A region like Virginia (and Napa, and the Finger Lakes, and the Willamette Valley of Oregon....) is bound to have several wine trails. Some are heavily promoted and work closely with local towns and Chambers of Commerce; others are largely unknown. By posting two of the more undiscovered trails, the blogmasters risk filling up these wineries with "newbies" - but one of the goals of our blog is to get the word out on some of the lesser-known wineries in the Commonwealth (by now, everyone has heard of Barboursville, Tarara, Prince Michel, Williamsburg Winery...)
The pair of Virginia wine trails outlined here target two distinct AVAs (Monticello and the Shenandoah Valley). Pick one of these trails, and prepare to drop anchor at a B&B or motel (in Charlottesville or Waynesboro for the first trail; Woodstock or Winchester for the second trail).
(1) The Secret Gems of the Monticello Trail--Wintergreen Winery; Flying Fox Vineyard; Afton Mountain Vineyards; Pollak Vineyards
Drive south of Charlottesville, on U.S. highway 250 southbound (this route passes by several wineries and you will be tempted to pull off, but keep driving to keep this special trail intact!) Around the small village of Afton, get on state route 6, southbound and follow it to state highway 151. Start the afternoon (or late morning, for you diehards out there) at WINTERGREEN WINERY, a large-scale but surprisingly relaxing place with a vast view of mountains and fields. Relax by the Rockfish river and unwined with a bottle of one of their best--Black Rock Chardonnay Reserve or Brent's Mountain Merlot. There is no better spot to start this trail.
After wrapping it up at Wintergreen, return to state highway 151 northbound and you'll end up at a spot that you probably passed to get to Wintergreen: FLYING FOX VINEYARDS. We've already spotlighted this wonderful spot so check out the review from September 2010.
After a relaxing tasting and glass (or bottle) of Fox White or "Trio" at Flying Fox (by now the fox on the weathervane could very well be "flying"), continue northbound on highway 151, where it hooks up with state route 6, and follow signs (or your map) to AFTON MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS. This Monticello AVA staple is not as well-known as some of its neighbors, but it's a must-visit. This winery makes the finest Sangiovese in the Commonwealth, and is one of the few wineries in Virginia that makes a pinot noir. Afton Mountain's new owners recently added a new tasting room, which offers one of the finest vistas in the state.
Stop four takes us to POLLAK VINEYARDS, another relatively new Monticello AVA spot which (like Afton Mountain Vineyards) has its own pond and a great, but very different, mountain view (Pollak is more valley-like in its setting, while Afton Mountain is higher in elevation). Must tries here: Meritage, Petit Verdot and Viognier.
(2) The Woodstock/Shenandoah Trail--Cave Ridge Vineyard; Wolf Gap Vineyard; North Mountain Vineyard
This wine trail requires an Interstate drive (first I-66 westbound, and then I-81 southbound), and is close to Woodstock, a charming town due west of Skyline Drive and a section of George Washington National Forest. Your first stop is CAVE RIDGE VINEYARD, between Woodstock and Mt. Jackson. This winery is really off the beaten track so have your map or GPS ready. Perched high on a hill, surrounded by trees, Cave Ridge is the proper place to start this trail. Settle in with a bottle of Fossil Hill Reserve, their signature red (a blend of Chambourcin, Petit Verdot and Cab Franc), and breathe the clean mountain air. But stay straight: You have two more wineries to hit.
Not far up the road from Cave Ridge is WOLF GAP VINEYARD, which works closely with Cave Ridge (the two wineries are what Virginia winery cooperation and friendly competition are all about). Wolf Gap is named after the gap on the VA/WV border in the Allegheny chain, and the back porch offers impressive views of both the Blue Ridge and the Alleghenies. "Wolf Gap Willie," as the winemaker/owner likes to call himself, will greet you with a smile and serve up one of the finest Rieslings in the state....delicious.
After Wolf Gap, grab that map or GPS and head back to I-81, northbound (or for a more scenic drive, if time is no object, try U.S. highway 11, which runs next to 81, instead). NORTH MOUNTAIN VINEYARD is a staple of the Shenandoah region, and has been producing award winners for years. Ample picnic tables, a wraparound porch, and a "gemütlich" (owner is German) vibe indoors. Their apple wine is a must-try, and on the grape front, the Chambourcin is one of the best in the region.
These are just two favorite trails of your blogmasters. But you can't go wrong with any Virginia winery. As George Martin said about the Beatles' songs, "they're all pretty good." Same goes for Virginia wines.
Secret Gems of the Monticello AVA trail--