Saturday, April 30, 2011

Got History? Got Wine? The General's Wine and History Trail

Virginia probably has more historical sites than any other state on the east coast. From the American Revolution to the Civil War, to the birthplaces and homes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Wilson. So why not combine a historic tour with a wine trail? Luckily the folks behind the General's Wine and History Trail have done all of the work for you. And this year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, so there is no better time than now to embark on this journey. Just visit one of the wineries on the list, pick up your passport (a guide and map of the trail), and begin your history lessons!

This wine trail is a little different than others. The participating wineries are not clustered along the same road. So you can break up your visits to the wineries by weekend. Make sure you pick up the passport at one of the wineries and get the passport stamped by each winery. Prizes are raffled to those who complete the trail.

The wineries participating in the General's Wine and History Trail (some of which have been spotlighted by the Virginia Wine Notebook):

Lost Creek Vineyards

Sunset Hills Vineyard

Bluemont Vineyard

Veramar Vineyard

Swedenburg Estate Vineyard

Three Fox Vineyards

Fox Meadow Winery

Philip Carter Winery

Gadino Cellars

The Winery at LaGrange

This is a great year to "wine about history" (as opposed to the "wining" we all did in 7th grade history class). For more information, visit their website.

The General's Wine and History Trail

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring 2011 Weekend Winery Jaunt # 3 - Leesburg Surprises

Leesburg is the hub of Loudoun County's vinoland, now officially known as "D.C.'s Wine Country." Proof positive is the number of Reston Limos and "Keg Buses" driving down Route 7 or the Greenway, enroute to one of the bigger wineries in Loudoun, on any given Saturday in the spring, summer and fall. Wineries of all shapes and sizes sprout out from the center of the Leesburg "hub" in all directions.

As much as we love spots like Sunset Hills Vineyard, Loudoun Valley Vineyards, and Breaux Vineyards, this entry will focus on some of the smaller spots around Leesburg, which you may or may not have heard of. Some of these wineries have strict "no limos, no buses" rules, so it is suggested that you call ahead if you plan to visit with a group.
If you make arrangements ahead of time with the tasting room, and indicate to them that you won't be arriving via the frat boy and sorority girl-infested "Keg Bus," they might make an exception.

South of Town:
Located off U.S. Highway 15, about a mile past the last traffic-clogged intersection south of Leesburg, make a right turn at the gas station and follow the sign to Willowcroft Farm Vineyards. They have been making wine here since 1987, and are the oldest commercial winery in the county. That view of the Loudoun Valley is incredible, and you'll feel like you're in the middle of Piedmont wine country, vs. a few miles away from congested Leesburg, on top of that mountain. Try their Fitzrada's Reward, their popular table white, perfect for spring sipping.

A few miles away in the same heavily forested foothills is Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, which has been open for about a year now. Chances are high that you'll be greeted by the owner/winemaker, his wife, or both. And chances are high that you'll be invited for a tour of their grand old house (built in the 1830s) and wine cellar. And if you're really fortunate, you may get a taste of their chambourcin, either in the bottle or out of the barrel if they're sold out. The chambourcin is one of the best in the state and has a lot of fans, despite the newness of the winery.

North of Town:
Return to highway 15, and try to maintain your sanity as you drive through (apparently constantly gridlocked) "Leesburg Crossing" (where the shopping centers are). A few miles north of town, make another right and follow signs to Fabbioli Cellars. The focus here is the wine, and they usually discourage limos or buses, but if they're slow enough and you call ahead, you may be invited. The recently redesigned tasting room in the basement is pure Virginia winemaker - and Doug Fabbioli himself will float in and out of the tasting room on his way from or to the vineyards. Every wine is a winner here, particularly the chambourcin (another winner for Virginia's new red), the Rosa Luna rosé, and their blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot (Tre Sorélle). They also have an Aperitif Pear Wine that is very popular.

Continue down the unpaved road past Fabbioli and you'll come across two wineries that keep it all in the family: Lost Creek and Hidden Brook. These wineries are best suited for the Virginia wine "newbies" (the blogmasters started their love affairs with Virginia wine here), as many of their wines (even the reds) are on the sweet side. Lost Creek is the older spot and has an airy tasting room, gas fireplace and a patio situated on a bluff overlooking the vineyards. Hidden Brook, operated by the son and daughter-in-law, is housed in a log cabin and offers a porch overlooking a cluster of pine trees.

