Beyond the hustle of the busy DC city life that extends out a little ways into the hills of suburban Northern Virginia, you will stumble upon some of the most beautifully uncorrupted, heavenly land that God must have placed on earth as a reminder of things to come for those of us who are good. I am referring to the part of the state of Virginia that stretches out to the Shenandoah, or what we call horse and wine country.
Now, I have done my fair share of touring and drinking my way through many of the wineries that can be found in the 5th largest wine-producing region (behind Oregon), but I have to say that some wineries keep me coming back, while others simply fail to impress. One of the wineries that I find myself drawn to the most is Desert Rose Ranch & Winery, which can be found off of Hume Road in Hume, Virginia, a community in Fauquier County.
Desert Rose is owned by Bob and Linda Claymier, who are two of the most hospitable and gracious hosts of any establishment that I have visited in this area. I will admit that I am a little partial to this winery for several reasons, even in addition to the award-winning wine produced there. Bob is a graduate of The University of Miami, my Alma Mater, and he is a proud Hurricane much like I am. To add to his stellar resume, Bob also spent 31 years in the CIA, and in his retirement, he has chosen to make wine and train horses. I think that is a pretty fantastic life–a dream life of sorts. I will share more of his story later on in this article.
When you arrive at Desert Rose, it is very likely that you may see an Arabian horse or two in the pen at the front of the drive. A sweet dachshund named, GiGi, who is currently featured as “Miss November” in the Virginia Wine Dogs calendar for 2013, may also greet you as you make your way to the porch. Desert Rose is a pet and kid friendly winery. You are welcome to bring your pooch and your family to enjoy the afternoon at this ranch-style getaway.
The tasting room for Desert Rose is by far the most interesting tasting room you will find in the state of Virginia. Because of the nature of Bob’s career, he and his wife have done a lot of traveling and living in exotic, far-away places. Bob saved many of his International “finds” for display in the tasting room. You can view old passports and currencies, some from countries that no longer exist, photographs and paintings of Western scenes, and flashy souvenirs such as glamorous saddles from places such as Saudi Arabia. There is a pretty obvious theme to the place, which is “Western-Chic” (my term). Bob grew up on a cattle ranch in the high desert of Oregon, and despite his extensive travels, he has stayed true to his roots. Desert Rose is a gem of a desert/western-style establishment in the heart of the hills of Virginia.
When you decide to taste the wines (which you most definitely will), you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that almost every single wine that the Claymiers have produced has won an award. Last year, they entered their wines into the annual Indy International competition, and walked away with several gold medals, a couple of silver, and a bronze. The Desert Rose Cabernet Franc (my personal favorite) won the coveted Double Gold medal. Though Bob is pretty humble about touting his awards, he is very proud of the success of his wine. However, he will be honest and tell you that it is not the number of awards that a wine wins, but how much each wine is enjoyed by the consumer that is most important to him. Desert Rose wines are very much enjoyed by this consumer.
Perhaps what impresses me even more than the taste of the wines, which is pretty impressive, is how creative the Claymiers are with naming each individual red and white. Instead of being conventional and boring, the Claymiers are clever and interesting with their names. For instance, the Chardonnay is called “Hitch Hollow” to commemorate the original community that sat on the Desert Rose property in the late 1800s. Ole Moo Moo is the Gold Medal winning white blend, named after a precious cow owned by the Claymiers. R.E.D Chambourcin stands for “Retired and Extremely Dangerous,” which could arguably describe Bob himself, and the “Starboard” sweet dessert wine is named so because it closely resembles a “Port”—get it?
Though the winery has only been around for about two years, Bob and Linda have been making wine for personal use for over 45 years. The ranch and vineyards sit on 80 acres, with only eight being used to farm grapes for the wine. Some of the remaining land is dedicated to Bob’s other gig—breeding, breaking, and training horses. In fact, Bob has produced a highly informative DVD, as well as helped to write several books on the topic of breeding and training horses. If you are interested, you may purchase his DVD onsite at Desert Rose. It is called, “ The Complete Guide to Horse Breeding, Foaling, and Foal Training.” For more information on Bob and Linda’s horse business, please visit the website: www.desert-rose-arabians.com.
The most special part of my trip to Desert Rose is always the moment when Bob brings out his University of Miami flag and waves it with pride. Bob graduated from The U in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. While in school, he was elected to leadership roles in several prestigious honor societies including President of Tau Beta Pi, and Vice President of Etta Kappa Nu, to name a few. Upon graduation, Bob was chosen to be a part of the ultra exclusive Iron Arrow Honor Society at the University. This is one of the highest honors that is given at the University of Miami. According to the Iron Arrow website, “The (original) purpose of the society was to honor those male students who had contributed significantly to the “glory, fame & growth” of UM.” Bob certainly deserves to be in this prestigious society.
While Bob can boast of many accomplishments in his life from collegiate accolades to 31 years in the CIA to a Double Gold Medal winning wine, perhaps the greatest is the 49 years that he has been married to his winemaking partner and wife, Linda. As I mentioned before, this couple is one of the best teams around the Northern Virginia area for quality products and hospitable service.