Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wining and Beering on Route 151

By now, everyone with even a passing interest in the Virginia wine scene knows that Charlottesville is Virginia's Napa. When visiting the home of the Cavaliers, it's best to select a trail or "loop" that maximizes your winery hopping, and minimizes your searching, as the wineries are not exactly next to each other. Route 151 is a Virginia highway that runs immediately south of Charlottesville. And in addition to wineries, this highway offers a beer trail as well.

Wine or craft beer - what's a boozer to do? Find a DD and thrust yourself into Nelson County. To get there, make your way to U.S. highway 250, which runs parallel with I-64. Near Crozet (a small town between Charlottesville and Waynesboro), you'll find the first stop: King Family Vineyards. This is one of the area's original vineyards, and is featured quite prominently in the documentary on the Virginia wine scene, "Vintage: The Winemaker's Year." And King Family is the only Virginia winery with its own polo field. It's a little too cold for polo now, but make a note for when spring arrives.

Further west on highway 250, you'll arrive at a right turn for one of our very favorites in the state, and also featured in the "The Winemaker's Year": Pollak Vineyards. This is a great year-round spot, with a roaring fireplace that the owners encourage visitors to tend to. And the wine is superb.

Two wineries, and you haven't even hit State Highway 151 yet! You can get to 151 two ways: An immediate turn off route 250, or keep driving on highway 250 towards Waynesboro and make the left turn onto state route 6 (give your GPS a real workout). State route 6 will take you past Afton Mountain Vineyards, which boasts one of the best views in the state and a new Mediterranean styled tasting building. Further down the road, Veritas Vineyard is another featured in "The Winemaker's Year," and is well known throughout the state due their presence at festivals.

About two miles past Veritas, state route 6 crosses 151. Keep going straight on route 6 (confused yet?) and hit Cardinal Point Vineyards, which their marketing material claims as "the most unpretentious winery in the state." The metal building tasting room is certainly proof of that. They don't have a lot of indoor seating options but their wine is unique enough (especially the whites) that you should stop for a tasting.

Follow the signs back to route 6 and take the left turn onto state highway 151. Finally you're on the highway this blog entry is named for. And with good reason - you will be driving for about 10 miles before arriving at the next stop: Flying Fox Vineyard, which will be on the right side. Try the Trio, their award-winning red blend.

Eventually routes 151 and routes 6 (which share the road between Cardinal Point and the next winery stop--Hilltop Berry Farm and Winery) split. Hilltop Berry Farm makes fruit wines and mead. Definitely a unique option on the 151 trail and the fruit wines are priced lower than grape wines, so you can load up on them. Not every wine is sweet - enjoy their generous tastings and pick a few for the road.

The final winery stop is further south on 151, towards Wintergreen Resort. The winery is aptly named Wintergreen Winery, and like Afton Mountain Vineyards, expanded recently. Their Black Rock Chardonnay is one of the best chards in the state.

Presuming you are not seeing stars by now (especially if you visited all aforementioned wineries), you will be ready for the beer experience. You passed the beer spots on the way down to Wintergreen. All three of them are unique and offer flights of beer, food, and cozy atmospheres--really, one notch above your basic sports bar, but the views and the friendly people compensate for the sports bar thing.

Devil's Backbone, Wild Wolf and Blue Mountain are the brewpubs, and all are along highway 151. And after Blue Mountain, the northernmost brewpub, if you have the time, you can even visit Starr Hill's facility in nearby Crozet.

We've been saying "too many wineries, not enough time" for years. Now we can add "too many wineries and breweries, and not enough days." To make this trek, we suggest a B&B or hotel stay in nearby Charlottesville, Ivy (home of the Boar's Head Inn) or Waynesboro.

King Family Vineyards
Pollak Vineyards
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Veritas Vineyard
Cardinal Point Vineyard
Flying Fox Vineyard
Hilltop Berry Farm & Winery
Wintergreen Winery

Devil's Backbone Brewery
Wild Wolf Brewing
Blue Mountain Brewery

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wine About the Holidays - Virginia wine online

For those who can't make it to a Virginia winery before Christmas and New Years, we have put together a handy list of wineries that offer online shipping. All wineries ship within Virginia, and some now ship to Maryland (DC and Delaware are not "wine via mail" friendly). Check the websites for other states they ship to. New York, California, Washington, Texas and Illinois have very flexible wine shipping laws.

