The Spirits of Southern Delaware

By  Terri Marshall

Southern Delaware is a popular beach destination in the summer, but spend a little time exploring off the beach and you will discover the true spirit – and spirits – that call Delaware home.

Nassau Valley Vineyards located just a few miles from the beach in Lewes, Delaware  produces award winning wines from estate grown grapes along with other high quality fruit sourced from local and regional growers.  The winery offers tours and tastings. An onsite museum chronicles the 8,000 year-old history of wine, but it is the spirit behind this vineyards that begs exploration.

When Peggy Raley decided to begin producing wines Delaware’s law prohibited the production and resale of alcohol.  Peggy drafted legislation and lobbied the Delaware General Assembly to create the Farm Winery legislation for the state.  The law passed in 1991 and Nassau Valley Vineyards opened in 1993 as the First Winery in the First State.

“In going through changing the laws, it was always our intention to see an industry grow,” says Peggy.  “If we wanted it to just stay us, we probably could have made that happen, but it was about trying to create things for the future.”

Peggy’s efforts paved the way for all other Delaware wineries and breweries.  “It was two and a half years of me laying that groundwork that set the formula, but what we did opened the door for everybody.  It’s gratifying to see that all of those efforts opened the doors for a lot of good people to come forward,” she says.    For more information go to


Peggy paved the way for future spirited entrepreneurs like the founders of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware.  Dogfish Head started out as the smallest commercial brewery in America brewing its first ale on three little kegs with propane burners underneath.  Today it is one of Delaware’s most popular brews and can be found nationwide. The creative brews developed by creative people with a very creative tree house on property for meetings is best understood by a tour of the brewery followed by samples of the brews – of course!

“Dogfish is an amazing place to work,” says Mark Carter – whose business card labels him Event Czar/Donation Dude/Sustainability Guy.  “The bottom line is we get to make creative beers with a bunch of off-centered co-workers, and in the tour world we get to share this experience with visitors from all over the country.”

Dogfish Head Brewery maintains a focus on sustainability.  For example, the grains used in the brewing cycle are recycled and delivered to local farmers to be used as feed for cattle – making for some very happy cows in Southern Delaware.

Those off-centered employees are pretty happy too.  “It’s not bad getting a payday case of beer with our paychecks,” says Mark.  Check out their craft brewed ales at


A bit further south on Fenwick Island, Dale Clifton, Jr. offers up some spirits of the sea at the Discover Sea Shipwreck Museum.  A more than avid diver, Dale has spent the majority of his last 30 years underwater exploring shipwrecks – many of them off the coast of Delaware.   “Each time a ship sinks, time stand still,” says Dale.

Dale’s exploration of these underwater time capsules has yielded a mind-blowing collection of treasures.   The continuously evolving exhibits on display at Discover Sea represent only 10% of his collection with the remaining 90% on loan to museums around the world.

During my visit I held gold bricks stamped by the King of Spain and viewed photographs perfectly developed from a camera which sank aboard the RMS Republic – the pride of the White Star Line prior to Titanic.

Dale’s collection also includes 30 bottles of rum discovered in the wreckage of a fleet of Spanish ships which sank in 1733.  When the bottles were discovered in the 1990’s, 18 of them were still sealed and drinkable.  Testing proved these were not ordinary bottles of rum.  It seems the Spanish aboard the now waterlogged fleet had overtaken a British Navy Ship prior to sinking –  pillaging everything including the rum.  When the rum was bottled in 1730,  the distillery lined the bottom of the bottles with coconut fiber, added 145-proof rum up to the base of the neck and filled the remaining space with water and two tablespoons of lime juice to prevent scurvy – hence the expression “he’s a limey”.

Dale offered me a shot of the rum.  And with the burn that only aged 145-proof rum can provide, I drank down 300 plus years of history! Immerse yourself at