A Stone's Throw Away from Town:
You don't have to drive far from downtown Leesburg to find the next three spots.

Dry Mill Vineyard touts itself as "the newest old school vineyard in Northern Virginia." The tasting room was built into a historic horse stable, and there is a meeting room that your company can reserve directly above the tasting room, as well as an events room. The winners here are their steel-aged Chardonnay and their Merlot. An overhang outside the tasting room protects visitors from the elements.

Off Business route 7, between Leesburg and the tiny town of Hamilton, lies Casanel Vineyards, named after Casey and Nelson, the owners of this irresistible location. The first winery we've been to with not only a gazebo, but a gazebo in the middle of a pond, Casanel is currently developing a new tasting room to host the limos and buses, to keep them separate from the couples and lone boozers who visit the original, small tasting room. For such a small operation, we were amazed at the number of Award Winning wines here; favorites are the reds--their Cabernet Sauvignon and their Norton.

Not far from the intersection of route 7 and route 9 lies Village Winery, near the historic village of Waterford. Sheep and goats may welcome you as you drive into the gravel parking lot. This is the winery of the Elderberry: Wine, syrup, even chocolate. Elderberry contains natural antitoxins and makes a surprisingly good wine. Traditional fruit wines include a Cab Franc and Merlot blend, a Cab Franc rosé, and a delicious apple wine. This is probably the most rustic spot in Loudoun County - further proof that you don't have to venture far from DC for country roads and wineries.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring 2011 Weekend Winery Jaunt # 2 -- The 211 Trail

U.S. highway 211 has been a weekend getaway favorite of the blogmasters and hundreds of other longtime Northern VA residents for decades.

Clear the town of Warrenton, which has unfortunately become just as gridlocked as Gainesville, Haymarket, Manassas and other "exurb" hotspots, make that right turn at the Howard Johnson's (last renovation: 1978) on the Warrenton bypass onto U.S. 211 and drive drive drive……antique shopping and country store hopping for apple cider in Sperryville; cavern exploring in Luray; battlefield exploring in New Market---U.S. 211 will take you to all of these spots, not to mention the Panorama entry of Skyline Drive (and if you’re a real native of northern Virginia, you will recall the wonderful, but sadly closed, restaurant that used to exist here). Now there is another reason to daytrip on this highway--wineries! Several are clustered along highway 211, and as the case with all Virginia wineries, each one has a distinct look, feel and vino list.

After making that right turn in Warrenton, drive a quick eight miles and you'll arrive at the first spot: Unicorn Winery. Partake in their perfect spring and summer offerings (light wines, plus a bold Cab Franc and Meritage), say hi to their laid back dog "Franc," and sit by the pond, at a picnic table or on their deck. This location is only about half a mile from the main road, but feels a hundred miles away from any kind of civilization.

Turn back on to highway 211, and drive a few short miles further west, and make a left into Gray Ghost Vineyards. This spot has a slicker, more "events driven" feel to it than Unicorn, but the wines are stellar. And they make a lot of it here; you may have seen their wines at supermarkets in the area. Whites were the favorites of the blogmasters here, particularly the Vidal Blanc and Victorian White. Their deck overlooks the vineyards and the tasting room is a favorite for year-long residents of South Wales and other nearby communities.

Continuing on westbound 211, Narmada Winery is the next stop. The owners are from India and have wonderfully merged their Indian heritage with nearly every element of this winery, including the food pairings. "Reflection" and "Midnight" are two Chambourcin blends that proudly show off the uniqueness of this grape. The tasting room is large but intimate, and the deck overlooks the foothills. You could be tempted to stay at Narmada for the rest of the day, but push on.....

...To Gadino Cellars. Explore India, and then a bit of Italy, in one afternoon! Gadino Cellars keeps it all in the family, and after just one visit, you will feel like part of the family there. They make a lot of wine here, and all are very good, especially their Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon. They offer two nicely priced table wines, a white (Sunset) and a rosé(Moonrise), which are great summer wines. Trees and rolling hills surround the tasting room, further proof that despite the proximity to other wineries, no two wineries have the same view.

If you still have the energy, a designated driver, and time has not run out, Sharp Rock Vineyards, DuCard Vineyards (discussed in the previous blog entry), and Wisteria Vineyard, past Luray (near the town of Stanley), are not far from Gadino Cellars.

