Saturday, May 18, 2013

Down in the Valley: Part I

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is one of the Commonwealth’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), and it’s easy to taste why. The soil drainage from the creeks and rivers leading through the Blue Ridge Mountains (to the east) and the Alleghenies (to the west) suits wineries deep in the valley well, while others in the foothills leading up to the mountain chains benefit from higher elevations that allow for varietals not typically found in Virginia, like Pinot Noir and Riesling.

An easy drive from several states in addition to Virginia (West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania), the Shenandoah Valley is 100 plus miles of incredible views, charming small towns, and farmland. You don’t have to drive very far from the Interstate that bisects the valley (81) to find a quiet utopia here; in fact one of the seven covered bridges in the state is so close to 81 that you can hear trucks in the distance, just far enough not to disturb your quiet piece of heaven.

There are three towns you can designate as your home base, on the north end, south end, and in the middle: Winchester (north), Lexington (south) and Harrisonburg (middle). All three towns have numerous hotels, motels, and B&Bs, not to mention interesting and historical downtown sections.

Winchester is home to Patsy Cline and a famous apple industry. A pedestrian-only outdoor mall resembles the larger one in Charlottesville, and is dotted with restaurants and caf├ęs offering local flavor.

Wineries near Winchester:
Valerie Hill, featured in a previous blog, features a tasting room in a home built in 1807. Open since 2012, Valerie Hill is typical for the Shenandoah wineries – rolling landscape and birds calling in all directions. Standout wines here are their Viognier, Chardonnay, and a Chambourcin/Cab Sauv blend.

North Mountain Vineyards is a blogger favorite, and has a storybook feel to it, right down to their tasting room building. A large deck and countless picnic tables dot the property, one of the original wineries in the region. Our favorite wines here are the Claret (a Meritage-like blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot), Chambourcin, and Apple Wine (this is not far from Winchester, after all).

Shenandoah Vineyards is the oldest winery in the Shenandoah Valley, and is located near Shenandoah Caverns. Their tour is one of the most informative in the state. Best bet wines here are their Chardonnay, Reserve Chambourcin, and Rebel Red, an off-dry they tout as the “red wine for white wine drinkers.”

Wolf Gap Vineyard is named after the Wolf Gap that straddles the Virginia and West Virginia line in the Allegheny mountains. “Wolfgap Willie” is the name adopted by the owner/winemaker, Willard Elledge. Wolfgap Willie is a pure Virginia gentleman who may even take you down to the barrels for a private tasting, if he’s not too busy. Some of our favorites here are the mainstays: Cab Franc, Chambourcin, and Chardonnay. He offered a dry Riesling several years ago, and we hope he has another great vintage of that harder-to-find (in Virginia) wine.

Not far from Wolf Gap is the vineyard whose owner helped Willie get involved in the winemaking craft, Cave Ridge. The tasting building was designed with ski chalet in mind, using woodstain instead of paint. Viognier is the star here: At least three different versions are offered, from stainless steel aged to oak aged. All are delicious and offer distinctively different notes on the palate. The favorite reds is their blend: The bold Fossil Hill Reserve (Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, and Petit Verdot), as well as their “Red Silk” Cab Franc, which is perfectly named.

Other wineries relatively close to Winchester:
Glen Manor Vineyards (near Front Royal, off Skyline Drive)
Veramar Vineyard (directly off route 7)

North Mountain Winery:

Wolf Gap Vineyards:

Covered bridge near Toms Creek, VA:

Part II will take us down to Lexington……

Friday, May 10, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

NEW WINERY SPOTLIGHT 1: Valerie Hill Vineyard

At least 15 new wineries are opening in the state this year, several in Loudoun County alone. For this post, we'd like to introduce you to a winery not in Loudoun, but Frederick County (Winchester area). Valerie Hill Vineyard is the first vineyards/winery to open in Frederick County since Deer Meadow shut its doors about five years ago.

Valerie Hill Vineyard is named after the house where the tasting room and events rooms reside. This house was built in 1807 and one of the family members working behind the tasting bar happily answer any questions about the house, and its history. Phil Newcome and his wife and sons preside over the proceedings. Currently the wines are made at nearby Veramar Vineyards, but the Newcomes have plans to undertake the winemaking in the next year or so.

Phil welcoming us to Valerie Hill:

The current star of their lineup is their 2011 Viognier, crisp and border effervescent. Two chardonnays are offered, one from 2010 (bone dry) and the other from 2011 (a more difficult vintage due to weather, thus more fruit forward). As for the reds, the chambourcin/cab sauv blend was intriguing and hearty. A few sweeter wines are offered as well (including a dessert wine). We can honestly say that we enjoyed the wine here more than the current base of Valerie Hill wines (Veramar Vineyard, which slightly disappointed us during our last visit in December).

The outdoor area borders the Allegheny mountain chain and is peaceful to the max. There is a chimney remaining from an old burned down house on the property which Phil intends to build a patio around.

Several tables and firepits have been set up behind the house, which makes Valerie Hill a great option for warm summer evenings (plus they are open until 9 PM on Friday nights - another big plus!) For cooler or rainy weather, an indoor seating area exists as well.

Now, more about the house. Valerie Hill estate served as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. The Battle of Cedar Creek was fought nearby; this battle was not as famous as other Civil War skirmishes but it did have its share of gory casualties. And many victims were taken to Valerie Hill for treatment, and many died. The stories Phil told us about some of the operations that took place in this house are not for the squeamish and there are actual faint blood stains engrained in the main level hallway floor.

Of course the house is haunted, and a paranormal investigative team from Pennsylvania has visited the house on more than one occasion. It has been speculated that the house has at least three independent hauntings. One stems from Benedict, a child who lived in the house in the early 19th Century but was locked away for most of his life in the attic for being "socially undesirable" (he was mildly retarded).

The staircase leading up to the attic:

Other incidents have occured in the parlor room where many wine tastings are held. In fact the winery dog Buddy is a beagle and border collie mix; those dogs are usually feisty and friendly. But Buddy was high strung and actually growled at us a few times during our visit. Phil explained that Buddy tends to get edgy if he spends too much time in the house.

The parlor and Buddy:

We didn't expect to get a ghost tour during our visit, but it was fascinating. And the wine wasn't too shabby either. The family does not live in the house (for obvious reasons), and to date they have no plans to offer a Bed and a Breakfast inside Valerie Hill (for the daring or skeptical guests). We mentioned the idea to Phil, who pondered it carefully. Maybe some day......

In the meantime, enjoy this historic location with delicious wine.

Valerie Hill Vineyard