels such as the Summer Kitchen Rosé and the merlot-cabernet franc blend called Carriage House. The name Septenary (and the numeral 7 on its labels) recalls the seven ancient oaks that famously grew on the manor house’s lawn, each named for a Virginian president. After six were felled by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, the sole surviving oak is Thomas Jefferson.
A steady breeze flows over the sloping vineyard around the tasting room, not only making the area cooler, but drying out the vines and preventing the various detrimental molds and rots that can ruin the grapes.
Septenary offers several wines from both its estate vineyard and the Essex vineyard. Their reds are based on the Bordeaux grapes of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. The whites include two viogniers and a rosé of syrah.
The 2017 estate viognier is a classic unoaked Virginia viognier with a vibrant acidity and aromas of peach and honeysuckle. In contrast, the 2016 California viognier spent 12 months in neutral oak, which shows in its light oak notes with more intense apricot and peach flavors.
The 2017 Summer Kitchen Rosé is made from 100 percent syrah in the Provençal style, light in color, with strawberry and watermelon notes. The finish is crisp and refreshing.
The 2015 Carriage House Red from estate fruit is a blend of 89 percent merlot and 11 percent cabernet franc, a classic Right Bank blend in the style of a Saint-Emilion. Creamy and velvety in the mouth, it shows pleasing spice notes from oak in the soft finish.
Two vintages of the Coleman red blend are currently available. The 2014 is a cabernet-dominated wine (40 percent), with equal parts of merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. Its nose shows this with dark fruits, dark chocolate, and notes of cigar box and hints of vanilla. It is sourced from all-Essex fruit. Alternatively, the estate- and Essex-blended 2015 Coleman displays more red fruits and strawberry, with herbal notes due to its 33 percent merlot and 27 percent cabernet franc with equal parts of cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot.
Both wines are similar in style, but they clearly show the intriguing variations of different vintages and different vineyard sites.
Enjoy these wines in the Zimmermans’ comfortable, nicely decorated tasting room (formerly Capshaw’s pool house), or take a bottle outside, where there are multiple spots to congregate and relax with friends. An upstairs wine club is well-appointed with leather couches, a trés-cool wine decanter collection, and a euro-style self-service wine dispenser. Nothing seems to be an afterthought, and no matter where you sip, you won’t be distracted by kids—in contrast to many area wineries, Septenary is adults-only.
Septenary Winery is located at 200 Seven Oaks Farm in Greenwood. (540) 471-4282