And as an added plus, you may run into Harley riders going to, or coming from, Skyline Drive on this trail. Riders have become quite the wine fans over the past few years; twelve packs of Schlitz and Pabst have been replaced with cold bottles of Virginia's finest.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The New Kids in Town

....And the wineries keep coming. Virginia now has over 170 wineries, with more coming every year. Entrepreneurs are growing grapes and opening wineries in nearly every corner of the Commonwealth.

Here are a few "new kids" that are worth a visit!

DuCard Vineyards: Open since last summer, DuCard Vineyards has been getting a good amount of publicity due to their solar-powered tasting room. Located a stone's throw away from Sharp Rock Vineyards, between Sperryville, VA and Madison, VA, the two wineries in the shadow of Old Rag Mountain make a great "daycation." Their Popham Run Bordeaux Blend and two Viogniers are winners.
DuCard Vineyards

North Gate Vineyard: North Gate's wines have been available in a few Loudoun County tasting rooms (Fabbioli Cellars, Notaviva Vineyards) for a few years now, as well as Magnolia's at the Mill restaurant in Purcellville. Their tasting room, another in a series of "eco friendly" locations for Virginia, opened in early Spring 2011, lies between Purcellville and Hillsboro, in western Loudoun County. All wines, especially the whites, are fantastic. Try that apple wine. But watch yourself--this apple wine has a KICK (13.5% alcohol!)
North Gate Vineyard

Hume Vineyards: If you want to see a vineyard prior to planting, visit Hume Vineyards between now and early May 2011. Hume is a village close to Philip Carter Vineyards and the Marriott Ranch Resort, southeast of Front Royal. Hume Vineyards partnered with popular Breaux Vineyards and are making wines full of promise--including a 15% chambourcin red that is "not for the timid" (great description!)
Hume Vineyards

Desert Rose Vineyards: Near another popular Front Royal-area winery, Rappahannock Cellars, and nearly across the road from the troubled (and currently defunct) Oasis Vineyards, Desert Rose started (and continues to operate) as a ranch, complete with rare and beautiful horses on the premises. The owner is originally from Eastern Oregon desert country, and the place has a quirky "cowboy" theme. The wines are fine to excellent: try their "R.E.D" ("Retired and Extremely Dangerous"--as in the recent Bruce Willis movie). Ask the owner about the whimsical pictures on the bottles.
Desert Rose Vineyards

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery: Between the popular (and busier) Bluemont and Veramar Vineyards on Route 7 between Leesburg and Winchester lies Twin Oaks Tavern, which was a tavern that dated back to post Civil War 19th Century. The original road sign can be found in the rustic and utterly charming tasting room. Decks with umbrellas overlook the hill below and mountains above. Their wines are tasty and unusual. The chardonnay aged in glass lined barrels is perhaps the most unique chard you will taste.
Twin Oaks Tavern Vineyards

Visit the New Kids in Town and tell 'em Virginia Wine Notebook (and Don, Glenn and Joe) sent you!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring 2011 Winery Weekend Jaunt # 1 – The Charlottesville Quadrant

Winter is over – at least that’s what the calendar says. Mother Nature’s sense of humor has not been appreciated over the past few weeks--78 degrees and sunny one day, 45 degrees, windy and cold, the next day. But we try to stay optimistic when we talk about Virginia wine. And there’s nothing better than thinking about relaxing on a porch or patio, sipping the Commonwealth’s finest offerings, after meeting some fascinating people (winery staff, and your fellow tasters).

Forget the trip to Florida or New York City this spring; stay in Virginia and thrust yourself into Vavinoland! This month, the blogmasters will map out three weekend jaunt/wine trail ideas for readers, all offering the best in the state’s vintages, scenic backdrops, and history.

Charlottesville, or the Monticello AVA as the area prefers to be dubbed, is the heart of Virginia wine country. It makes sense as Thomas Jefferson dabbled (unsuccessfully—-he did have a pretty full plate in the late 18th Century…) with vineyards. Thomas Jefferson is the father of Virginia wine, and American wine in general. And you can visit wineries a stone’s throw away from Monticello and savor what Jefferson only dreamed of. If only Bill or Ted could fire that phone booth up and whisk Jefferson to Charlottesville, 2011. The man would be surprised and honored that his vision has spawned 170 (and counting) wineries in his beloved state.

As a weekend trip to winery country, Charlottesville works beautifully for both the wine newbie, and the seasoned taster. There are so many wineries in this part of the state that a week is not even enough time to visit them all, let alone a two day “daycation.”

