Peggy Raley checks out a vine when the vineyard started over 30 years ago.

Meet Delaware Shore’s Wine Pioneer

Mission Accomplished

Peggy Raley was a woman on a mission…to bring Delaware its first farm winery. And through her passion for wine and her commitment and persistence to move legislative mountains, she did just that. First, by co-founding Nassau Valley Vineyards in 1987 with her father Bob (who has since passed away) as Delaware’s first vineyard, then, by successfully lobbying for legal changes to allow farm wineries to directly sell the wine they made. Peggy’s stated mission is: Putting Sussex County on the wine map one bottle at a time. And, along with her sister and business partner, Suzette Hopkins, mission accomplished.

Serious Winemaking

Peggy’s interest in wine started in the early 80’s when she worked for the wine publication, Les Amis du Vin, primarily as a photographer, then eventually becoming a wine enthusiast, then a wine professional. I have to admit that I didn’t always take Delaware wine all that seriously. However, my recent visit with Peggy at Nassau Valley Vineyards where I tasted through a good portion of their lineup was a real eye opener for me. First things first, as Peggy herself will tell you, don’t think you will be tasting Napa Valley style wines. But that is not necessarily a bad thing because, as you travel to as many wine regions as I have, the first thing you learn is that every region has its own style based on the “terroir” of the region (wine talk for the impact of climate, soil, topography, etc. on the grapes). In fact, it is a holy grail of wine making to have your wine express the area from which the grapes are grown. And hats off to Peggy, her talented winemaker, Mike Reese, and the rest of the team for making beautiful, serious, terroir-driven wines. Every wine I tasted was well made but the standouts for me were the Naked Chardonnay, made without the influence of oak and displaying beautiful tropical and melon flavors, and the “Indian River Red” Vintners Blend, made with the traditional Bordeaux grapes, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. This wine is the real deal!  “Pull the cork and taste the sunshine and raindrops that fell” says Peggy when describing the feeling she gets when opening a bottle of wine. When hearing Peggy talk about wine you can feel her passion which translates into some serious winemaking at Nassau Valley Vineyards.

Nassau Valley Vineyards also houses a charming museum displaying some of the history of winemaking, which seems only right given Nassau Valley’s own place in wine history.   

Ray Kurz, also known as “Cuvée Ray,” holds certifications including Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine, and is completing his WSET Diploma. He’s the creator of Vintunes® and previously owned Cuvée Ray Wine Bar and Restaurant. Ray’s passion lies in connecting wine with wine lovers.

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