Monday, June 17, 2013

Down in the Valley: Part II

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. Winchester-area wineries were featured in a previous blog. On the southern end of the valley lies Lexington.

Lexington (and its nearby sister town, Buena Vista), is home to several colleges and universities (including Washington & Lee and Virginia Military Institute), as well as one of the best wine stores in the state (Uncorked, in downtown Buena Vista). As the case with many small Virginia towns, Lexington is rich in history. Tour the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington for a fascinating glimpse into the life of the Civil War figure.

Lexington is smaller than Staunton or Winchester, so you can walk from one end of the town to the other in an hour (maybe longer if you visit one of the many unique shops). The proximity of the Natural Bridge, as well as the junction of two major Interstates (81 and 64), make Lexington a very vibrant town, despite its small size.

And of course there are wineries – to the southwest, northwest, and right off the Interstate. Rockbridge Vineyard, named after the aforementioned Natural Bridge (which recently was posted “For Sale”), is located about 2 minutes from the I-81 off ramp north of Lexington, but seems like a million miles away. The tasting room is housed inside a large barn, which doubles as the winery’s events center. One of the oldest wineries in the state, Rockbridge has something for everyone – from bone dry (they are one of the few Virginia locations offering a Pinot Noir; the elevation here is suitable for Miles’ favorite wine); to semi-dry (the relatively unknown, at least for the Commonwealth, Vignoles, with its notes of kiwi and macadamia nuts); to sweet (and delicious when chilled)—Jeremiah’s Blush, perhaps their most popular wine (a blend of Concord—another grape not very common in Virginia, and Vidal Blanc).

Not far from Rockbridge (and reachable via local country roads, to minimize your time on the Interstate), Lexington Valley Vineyard specializes in Norton, one of the signature Virginia reds. It’s no surprise that the owners hail from Missouri, which surpasses Virginia in Norton winemaking. Even those who are lukewarm towards the eccentric Norton grape will find something to enjoy here. The varietals are more on the sweet side, which would be perfect for hot summer months: Traminette (semi-dry), Vidal Blanc, and a rare (for the state) Catawba, a musky version of Concord. Their rosé made from their Norton is incredible, slightly spicy to offset the semi-sweetness. This is a very intimate winery, and in fact is only open by appointment. But they are definitely worth a visit and the prices are incredibly good.

Southwest of Lexington, high in the Alleghenies, lies Blue Ridge Vineyard, another location with rustic appeal, rolling hills on all sides, and wines that are unique compared to the rest of the state. As the case with the other wineries featured, options are more on the sweet side of the scale. In fact we found the wines at these three locations had more in common with the Finger Lakes offerings than the Commonwealth. Blue Ridge offers Riesling, Traminette, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and several sweet table wines. Despite our preference to dry wines, there’s something about the mountains and the valleys that cry out for off-dry and sweeter options. Blue Ridge, like Rockbridge, conducts its (very) informal tasting in an old barn, and there are acres upon acres of land to spread out. You are well rewarded with room to move about when you visit these harder-to-find VAVINO spots.

After your winery visits, Lexington offers a number of fine restaurants. And you can always catch a movie at the drive in theater on the highway leading to Natural Bridge.

Rockbridge Vineyard
Lexington Valley Vineyard
Blue Ridge Vineyard

Other wineries relatively close to Lexington:

Virginia Mountain Vineyards (near Fincastle, about 15 minutes from Blue Ridge Vineyard)
Barren Ridge Vineyards (between Staunton and Waynesboro)
Ox-Eye Vineyards (downtown Staunton)

Visit Rockbridge Vineyard now, via a videoclip:

Part III will take us to the middle of the valley: Harrisonburg/New Market

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