The Charlottesville wine region can be sliced into four “quadrants,” and your trek begins with the decision on what quadrant to visit. We’re here to help you with that decision. Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest. The city of Charlottesville lies in the middle of the quadrant, and you’ll find an abundance of hotels, motels, resorts, and B&Bs within city limits and a few miles away, dotted along Interstate 64 or U.S. 29. After dissecting the quadrants, we’ll provide the links to the spotlighted winery websites, so no note taking needed!

NORTHEAST: These wineries lie between the Orange/Barboursville area and Charlottesville. U.S. highway 15 is a better alternative to the area, as it’s not nearly as congested as U.S. 29 (which turns into a parking lot north of Charlottesville). Two of Virginia’s most famous wineries lie in this quadrant: Barboursville and Horton. Both locations have been making wine for decades and offer something for everyone. But don’t overlook nearby Sweely Estate Winery, near Madison—-this winery is highly impressive, and even boasts a conference center. The wine is good too, in particular the lower-priced “Wolftown” options. Burnley Vineyards has been open since the mid 70s, and the tasting room and back room look like they haven’t been updated since, but that (plus their large and impressively priced wine selection) are the charms of Burnley. They even have a cabin rental, if you decide to drop anchor. Keswick Vineyards, between Gordonsville and Interstate 64, offers an award-winning Viognier aged in steel that is one of the best Viogniers we've had. If you feel like driving another 30 minutes down I-64, on the way to Richmond, Cooper Vineyards, with their brand new LEED-certified tasting room (the only one on the east coast), sits in the Piedmont lowlands, before the foothills of the Blue Ridge, and makes one of the best Nortons in the state.

SOUTHEAST: Jefferson Vineyards, less than a mile from Monticello itself, has been making fine wines for years. The winery that Dave (Matthews) built, Blenheim Vineyards, is not far from Jefferson Vineyards. Dave himself designed the A-frame like tasting room, and has been known to pop in unexpectedly. But the wine stands alone as fantastic and affordable. Further down Virginia route 20, First Colony Winery backs up against an enchanting (or is that enchanted?) forest and boasts a Tannat (a bold red) and a dry rosé that are to-die-for good. Cutting over to route 29, you’ll encounter Sugarleaf Vineyards, whose winemaker, Dan Neumeister, sadly passed last year (a victim of a motorcycle accident), but whose vintages were fine enough to be served in the White House. Travel further west, and Cardinal Point Winery, not the most glamorous spots (the tasting room is inside a metal building), awaits. Don’t let the modest dwellings fool you—-Cardinal Point makes fantastic “summer wines”: Dry and semi-dry whites, some light reds, and a killer rosé.

SOUTHWEST: Start your trip on the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, at Wintergreen Winery. Situated on the banks of the Rockfish River, Wintergreen emphasis nature and air – the tall mountains surround you, and every wine on the list is a winner. Further down Virginia route 6, DelFosse Vineyards is a highly impressive operation at the end of a winding dirt road that features a sit-down tasting process, where their fine wines are matched with a variety of cheeses and meats. Returning northbound on route 6, Flying Fox Vineyards hugs the side of the road with a deceptive small tasting cottage, and nicely priced, very drinkable light whites, light reds, and bold reds. Next stop: Afton Mountain Vineyards, which boasts one of the most spectacular views in the state and one of the few Pinot Noirs in the Commonwealth. The Southwest jaunt is wrapped up with a visit to Pollak Vineyards, in the valley, surrounded by mountains, and featuring a beguiling pond and sleek tasting room.

NORTHWEST: King Family Vineyards is one of the most famous operations in the area, offering not only award-winning wines, but polo matches during the warm weekends of the summer. Further west, on the way to Staunton, Barren Ridge Vineyards cropped up from an old apple orchard and offers a rustic-yet-modern tasting room straight out of the Pacific Northwest. Heading back to northwest Charlottesville, White Hall Vineyards features wines that you may have seen in supermarkets in Northern Virginia; they know what they’re doing here, and no visit to the area is complete without a sip of their “not as sweet as you’d think” Gewurztraminer. The final stop for this trek would be Stone Mountain Vineyards, perched so high in the mountains that a bear may walk in front of you (one did, along with her cub, on the blogmaster’s last visit). On the Stone Mountain deck, take a deep breath, savor their delicious Pinot Grigio, and admire the craftsmanship of the tasting building. No weddings here – where would guests sleep after a day of Blue Ridge Mountain High?

Virginia Wine Country begins in Charlottesville. Pick a quadrant, and plan your trip today!