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

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