Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three Great Views: Looking Down

It's always a tough call when we visit the mountain wineries - views looking down, or views looking up (that is, being on top of a mountain, or in a valley).

Of course the wine is the primary draw at these locations. You will be hard pressed to find a Virginia winery that doesn't have at least one wine to your liking, unless you crave nothing but high alcohol Pinot Noirs prominently found in Sonoma, or sweet table wines commonly found in the front of grocery stores, usually with flip flops or slices of cake on the labels.

Last month, the blogmasters featured three wineries with views looking up (Pollak, King Family, and Wintergreen). This month we feature three locations with views looking down. A winery high in the mountains is not hard to find in the Commonwealth. Several exist along the I-66 corridor on the way to Front Royal. But the three that made the final cut are special for other reasons beyond the breathtaking views.

Great Views Looking Down

Stone Mountain Vineyards, northwest of Charlottesville, has a well-known slogan: "Taste the elevation." At 1700 feet above sea level, this location earns bragging rights as the highest vineyard in the state (and possibly the east coast). The road leading up to the winery is an event in itself. Watch for bears crossing! And when another car comes down the road, be prepared to pull over along cliffs that are not protected by barriers. Those suffering from vertigo may be a bit challenged, but the rewards are well worth it. The winery itself is an impressive building perched over the valley and resembles a ski chalet, on the outside and inside. White varietals are the star wines here, particularly their Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio (altitude suits these whites well). The Pinot Grigio is the traditional Italian dry style, with notes of honeydew melon and grass. The Rausse family (well known Virginia wine pioneer Gabriele and his son Peter) are the vineyard consultant and winemaker, respectively, guaranteeing the wines at Stone Mountain will be as special as the view and location.

Looking down from Stone Mountain's winery:

Closer to the Washington DC area, Bluemont Vineyard sits at 951 feet and affords a view of the landscape between the village of Bluemont (off route 7 in far western Loudoun County) and Reston/Tysons Corner. On a clear day you can see the skyscrapers of Reston Town Center and Tysons Corner, and with a pair of binoculars (or very good eyesight), you can see the tip of the Washington Monument. The winery is always buzzing with activity, but their multi decked tasting building has room for everyone. Bluemont is a working farm (you can visit the orchard side of the family on your way back down the steep hill). Rooster calls compete with the live bands every weekend. The wines are good "entry level" wines (many on the sweet side) for those just getting started with Virginia wine (and wine in general) exploration. Keeping with the farm theme, many wines are named after barnyard animals. With the exception of their fruit wines, named after the fruits themselves: The Strawberry, The Blackberry, and by far the most interesting wine here, The Peach, a 50/50 blend of Peach Wine and Rkatsiteli, a varietal from Georgia - Russia, not the state - that is gaining traction in Virginia.

View from Bluemont Vineyard, from the lower level of the winery:

One the most interesting wineries in the state, boasting a view so close to the mountains that you feel you can touch them, Chester Gap Cellars, near Front Royal, started as an experiment for the winery owners. Owner/winemaker Bernd Jung, a native of Germany, is a perfectionist who willfully admits that he's made some mistakes, as some of the most serious winemakers in the relatively difficult state (for wineries) of Virginia have confessed. His wines are higher in alcohol content than most in the state, some approaching 17% in alcohol content. Viognier is his specialty and depending on when you visit, you could be offered up to three different vintages and/or clone varieties of the signature Virginia white. The tasting room is rather bare bones, not much in the way of indoor seating, and due to the small size of the winery, no buses or limos are allowed. However this is a great "lesser known" spot and the view is breathtaking.

View from Chester Gap's deck:

As the case with wineries in the valleys, many other locations in Virginia offer fantastic views from the mountains and hilltops. Other favorites are listed below the three wineries spotlighted today:

Winery URLs:
Stone Mountain Vineyards
Bluemont Vineyard
Chester Gap Cellars

Other great views looking down:
Twin Oaks Tavern Winery
Willowcroft Farm Vineyards
Delaplane Cellars
Fox Meadow Winery
Wolf Gap Vineyards

Friday, September 13, 2013

Virginia Wineries: Kid Stuff?

The blogmasters are often perplexed by the number of kids (and even babies) we've seen in winery tasting rooms across the state. Apparently many wine lovers opt not to get sitters for the day and bring their charges to the vineyards.

