Living in Northern Virginia, time is a precious commodity. As much as we'd love to roadtrip to Charlottesville, the Shenandoah Valley, or the Northern Neck every weekend, our schedules (not to mention that wonderful traffic) restrict us a bit. Luckily, there are plenty of good-to-great spots in Northern Virginia to compensate. This "best kept secret" wine trail focuses on lesser-known and/or out-of-the-way spots that don't receive the fanfare of places like Tarara, Breaux or Potomac Point. So load up on road trip music (iPOD or those "relic" CDs would do---Van Morrison, Steely Dan and the Eagles are our fall winery road trip favorites), and get your behinds out to NOVAVINO territory!
The 55 Wine Affair Trail: Barrel Oak Winery, Three Fox Vineyards, Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn, Fox Meadow Vineyards
We call Virginia State Highway 55 the "Wine Highway." This two-lane highway runs parallel to I-66 from Haymarket to Strasberg, VA (where I-66 and I-81 meet). You may not drive as fast on 55, but the scenery is a helluva lot nicer. Plus, easy access to numerous wineries. In fact, there are so many now that it was hard to pick just four for this trail.
The trail must begin at BARREL OAK WINERY, now a few years open and getting better (and more popular) by the year (and month). Visit Barrel Oak once, and you'll be surrounded by upbeat fellow tasters, staff, and of course dogs. This spot is nicknamed BOW for a reason. But the outdoor seating options are numerous. Even if the parking lot is full, you're bound to find a table for yourself. Visit on a weekday afternoon for a more low-key experience. Most likely you will be visited by owner Brian Roeder, his wife and primary winemaker Sharon, or the assistant winemaker Rick. (Rick one time came up to the tasting room on a quiet Thursday afternoon from the wine lab, test tube in hand of his newest creation--a slightly unusual but still tasty Merlot--for the visitors to try). The wines are getting better all the time......favorites are their Norton (earthy but smooth), Traminette (nicely aged in steel), and their two table wines (BowHaus White and Red). If the tasting room is not crowded, climb up to their loft and relax on their sofas.
Next stop is right down the road from Barrel Oak: THREE FOX VINEYARDS. If you have a car like mine (not a lot of "tork"), that bluff leading up to the tasting room at Three Fox could be a challenge. But once you arrive, you will be amazed by the views. Three Fox is situated on a hillside, and they even have a table high up on another hill they dub "the table in the sky" (you can reserve this table in the sky; there is only one). At the bottom of another hill lies a creek as well as several picnic tables and hammocks - this place is the Wintergreen Winery of northern Virginia (see the previous blog entry for more info on Wintergreen). By their own admission, the tasting room is small (and there is a porta potty in the back for when nature calls--two, actually--but they are the cleanest, best decorated porta potties you'll ever use). Many of their wines are award-winners. The stand-outs are their Calabrese Pinot Grigio, La Boheme Viognier, and Gatto Bianco (complete with a cat on the label, which nicely balances the offerings at Barrel Oak). Three Fox's whites have the edge over their reds, in the blogmasters' opinions, but one red is definitely worth mentioning: Il Volpe Sangiovese, the closest thing we've had to a Super Tuscan in Virginia. Grab a bottle or a few glasses and take that hike down the hill (Three Fox even has a golf cart for those not able to make the hike down, and back up - for one reason or another).
The next spot on the trail opened about a year and a half ago: ASPEN DALE WINERY AT THE BARN, directly off highway 55, on the way to Front Royal. The emphasis on the barn is deliberate. The tasting room resides in the barn, and the location is an active horse and pony farm. This is one of the few wineries we'd recommend bringing the kids to, if you must bring kids, as they'll be entranced with the friendly horses and ponies nearby. This is the only winery we've been to that begins its tastings with the sweets, and ends with the drys. The reds are the winners here (although their whites are fine too). Aspen Dale has a Cab Sauv (not as common in Virginia as the Cab Franc) that is one of the finest in the region, and their Rose is easy drinking and delicious. In back of the barn, Aspen Dale has a relaxing garden, complete with fountain and gazebo.
Further down highway 55, on the border of Front Royal, lies FOX MEADOW WINERY, on Freezeland Road (up, way up, on Freezeland Road). We've spotlighted this winery in July 2010, so refer to that blog for a more detailed description. It is one of our favorites in the state, and like others on the trail, their wines just get better with each year. Stay awhile and look "down on the mountains." If you still have energy and are in "good condition," you can saunter over to other wineries in the Front Royal area, which will be spotlighted in the next blog.
Fall in Virginia is winery trail time, and even if you can't make the trip to Virginia's Napa (the Monticello AVA), Northern Virginia offers plentiful alternatives.