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....