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.

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