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. Parts 1 and 2 reviewed “Slick” and “Intimate,” respectively. Now we will offer a few suggestions that combine slickness with intimacy:
White Hall Vineyards
White Hall is one of the oldest vineyards in the region, and the state (open to the public since 1990). Their wines are sold in several stores in the state, but what is surprising is how low-key the winery is. Don't come to White Hall expecting a Barboursville or Prince Michel experience. Tall oak trees surround the impressive Sonoma-style tasting and events building. The tastings are intimate and generous - they have a lot of very good to excellent choices here. Two stand out: Their Gewürztraminer, dry and the best in the state; and their Cab Sauv, bold and jammy, and a steal at $12 a bottle. They move a lot of wine here (and sell online as well), but you'd never know it after enjoying such a relaxed tasting.
About five minutes down the road from White Hall lies Stinson, which opened in 2011 and has already become a Monticello AVA favorite (based on the line of cars parking along its driveway on December 15, word has definitely gotten out!) Another winery in the state practicing sustainable methods, Stinson set up their tasting room to resemble a general store (think Ike Godsey; we're in Virginia, after all!) Being a newer winery compared to White Hall, most likely with start up costs to recover, the prices here are a little more, but the wines are well worth them (the prices are still lower on the average than locations in Northern Virginia). Not being a huge fan of sweeter wines, we were truly knocked out by their Sauvignon Blanc, with notes of melon and grapefruit. On the red side, try the red blend (Sugar Hollow Red), a terrific, dry pasta wine.
Barren Ridge Vineyards
On the road leading towards Staunton, a short drive from Waynesboro, Barren Ridge is another perfect merging of the formal and the intimate. The tasting room resembles a ski chalet, and the fire is always aglow during the winter months. Their signature wine must be their Touriga, which is the national grape of Portugal. Low in tannins and high in fruit forward character, the wine is a perfect compliment to holiday turkeys. Another red favorite is the "Red Barren," an off dry blend of Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, Touriga, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Try it chilled. As for the whites, we always go for their Viognier, a fine representative of the state white, with notes of pineapple.
On the other side of the Monticello AVA lies Keswick, between the Charlottesville area and the charming town of Gordonsville. Keswick has already made a name for itself in the state (and country) with its numerous awards. Their 2009 Viognier was bar none the best Viognier we've ever experienced; later vintages are fine too, but that 2009 vintage was one for the record books, proof that the right combination of soil, weather, blending and old fashioned attention to detail can result in something magnificent. The courtyard outside the tasting room, overlooking the hills and 100 year old trees, is perfect for warmer months, but the tasting room promises a warm experience, as one of the members of the Schornberg family most likely will be pouring. Besides the Viognier, their Cab Sauv simply tagged "Pleasure" is the best red on the list, with medium bodied balance and notes of cherry and plum.
Slick, rustic, and everything in between - like its sisters in California and New York, the wineries in Virginia offer something for every taste, in all senses of the word.