During a 2004 vacation in Key West, Brian Roeder asked his wife Sharon a fateful question, “If you could see yourself doing something else, what would it be?“And that question led to all of this,” he said, gesturing out the couple’s kitchen window to the vineyard, winery and scenic mountain views beyond.
Before Brian and Sharon even started designing a winery, they talked about what they wanted to achieve. "We didn't want to just sell wine,” Brian said. “We wanted to create a place of community."
As that community has grown and developed since Barrel Oak Winery (BOW) opened near Delaplane in 2008, it welcomed, among others, parents with children, people with dogs, hiking groups fresh off the trail, bikers, foreign dignitaries, and Washington’s elite with a warm handshake and a smile.
Dog friendliness is another aspect of the winery’s welcoming atmosphere. Brian and Sharon share their household with four pleasant pooches, and have included their furry presence into all aspects of the company’s branding. “It’s impossible to really have a great time in the country knowing that your very best friend has to stay home, for mere reasons of species” quipped General Manager, Kristin Heydt. The winery even has a dog on staff, named Birch. The friendly Hungarian Viszla, who ran away to the winery in the way some people run away to the circus, can be found lounging in sunny spots, playing fetch, and greeting customers on all but the hottest days of the year. He even has his own “desk” in the winemaker’s office, beneath Sharon Roeder’s workstation.
In more nuts-and-bolts business terms, "we try to make sure that every weekend there is something happening here at the winery," Brian said, “and even when nothing is going on, on say, a Tuesday in February, it’s key that our customers know and feel how much we appreciate them, and that BOW is a special place”
"My e-mails (distributed to the winery’s 10K+ email list) say, 'here's the experience; here's what the dream looked like this week, and here’s an invitation to join us.'"
"People come, and they love the feel of the place. They come back and bring their friends, and they all love it. So they bring their friends. The circle of friends just keeps getting bigger."
In conjunction with BOW’s 3rd anniversary last Memorial day, they opened an offsite tasting room and fine art gallery in a charming storefront on Washington Street in Middleburg. The gallery is currently featuring an exhibitions of local Virginia artist. The goal of BOM is to have a more intimate setting where wine, art, and of course dog enthusiasts can gather together and simply relax.
Authur Ashe said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life”
Because the Roeders are dedicated to creating community, non-profit charity groups figure prominently into BOW’s growing group of friends.
"One Veterans' Day, we did a fundraiser for Fisher House, which houses military families whose loved ones have been injured in the wars, so they can stay close to them without going bankrupt on hotel bills. It was one of our first fundraisers," Brian said.
"Volunteers did a barbecue and raised $1,500 for Fisher House just by selling hot dogs and hamburgers."
Another typical charity activity involves the Roeders bringing in a band, at their expense. The music is a draw, and charities benefit by adding a silent auction, raffle or other activity into the mix. BOW then commits a donation of proceeds from bottle sales during the event. “It’s really a win/win scenario” says BOW’s G.M., Kristin Heydt, “Our staff feels good about supporting charities we love, and we meet a lot of great friends and local customers in the process.”
“In the past three years of operation, Barrel Oak Winery has helped charitable organizations raise approximately $300K through events like these,” Brian said
From day one of its operation, Barrel Oak Winery has given 10 cents to charity for every bottle of wine it has sold, and as an organization has donated over $45K in charitable support.
Real Virginia Wine.
Since the first vine was planted on the Delaplane farmstead in 2006, Sharon and Brian Roeder have remained committed to providing their customers with premium examples of fine Virginia winemaking. The 22-acre vineyard is home to a selection of traditional vinifera and American and French hybrids. Wine varietals include: Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Petit Manseng, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Traminette, Chambourcin, and newly planted Norton.
Their dedication to utmost quality has not been un-noticed by national and international wine judges. Barrel Oak Winery boasts a growing record of awards and accolades for their hand-crafted vintages. Notable winners include the winery’s Petit Verdot, Norton, Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. In the fall of 2010, winemakers Sharon Roeder and Rick Tagg were honored by the news that their 2008 Petit Verdot had taken top prize at the State Fair of Virginia. What’s more, the wine made a splash on the West Coast, taking gold at the San Fransisco International Wine Competition, and a silver medal at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition.
Barrel Oak Winery’s production continues to expand with the introduction of the winery’s first subscription club. Participants in the BOWbyMail wine club will have wines delivered to their homes via UPS in states that allow such deliveries. The featured wines will include small-lot and experimental varietals. It started as a pet project of Sharon Roeder and Rick Tagg, who were intrigued by the winemaking possibilities posed by lesser known varietals like Mourvedre, a Provençal grape, and Rkatsiteli, a grape from Georgia (the country, not the state). The club will also feature library wines from BOW’s cellar in each shipment.
“People ask us questions all the time about the weather and its effect on the vineyard, or the economy and its impact on our business,” Brian reflected, “but flexibility is key in all things. You shrug your shoulders, take a deep breath and forge ahead boldly. It’s what we do. It’s how we live. Enjoy this life. You’ve only got one. Live the dream without fear of when or how it will end.”