Winemaker Interview: Rick Tagg

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 01-31-2020

Delaplane Cellars

As our regular readers know, from time to time, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker to probe their winemaking philosophy and to gain insight into how they became who they are. This week, we are featuring Rick Tagg, the winemaker at Delaplane Cellars in Northern Virginia.

Delaplane Cellars was founded by Jim and Betsy Dolphin in 2007. Last year, Daniel and Katie Gomez, along with their friends Nicholas Jordan and Thomas Duckenfield, purchased Delaplane. They look forward to continuing the Dolphins’ legacy of producing high-quality wines, as well as adding additional options for extended tastings with food pairings.

Rick grew up in Northern Virginia and has stayed local. After discovering fine wine while working at French restaurants, he worked as the winemaker at Barrel Oak Winery, also in Delaplane, VA, before joining Delaplane Cellars. Rick is continuing as the winemaker at Delaplane Cellars under the new ownership.

Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Philadelphia, PA, and moved to Virginia when I was two. I grew up in Alexandria, VA.

When and how did you get into wine?

I worked in French restaurants and that was when I first learned about good food and quality wine.

What has been your career path to where you are?

When I worked as a waiter in French restaurants, I had to learn the cuisine and the ingredients. I was not familiar with some of the herbs and vegetables so I started growing them myself and ended up getting a part time job at a greenhouse specializing in growing and selling culinary herbs and heirloom vegetables. I have always been interested in food and wine and growing things and thought that working in a vineyard and winery would be a good fit for my interests.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?

What makes our vineyards special is the attention that we pay to growing the vines, because the wine comes from the vineyard. If we cannot grow excellent grapes, we cannot make excellent wines. We have a pretty good site with a nice Southwestern exposure, good slope, and drainage.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Great wines are made in the vineyard. It is possible (although not usually encouraged) to make mediocre wine from great grapes, but impossible to make great wine from mediocre grapes. I also remind myself that wine is food, albeit a very complex, ever-evolving food. Cleanliness and sanitation go a long way to help food from misbehaving. It is also important to be flexible in winemaking choices, rather than following the same recipe all the time, because not each variety behaves differently each year.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Making wine in Virginia is the biggest challenge. Vintage variation. Some years drought, most years too much rain. Hurricanes. Derechos. Hail. Humidity. Disease pressure. Early freezes. Late frosts. Weird invasive insects. A winemaker is first and foremost a farmer. It’s important to remember patience and kindness, particularly at harvest.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

I think that I would have to list the Gallo Brothers for getting a recipe from the library and having a business evolve into such a commercial juggernaut.

Bo Barrett for comparing winemaking at harvest to coaching a baseball team and making consistently excellent wines.

Jim Law for his pioneering leadership in pursuit of balance in Virginia wines and his patience with those of us who are still learning.

Dr. Daniel Norton for persevering in cultivating a Virginia grape that can be made into drinkable wine.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I am excited to see that so many women are entering the field.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?


What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

I tasted a Dopff & Irion Les Sorcieres Gewurztraminer in 1988 I think. It was a transcendental experience — it was the first time I recognized how a wine could be so amazing, so complex. I once tasted a Madeira bottled in 1866 from grapes grown in 1863. Can you imagine? Grapes that were growing when Abraham Lincoln was president. Was it good? Not too bad, but who cares? What other food is a time machine that can evoke such powerful history and emotion?

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

Chateaux Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 1985.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Tawny Port. Viognier for cooking.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Pouilly Fume. St. Joseph.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Only after work.

How do you spend your days off?

Gardening, hiking, reading, photography, cooking, and thinking about Paris.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I’m nicer than people think.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I have absolutely no idea. Probably something outside involved with growing or making food.

How do you define success?

Success in life:  being good enough at something you love to get paid for it. Success in winemaking: tasting a far from bad wine that I made and saying “No way I made this.”

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