Sunday, February 6, 2011

Wine Trail Spotlight--The Bedford Wine Trail

Bedford County is an intriguing rural county nestled between Roanoke and Lynchburg. One of the county’s biggest claims to fame is that of the troops who fought on D-Day on June 6, 1944, more hailed from Bedford County, Virginia than any other county in the U.S. This is why the D-Day Memorial, a highly impressive monument in the shadows of the Blue Ridge, was erected here (about a mile outside the town of Bedford itself).

But Bedford County also boasts a wine trail, which includes tucked-away spots such as Peaks of Otter Winery (fruit and vegetable wine—yes, vegetable wine), White Rock Vineyards, Hickory Hill Vineyards and LeoGrande Vineyards & Winery.


This winery is named for the two nearly-identical side-by-side mountain peaks due west of the D-Day Memorial. This is not a place for grape wine, but if you have a sense of humor and don’t mind experimenting with fruit (and vegetable!) wines, Peaks of Otter is a hoot. The winemaker and staff have a laid back northern California vibe, and their wines reflect their eccentricity. You name the fruit—a tree fruit (besides a citrus fruit) or a berry fruit—and most likely, they have it or have experimented with it. And some vegetables as well—peppers, pumpkins (and pumpkins are vegetables), tomatoes (fruit or vegetable—still debatable after all these years).

These are relatively low-alcohol and low price wines, so if you taste something you like, you can load up on bottles of it. These are wines best enjoyed in the warmer months, and Peaks of Otter is a fixture at many state-wide festivals, so you can stock up at the festivals if the winery is inaccessible during the winter months. (And they are extremely popular at festivals – seems like everyone is a fan of the entertaining staff and their unusual wines).

Our favorites were the plum, apple and blueberry wines. Other Virginia wineries are dabbling in fruit wines (see the December 2010 blog on this topic), but these wines are Peaks of Otter’s forte. Peaks of Otter only creates wine out of fruits and vegetables they grow on their property, which explains the lack of orange, lemon, banana and pineapple wine (although our hosts’ eyes lit up when we asked about those fruits). Any fruit or vegetable can ferment, so technically you can make wine (or brandy) out of all fruits. Peaks of Otter Winery, in all its quirky glory, proves this every year.


Located inside a house that deserves a listing in Better Homes and Gardens, White Rock Vineyards is one of those “hard to find, but even harder to leave” rural Virginia wineries, like nearby Fincastle Winery and Virginia Mountain Vineyards. The winery boasts a deck overlooking the mountains and vineyards. It feels like someone’s mountain home, as opposed to a straight tasting room. And that’s because it is the owner and winemaker’s home. The tasting room is located inside a screened-in patio, much like a Florida room. There is a friendly Siamese cat to keep guests company.

The typical Virginia wines are offered—Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Merlot. And White Rock is one of the few state wineries with a fantastic Cab Sauv. They also boast a Traminette that lives up to its website description---Granny Smith apple tones make for a delicious wine in all seasons. And their prices are unbeatable – you are rewarded for driving the distance. All wines are under $20!


The closest winery to Smith Mountain Lake, the largest lake in the state, Hickory Hill Vineyards is another quaint, family-owned spot that has been crafting good vintages for nearly ten years. Using the lake’s name in many of their offerings (“Smith Mountain Lake Mist,” “Smith Mountain Lake Redbud,” “Smith Mountain Lake Sunset”), the winery has a generous offering of dry, semi-dry and sweet wines. Their Chardonnays (one unoaked, the other mildly oaked) are award winners and the owners are rightfully proud of the wines and their winery.


Located in Goode, VA (off the highway leading to Lynchburg), LeoGrande Winery is, like many spots in the Commonwealth, a totally family-run operation. The day your blogmasters visited, there was a sign hanging on the tasting room door—“We’re out in the fields. Please honk your car horn if you’d like a tasting.” We were happy to follow the sign’s instructions, and before long, owner and winemaker Norman LeoGrande himself, greeted us.

His wines are winners – every one of them. We were lucky enough to try some of his earliest vintages (his winery has been open for about three years now), including a Reserve Chardonnay that was one of the best we’ve had in the entire state. And because Mr. LeoGrande was partaking in his own product during the tasting (we love it when winemakers do that), these tastings were probably more generous than others. Other offerings worth note are Sangiovese, Syrah, and Nebbiolo. Beautiful wines, and perfectly priced (Nebbiolo, at $20, was the most expensive non-library wine on his list!)

Outside the tasting room, several Adirondack chairs are lined up facing the vineyards and a host of farm animals (cows, horses, goats, and even a potbellied pig!) Settle in and enjoy multiple bottles of his product, and admire the foothills to the Blue Ridge in the distance.

Take a weekend jaunt to Bedford County, lap up some scenery and history, and delve into the fruits of these farm wineries’ labors!

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