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 cafés 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……

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