Thursday, November 14, 2013

Monticello AVA Quadrant Series: Northwest

The Monticello AVA is officially "Virginia's Napa." With over 30 wineries (and more to come) surrounding the Charlottesville area, the Monticello AVA contains more vineyards and wineries than most other states. Those who plan to "hit C'Ville for some wine tasting" should plan their trip accordingly. It's very easy to get lost in the world of Jefferson country wineries. For that reason, we've split the AVA into four quadrants. Each quadrant offers the full spectrum of winery experiences: From industrial, working vineyard vibe, to romantic and intimate, to big event focused spots. With so many wineries in the area, even breaking the AVA down into four sections isn't enough spotlight every location. We'll zoom in on our favorites and also suggest the best route.

Avoid route 29. We'll say it again in bold. Avoid route 29. Charlottesville has been experiencing incredible growth over the past fifteen years, and the area of route 29 north of C'Ville resembles Route 7 near Baileys Crossroads mixed with Route 50 through Fairfax on a Thursday afternoon. You get, we trust, the point. Avoid route 29. Coming from Northern Virginia, there are other options, regardless of which quadrant you're visiting. For the Northwest quadrant, we suggest taking route 29 to route 33 in Ruckersville, which is very close to the area where route 29 turns into a parking lot. Follow route 33 west (a right turn if you're coming from the DC area) and then follow country road 810. Your GPS or the most recent Virginia Wine Map will surely help you along.

These back roads run parallel with route 29 and are extremely scenic, in any season. Nearby wineries in the northern section of this quadrant include Stone Mountain Vineyards and Kilaurwen Winery, two locations your bloggers wrote about earlier this year. The roads are quite twisty here, so a designated driver is suggested if you stop by these two wineries (especially to tackle the road leading to and from Stone Mountain).

As you approach the area of the AVA where Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the Charlottesville area, you'll come across four locations that craft some of the great vinos in the state. Mountfair Vineyards, which sits at the base of the Blue Ridge foothills and is accessible by a gravel road, specializes in bold reds. This is an intimate location; they even have a policy regarding live music: Acoustic only. As the barrel room also serves as the guest room and entertainment room, this rule makes sense. The wines are complex and perfect for aging here. Meritage style blends are their specialty. We loved them all, but if we had to pick a favorite, it would be "Intertwined," 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc. And white fans, fear not. They occasionally offer a white from a nearby vineyard, and the owner/winemaker has promised to concentrate on white varietals now that he's perfected the reds.

Next stop, White Hall Vineyards. White Hall is a familiar presence in stores around the area, including Safeway. They are a mass producer. But mass production doesn't mean inferior. This is one of the best mass producers in the Commonwealth, and their wines shine in every vintage, particularly their Gew├╝rztraminer, crisp and flowery with just a touch of sweetness. Their Pinot Gris is French style, with a hint of honeysuckle. Petit Manseng, rising in popularity in the state, is another winner, off dry and brimming with citrus fruit flavors and papaya. For those in your group who were overwhelmed by the hearty reds at Mountfair, White Hall will give them something to toast about. (Red fans don't despair: Their Cabernet Sauvignon is a tart yet silky smooth winner).

Stinson Vineyards, about a mile from White Hall, is an outstanding, relatively new location, with enthusiastic owners, a tasting room modeled after a general store, a unique wine aging concrete "egg" (ask your pourers to see it; it's right behind the tasting room), and tasty selections. There is a good variety of dry reds and slightly sweeter whites here. Their Tannat is nicely priced, compared to Northern Virginia locations; a characteristically deep red wine with elderberry notes and a peppery finish. On the other end of the spectrum, their ros├ę is light, nearly effervescent, with end notes of bacon. Like other wineries in this area of the Commonwealth, prices are right - prices alone justify a long weekend jaunt to the Monticello AVA.

Stinson Vineyards:

The wine "egg" at Stinson:

As you meander closer to the town of Crozet and U.S. highway 250, you may have the inclination to try other spots, and we highly encourage that. Grace Estate Winery was the subject of a recent blog entry, and King Family Vineyards is an all-time Virginia favorite.

Other locations in the Northwest Quadrant that deserve a shout-out:

Moss Vineyards
Glass House Winery
Pollak Vineyards

Winery URLs spotlighted in this post:

Mountfair Vineyards
White Hall Vineyards
Stinson Vineyards

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