Now we love kids and babies. But are wineries really an appropriate place to bring them? These are tasting rooms - not Chuck E. Cheese. But as we are an upbeat blog, we will look at this with the glass half full: Babysitters were not available and the couple/family decided, at last minute, to forgo the trip to Kings Dominion or Water Country USA in favor of the grapes.

This all said, some wineries in the Commonwealth are more kid/baby friendly than others (usually these same wineries are dog-friendly, which could be the topic of a different blog post). And there are other locations in the state we urge families to avoid.

We have to reflect on the alcohol consumption laws in the United States. They seem somewhat backwards to us--you can join the military at age 17 and possibly die for your country, but you can't legally take a sip of wine or beer until you're 21? Something doesn't seem quite right here. In France and Germany, legal age to consume beer and wine is 16. So perhaps the wineries friendly to young ones are trying to tell the powers that be something.

Here are several wineries in Virginia that will have massive appeal to kids (moreso than other wineries):

Three Fox Vineyards: This winery is like kid heaven. Two big hills (one leading to a creek and the other leading to their "Table in the Sky," that feels like you're on top of the world). Lawn games. Hammocks by the creek. The winery is very kid (and dog) friendly and tastings are done outside as well as inside during warmer months.

Barrel Oak Winery: Dogs. A loft area upstairs with a TV that plays kids' movies. Dogs. Lots of space outside to run around. Dogs. Five minutes away from Three Fox, so you can make a day of it. Dogs. Live entertainment every weekend. A true festival feeling. Dogs.

Wisteria Vineyard: The look and feel of a working farm, complete with free roaming animals (sheep, roosters, domestic ducks). Another large property with a creek and a nature trail. Mountain views. Definitely a good family "daycation" spot.

Bluemont Vineyard: See Wisteria Vineyard.

Old House Vineyards: A good all season winery for the family. Especially if your kids are into chess and checkers. They will be fascinated by the pond with the bridge and island.

Sharp Rock Vineyards: A creek where amateur fishing and wading is encouraged.

Village Winery: In addition to wine, chocolate syrups are offered. And the kids will love the rustic farm feel of this spot, minutes from the historic village of Waterford.

As for wineries in the state that are not too fond of young ones, we won't mention them here - again, positive thoughts. But we strongly suggest you check a winery website very clearly before venturing to an unfamiliar place, if you plan on bringing your kids. For families, nothing is more frustrating than driving into the heart of Vavino country only to be welcomed by a "No One Under 21 Admitted" sign.

And please keep your kids under control while in the tasting room. Remember, this is a winery. Not a daycare center!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Loudoun County has long been a microcosm for the vineyard and winery explosion in the state - in 2013 alone, ten new wineries have either opened or are expected to open. 868 Estate Vineyards, with vines planted in 2012, resides on the same property in the northern part of the county as the Grandale Restaurant, which has been open since 2005. Grandale is well-known throughout the county as being one of the finest farm to table restaurants in the area, and the tasting room across the lot from the restaurant is a perfect way to start (or finish) a dining experience.

The 868 Estate Vineyard property boasts the highest elevation in the valley between the Short Hills and Blue Ridge mountain ranges at 868 feet, hence its name. As of this post, their tasting room offers wines from other parts of the state (and country), as their own grapes mature (this practice is also underway at Little Washington Winery, in Washington, VA). Although we were a little disappointed that 868 didn't have many wines of their own yet, we are expecting great things from this location. Its proximity to Breaux Vineyards makes it an excellent stop on the way to (or back from) that well-known spot.

Of the wines offered by 868, the Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc were the stand outs - both recent medal winners at the 2013 Eastern Wine Competition. These are 2010 vintages, so the winemakers brought the grapes in from other nearby vineyards. Some may think this winery opened prematurely, but with the Virginia winery boom in full swing, the location can only improve with time.

One thing we found refreshing were the hours of operation - open until 7 PM on the weekend. This probably stems from their location next to a popular restaurant. However we would love to see other Virginia spots keep their doors open until at least 6:30 to 7, at least on the weekends. The model of opening up at 10 AM and closing at 5 may work in California, but makes little sense for Virginia.

We like to think of wineries like 868 and Little Washington as special locations where the entire experience is based on local, organic food (868) and offerings from other states (Little Washington), in addition to Virginia wine. The more selections imbibers have in the Commonwealth, the better for the customer, the tasting room, and the industry.

Winery URL:
868 Estate Vineyards