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!