The blogmasters have visited 144 Virginia wineries since beginning our VAVINO odyssey in 2002, and before creating this blog and our Facebook account, we kept track of each winery via EXCEL. A spreadsheet, which we still maintain, listing the wineries and scoring each one on a scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent) for several categories. We rarely give scores of 1, but there have been a few. Some wineries excel at wine, but fail at nearly everything else. And others excel at being venues for live acts, gift shops, highly slick places, but fail on the wine. So in other words, we rate more than the wine. In Virginia, it's all about the full experience.
The categories: Wine Quality; Indoor Set Up; Outdoor Set Up; Friendly Factor; Price; Busy Factor; View. The scores are then averaged to allow for rankings. And then additional points (half an extra point) are given if the winery has a cat or cats, and if the winery has a fireplace, or outdoor firepits, that they use (wood burning or gas for the fireplaces).
Over the past year, we've visited and re-visited many wineries, and took a hard look at our categories, and scored and re-scored. The rankings are now in. The Top Five (mean score in parenthesis). If the mean score is over 5, that means the winery received extra points for having cats and/or a fireplace/firepit:
1. First Colony Winery (5.64)
First Colony has long been our favorite, for a variety of reasons. First off, the wine is good to excellent: Every option. The staff are extremely friendly and follow the "you can stay after we lock up" rule (wineries that allow visitors to linger outside after they close for the day). It's amazing to us how many wineries kick their guests out, even if the winery has outdoor seating and doesn't require a visit inside after they lock up (this rule generally works better for men than women, of course.....) The view from the deck is lush forest, and there are many options for outdoor seating. Favorite wines: Merlot, Meritage and their Rosé.
2. North Mountain Vineyard (5.29)
At the top of the Shenandoah Valley, North Mountain Vineyards has a "Story Book Land" building housing its tasting room and guest rooms - it's irresistible in cold months, and even harder to leave in the warmer months. There is a lot of outdoor space here, including a large deck overlooking the vineyards. They have a large variety of wines, from dry to semi-dry to sweets to fruit wines (being so close to Winchester, they must have an apple wine - and it's delicious). Favorite wines: Chambourcin, Tom's Brook Red (table red), and that apple wine.
3. Pollak Vineyards (5.21)
Pollak Vineyards is only a few years old, but it's become one of our favorites because they're focused on creating quality wine (their wines are already major award winners), while keeping guests happy with friendly tastings, a bright and airy tasting room, a fireplace (they allow guests to maintain the fire in the winter and keep the logs close at hand), wonderful mountain views from a valley, and a charming pond. Favorite wines: Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc.
4. West Wind Farm Vineyard (5.14)
This great winery is located in Southwest Virginia, on the highway between the Wytheville area and Charlotte, NC. This is real southern hospitality, and the blogmasters were treated to extra tastings when we told them how far we had driven to visit them. The wines - incredibly good, crisp and refreshing. The rolling hills and quietness of the landscape instantly reduced high blood pressure. You never know how stressfull northern Virginia is until you visit these faraway destinations. Favorite wines: Riesling, Galena Creek Red (blend), Cabernet Sauvignon
5. Fincastle Vineyard (5.07)
A little closer to DC than West Wind Farm Vineyard, but still not feasible for just a day trip (drop anchor at a hotel or motel in nearby Roanoke), Fincastle Vineyard is what we call "the Waltons winery." The house that doubles as a B&B and tasting room is right out of the Waltons. And yes, they have a porch for sipping overlooking the fields and vineyards. The owners make you feel like part of the family. Another great Virginia wine getaway - and the wines are fine too. Favorite wines: Cab Franc, Chardonnay, and their Rosé.
"Coulda been a contenda": So many wineries in Virginia, so many contenders. Here are three that nearly made the Top Five: Fox Meadow Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards, and Old House Vineyards .
These are the eight wineries that the blogmasters find themselves heading towards even during the dead of winter. But in regards to Virginia, remember what George Martin said when he tried to pick his favorite Beatles songs: "They're all pretty good." The same applies to Virginia wineries.