Tastemaker: Justin Rose, Rosemont of Virginia (Virginia)

I first met Rosemont of Virginia winemaker Justin Rose (and his wife Aubrey) when I was in Washington D.C. to speak at BevX 2018. There was a luncheon for those of us speaking at the event and it was there that I was lucky enough to taste Justin’s wines for the first time and get to know both Justin and Aubrey a bit.

Those conversations about hybrids and new oak have continued via email since then and I’ve been able to keep up with the portfolio as well.

It’s not news to anyone reading this site that there is great wine being made in Virginia, but most of it comes from the northern half of the state. Rosemont on the other hans is about as far south as you can be in Virginia without crossing the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Justin is growing grapes and making wine in Virginia, but he’s closer to Raleigh and Durham than he is to Richmond or Charlottesville.

The Rose family has owned the Rosemont Estate since 1858 and over those many decades, they have grown vegetables, maintained a peach orchard, raised beef cattle, run dairy farming and commodity crops such as hay, tobacco, corn and soybeans there.

After several years researching what would grow best, the family planted more than 32,000 grapevines across 22 acres in 2003. The first wines were produced in 2007 and from that first vintage, Rosemont of Virginia has produced only estate-grown wines.

Justin is making good – even great – wines in his corner of Virginia wine country, but I think his best wines may be yet to come.

It’s probably long overdue that I include Justin in the tastemaker series, but I’m excited to include him now.

Justin Rose, winemaker at Rosemont of Virginia

Location: Rosemont of Virginia in La Crosse, Virginia

Title: Winemaker and part-owner

Before I Became a Winemaker: I got into wine straight out of college, so I’ve only ever worked in wine, but purely from a grower/producer standpoint.

How I Ended Up Where I am Today: I’ve been involved with wine and grapes since my third year in college at the University of Virginia where I was studying chemical engineering. 

That was in 2003 when we planted our vines. That summer I helped in the vineyard and after graduation, I came to work here for a year while I made plans to go to California and study enology at Napa College. 

While in Napa I had the opportunity to work at O’Shaughnessy Winery and Capiaux Cellars on Howell Mountain.  In 2007 I returned to Rosemont for our first harvest and production of Rosemont of Virginia wines and I’ve been here ever since. 

What I’m Drinking Right Now: So…I’ll be honest we just finished a Wine Advent Calendar last night that we got from someone as a gift on Christmas.

But our last regular bottle of wine was a 2016 Octagon from Barboursville and we had a 2010 DVX Rosé from Mumm for New Year’s Eve.

The First Bottle of Wine I Remember Drinking: It wasn’t my first bottle, but [it was]my most memorable and my “ah-ha” wine for sure.  Lucie Morton took me to Napa for a short trip during the 2005 harvest to visit some of her clients and to see if this winemaking thing was something I might want to pursue. 

One night I was at John Caldwell’s [from Caldwell Vineyard]house with John and Lucie and we were tasting wines into the early hours of the morning.  John brought out one of his first vintages of Rocket Science, which was syrah based, and that’s when I realized this was what I wanted to do. 

Two days later, Lucie left me behind and I stayed to help out with the rest of John’s harvest.

My Winemaking Style: This question is always a bit hard to answer. When I first started, I tried to make these huge, over-extracted red wines and my white wines were all too flabby because we picked them too late – the alcohol was high and there was little acid. 

I was coming from California and that’s what I had experienced.

Over the past 13 years, I’ve come to realize that those styles don’t really work for us here in our vineyard with our climate. We’re picking grapes earlier to help maintain their acidity, we’re shielding more of our red grapes from the sun, and we’re trying new things with canopy heights across the board. 

I don’t try to over manipulate the wine and I don’t tend to use a lot of new oak which might mask the flavors of the grapes. I really want to highlight the fruit to show off each variety’s best attributes and make the best wine for that vintage. 

That’s how we came to realize that chambourcin makes fantastic rosé, and for the last few years, our entire crop has gone towards our still and sparkling rosés. We looked at chardonel and realized that if we picked it earlier as well, it would make great sparkling wine. 

The vintage lets me know if I should try to leave my red wines on the skins for only two weeks or if I can hold them for six, and I think that’s all the fun of making wine in a region like Virginia. 

I think that being a winemaker in these conditions means that you need to be flexible. You might have a plan, but as we saw in 2018, Mother Nature might have other ideas, and you have to be able to adapt. 

I think the best way to describe my winemaking style is that I strive to make fruit-forward or fruit-driven wines that can be enjoyed in the here and now. We have a few wines that I would say you can cellar for years, but I really try to make wines that people can enjoy on a daily basis. Wines that showcase our fruit and highlight each variety’s strength in what it brings to the table either in a standalone wine or as part of a blend.            

My Mentors — Wine and Otherwise: I would say that my first mentor was Sean Capiaux while I was working in Napa. It was my first experience working in a winery and I really learned the most about the production side of winemaking while I worked with him at O’Shaughnessy

I am currently working with Lucien Guillemet, owner of Boyd-Cantenac in Margaux, whom I’ve been with since 2008.  I think he has really helped us in discovering how to best express the fruit in our wines and is probably the one most responsible for us using less new oak ultimately. 

However, I believe that the person who has had the most influence and impact in my career has been Lucie Morton. I’ve known Lucie since 1999 when she and my father started working together to figure out what we should plant here at Rosemont.

We didn’t have any information about what grapes would work in our region and she helped us select varieties, clones, and rootstocks that she thought might work in our warm, humid climate. Working with her was the best decision we’ve ever made and she’s been a wonderful mentor in helping me learn more in the vineyard aspect of things. 

The Music Playing in the Cellar Right Now: Zac Brown Band, Revivalists, Nathaniel Rateliff, anything 80s and the occasional late 90s rap (I spent my high school years in Michigan). 

I have also started listening to a lot of podcasts recently as I tend to spend a good amount of time in the cellar by myself.

My Favorite Thing About the Virginia Wine Industry: Two things.

First, the camaraderie amongst the people in the industry and the willingness of everyone to share what they’re doing. 

Second, the opportunity of having an open landscape for what we can grow (we grow a fair amount of hybrids) and not having to conform to a particular variety. Our customers just want good wine, and the variety seems to matter less and less. 

What I Wish Was Different About Virginia Wine: My main gripe is that I wish more wineries were more receptive to growing grapes other than vinifera. I think there is still a lot of room for growth in that respect. 

On a Random Thursday Evening, You’ll Find Me Drinking: We will usually crack open a crisp rosé or albariño, or if it’s cold outside a fruit-forward red.

My Last Meal on Earth:  For my last meal I would want to go back to this little sushi place on Honolulu, Sushi Sasabune.  You don’t get to choose your sushi, the chef makes whatever is fresh that day, but everything was amazing, and I rate it as the best meal I’ve had. 

And I would wash it all down with a really good IPA (I haven’t been able to drink beer for over a year thanks to a gluten allergy) and a Côte-Rôtie, one my favorite wine regions.

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