Some wineries contract their online service with an outfit called "Vino Shipper." Some may find that process easy, but we found the website complicated and it was just another log-in and password to create. We prefer to order directly from the winery.

Shipping costs can be high--try to order at least three bottles (some wineries won't even ship individual bottle orders). Check the websites for specials (like free shipping if you order a case or half case).

Here are ten favorites with a user-friendly online ordering system:

Cardinal Point Winery
Flying Fox Vineyard
Ingleside Vineyards
Keswick Vineyards
King Family Vineyards
Lovingston Winery
Narmada Winery
Rappahannock Cellars
Veramar Vineyards
White Hall Vineyards

Friday, December 2, 2011

5 Perfect Winter Wineries

When it comes to winery touring, spring, summer and fall are usually the preferred months, but don't let the cold and the snow deter you from visiting from December to March. December is particularly inviting since many wineries have "Open Houses" with holiday decorations on full display (but watch out for those that blast Christmas music loudly - the only "grinch" thing about the blogmasters is our dislike of constant Christmas music).

What makes a perfect winter winery? Fireplace. Plain and simple. It's amazing how many winery tasting rooms in the state have a fireplace, yet never seem to use them. We'll spotlight five wineries that not only have a fireplace, but allow guests to maintain the fires (for the guys, it allows us to relive those long ago years of Boy Scouting....)

In order of preference:

1) Pollak Vineyards
When ranking the best of Virginia, Pollak Vineyards almost always finds its way to the top of our lists. This winery does just about everything right - the wine is fantastic, the views (in a valley near Waynesboro) are pure Virginia, the staff is great, and the tasting room large, bright, and airy and never seems congested. This is a four seasons winery. For warmer months, there are ample seats on the wrap-around deck and picnic tables outside. For the winter, they have indoor tables and that all-important fireplace, with the logs a few steps outside the door. Don't overlook this spot on your next trip to Charlottesville.

2) Barren Ridge Vineyards
Not too far from Pollak, on the highway towards Staunton, lies another Notebook favorite, Barren Ridge Vineyards. The tasting room is ski chalet-like; more rustic than Pollak but just as irresistible. The grounds used to be an apple orchard, and we're still waiting for that apple wine!

3) Chateau O'Brien
Not everyone is a fan of this place - just read the Yelp reviews for proof. Some call the winery and winemaker (Howard O'Brien) pretentious, but as far as we're concerned, he has bragging rights. His wines, albeit sort of pricey, are some of the best in the state. He's perched up on a mountainside, the tasting room inside a French-style farm house. And plenty of warm rooms for relaxing. Bonus points for the "no kids" rule. People seem to forget that wineries serve wine. They're not Chuck E Cheese.

4) Old House Vineyards
A tasting room inside a warm old house is just the ticket for any dreary day--rain, snow (if you're dropping anchor in nearby Culpeper, that is...), or winter cold. The tasting bar itself at Old House has a level of close-up intimacy with the staff and owners that makes it unique. Each room in the Old House offers seating, and if you're lucky, the talented winemaker from France will visit with a complimentary tasting of a new creation. One of the state's best locations.

5) Valhalla Vineyards
Overlooking the Roanoke Valley, in the city of Roanoke itself, lies Valhalla Vineyards. Their tasting room features an "indoor/outdoor" chimney for fires in all seasons - we are seeing more tasting rooms with this set up, which is perfect for all season tasting rooms. The wines are good to excellent, and a little unusual. Try their "Gotterdammerung" Cabernet Franc/Merlot blend.


These two locations have fireplaces, but we can't include them in our top five for various reasons. Read on.

Philip Carter Winery
Good wine, large new sitting area near a roaring fire, even a chess board set up if you get the urge....but if we hear those overly dramatic Christmas songs blasting again this year, we may just take our bottles of Cleve (their best red) and run!

Naked Mountain Vineyards
Not one of the blogmasters' favorites. The wine is mediocre, the staff is not very friendly, and they got rid of the previous owner's cats ("the new owners are not cat people so the cats were removed"...say what????) But they do have a nice view and a big open fireplace....