A cursory glance at the Yelp reviews of several Virginia wineries is revealing. You can discover so much about not only the wineries, but about the people who write the reviews.
Four star points to one reviewer, such as the lack of a live band or the rustic interior of a tasting room, may be one star points to another. Some people are totally turned off by corporate slickness, while others embrace it.
The blogmasters like to compare the winery experience to the personalities of a dog and a cat: Sometimes we want to be noticed in the middle of a big party (dog), and other times we want a quieter, more intimate experience (cat). Most humans have both dog and cat traits to their personalities (although devout cat haters will deny this), and there are plenty of Virginia wineries that satisfy both personality traits.
We will focus on the wineries in the Charlottesville (aka Virginia’s Napa) area for this study. Read the descriptions, visit the wineries, and tell us if you agree with the analysis. We’ll start with the slick spots, move to the other side of the spectrum and review some intimate spots, and then offer a few suggestions that combine slickness with intimacy (which is harder than it sounds).
We call it "the Smithsonian of Virginia wineries." Barboursville put this tiny village north of Charlottesville on the map, along with its famed ruins. They've been making wine since 1976 (third oldest winery in Virginia), and Luca Paschina is a VA Vino star - consistently voted one of the best winemakers in the state, and the East Coast. One sip of their famed Octagon red, and you'll be a fan. But the place is touristy - the crowds at the multiple tasting bars tend to be three rows deep on weekend days. And the restaurant on the premises, as good as it is, doesn't quell the slickness factor that much. Visit during the week, if you can. Or try their wines at numerous restaurants in the state (they also sell them at numerous supermarkets in the state, as well as the stray gas station).
A favorite in the Monticello AVA, Veritas adds a slightly rustic touch, but driving up the impressive driveway to this winery is proof positive that they move wine here. (Slick is not necessarily a five letter word to the blogmasters, despite the tone of this entry). The tasting room has a library quality to it, complete with books and sofas. The wines are rock solid, particularly their Viognier and Claret (red blend). Ample places to sit outside, and the tasting room is always buzzing.
King Family Vineyards
Most Virginia wineries don't boast about their polo field and helicopter used to keep bonfire heat circulating during early spring nights (to prevent freezing). King Family is an institution in the Monticello AVA, and they have the medals to show for it. Rosé may be an unusual choice but our favorite wine here is just that: Crosé (a combinations of the words 'rosé' and the nearby town of Crozet). This is a fantastic dry Merlot-based rosé that is probably the best of its kind in the state. Napa-esque wine in a Southern gentleman-like setting. Definitely worth a visit.
A drive to this spot off U.S. highway 29 is deceiving: The gravel road is long, narrow and twisty. Skunks, chipmunks and box turtles will move out of your way. Expecting to see a small cabin amidst rolling meadows and foothills, you come across a scene that seems more fitting for southern France (it's no coincidence that the owner is French). Their vineyards are terraced, one of the few vineyards in the Commonwealth employing this technique. Mountain trails surround the property, and there's a 100 year old log cabin, fully furnished, that you can reserve for the night (or week). As for the wines, Chardonnay and "Cuvée Laurent," a blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, are the stand outs here.
You really can't go wrong with any winery in the Monticello AVA (Charlottesville/Waynesboro). If big and eye-catching is not your thing, Part 2 of this series will provide some quaint, rustic alternatives.