It’s a bittersweet moment for Bob and Linda Claymier. After a decade behind the tasting bar of their ranch-inspired winery, the energetic owners will soon begin the next, albeit quieter, chapter of their lives.
A legion of customers, who are known as “family,” are visiting to bid farewell to the Claymiers. The process of winding down is a well-planned and well-executed exit from their fermented grape business.
But if the past is prologue, resting on their laurels is not a likely scenario for the wine lovers. The success of Desert Rose was preordained, given the successful lives the proprietors led previously.
Bob Claymier’s story began in eastern Oregon 80 years ago. He grew up in the high desert country on a big cattle ranch. As a young lad, he was introduced to winemaking. “My mother was the winemaker in the family, and she made absolutely awful stuff,” recalled Claymier, laughing.
“I followed in her footsteps and made wine out of oak leaves, dandelions and whatever. Later in life, I went on to use better ingredients.”
From high school, he joined the U.S. Navy. “They asked what I wanted to study. I couldn't spell electronics, so that’s what I chose.” With an honorable discharge tucked under his arm, the future winery owner scored a degree in electrical engineering, which led to a foreign service career.
He worked as a covert operative for 31 years. In testimony to his career, one of his more popular red wines is called Covert Cab. Another is labeled R.E.D. Chambourcin, for Retired and Extremely Dangerous. His energic and humorous personality belies a career of stealth.
He rose through the ranks to become a senior executive with responsibilities for Africa, then Asia and other global assignments. “It was a dream job beyond reality,” said Claymier. “For a rancher’s son to circle the globe multiple times and bear witness to historic events was incredible.” His wife, Linda, worked for the same organization.
Upon his first retirement, he was drawn back to his love of horses. While training one of them, the horse went volcanic and threw Claymier skyward, resulting in a major hip injury. As a result, he rethought his horse training philosophy.
Within a few years of purchasing property off Hume Road in western Fauquier County and stocking it with purebred Arabian horses, Claymier had become a nationally known horse trainer. He collaborated extensively with the renowned "Horse Whisperer" Frank Bell and produced his own horse training video.
After years of a second successful career as an equine trainer, Claymier could not shake his winemaking interest. It was time to go professional. “I planted a half-acre of grapes. Then I planted another half-acre. And then it got out of hand,” said Claymier. He produced about 24,000 bottles last year.
It’s a small operation compared to the Napa big boys, but it perfectly fits the Claymier’s philosophy. The ebullient covert guy and his wife sought a family-friendly, fun environment that was both ranch and winery.
Unlike many businesses that close after many years, Desert Rose is not for sale. The Claymier’s property is 100 acres and is home to his two daughters, a son-in-law and grandson. Over the years, their children moved onto the property, making selling the winery untenable. Blood is thicker than wine.
It’s a rare and unique relationship with the paterfamilias encircled by his clan.
Moreover, one of the granddaughters may ultimately move to the compound. If that occurs and a marriage unfolds, the winery building will be converted to a home for the couple.
One of the closest winery relationships Claymier shares is with their manager Allison Crandell. “Allison is like one of our daughters. She is the most creative, hardest-working person we know. She got us through the early days of COVID-19. We love her.”
A critical element to the closing was what would happen to the 8 acres of grapes lovingly nurtured for a dozen years. To let the grapes wither and die ran counter to the couple’s mindset.
The solution involved reaching back to his career days and finding a former colleague, Larry Carr, and his wife Kelly, who own Aspen Dale Winery. The couple will control the vines, maintaining and harvesting the grapes for use in their bottlings.
When word spread that the winery was closing, "the interest in scoring the last bottles just exploded,” said Claymier. “We’ve had some single days recently where we sold more wine than our largest monthly sales.
“But there is still wine for sale. We hope to remain open through October.”
The winery operates seven days a week from noon to 6 p.m.
As he looks back on their winery career, Claymier underscored that their customers have been the “most gratifying part of the business. They have become part of our family. Not seeing them regularly is going to be hard.
“Our final two bottlings are a Chardonnay-Viognier blend called Unhitched. It has a graphic of a broken heart on the label. The red is a Cabernet Franc called 10-80 for the number of years the winery has been opened and my age.” Both are certain to be collector’s items.
Desert Rose Ranch & Winery is at 13726 Hume Road, Hume.