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.
The Southwest quadrant sits south of Interstate 64 and the village of Crozet. Most wineries are located in Nelson County, and the vineyards share the land with several microbreweries (Blue Mountain, Wild Wolf, Devil's Backbone). Every time we visit this section of the Monticello AVA, we're torn between Virginia beer and wine. Sometimes we go for both - the view at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton is second to none, and nothing caps a perfect wine tasting day than a brat and icy cold Full Nelson while looking over the mountains. But back to the grapes....
The Southwest Quadrant houses several of the Notebook's very favorite wineries, so it will be difficult to pin down just four for this spotlight. Your main highways will be route 29 (follow signs for Lynchburg) and county routes 6 and 151. 6 and 151 share the road for several miles until they split near the village of Nellysford. There is adequate signage for the wineries and the routes in this region; Nelson County is proud of its wine trail and makes it easy for anyone, with or without map or GPS, to find their wineries.
At the northernmost trip of this quadrant lies Afton Mountain Vineyards, which changed hands about four years ago and upgraded its tasting room (which formerly was a tight cabin along the private drive leading to the vineyards). The updated tasting room offers one of the finest views in the area, of the mountaintops and a large pond. The Mediterranean-style tasting room is inviting in every season, and the owners are usually on hand to welcome guests. This location grows varietals that are unique (for Virginia), due to its elevation (1000 feet above sea level) and shielded from excessive rain by the Blue Ridge "rain shadow," and dried by the prevailing breezes flowing through the nearby Rockfish and Humpback gaps. Virginia is not particularly known for Pinot Noir, but Afton Mountain Vineyards offers one that is intriguing; the Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1978 and therefore can be labeled "old vines" (for Virginia). Don't expect Oregon or Russian River style here; this Pinot is more akin to traditional French Burgundy, relatively lower alcohol, with a kiss of sweetness, but not overly sweet. Another unusual (for the Commonwealth) wine here is Festa di Bacco, a Super Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese with Merlot, offering wonderful notes of coffee and prunes.
The reds are the star here (they also offer a few Virginia mainstays such as Petit Verdot and Cab Franc). However white lovers won't leave disappointed--they are one of the few state vineyards that has mastered Gewürtztraminer (again thanks to their elevation) and the up and comer alternative to Viognier, Albariño. And they begin their tastings with a sparkling blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
View from Afton Mountain Vineyards:
You will pass several other vineyards (and a brewery) on the way to the next three spotlighted locations, which are deeper in the southwest quadrant, but well worth the effort to find them. Stop #2 is Democracy Vineyards, which was a presence at state festivals for several years before opening its doors as a winery in 2012. Located on a long and winding road off route 29, Democracy Vineyards boasts one of the most unusual tasting room buildings we've experienced. Their wine is exceptional; having Monticello AVA maestro Michael Shaps as the winemaker isn't too shabby for a relatively new spot. The wine is well-priced too, meaning you can grab a case here and not feel broke. The theme here is recent U.S. history; the winery owners have deep political roots and regardless of your party affiliation, you will find some fascinating newspaper and magazine clippings and posters in the tasting room. The wines have names like Emancipation and Declaration, and the labels are adorned in red, white and blue and patriotic images. The view from the tasting room is more "looking up" compared to Afton Mountain, and because of its young age, you could very well have the place to yourself during your visit. Our favorite wines were the Suffrage, an extremely tasty Chambourcin with notes of strawberry and cinnamon, and the aforementioned Declaration, a wonderful white blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Petit Manseng; a sweet beginning (courtesy of the Petit Manseng) and a satisfying bone dry ending, perfect for shellfish. The tasting room offers a highly unusual touch - garage doors. They open up during warm months and provide a spectacular view:
The unusual tasting building at Democracy:
Stop #3 is a ten minute drive down the gravel road from Democracy, and has the distinct reputation of being the oldest operating tasting room in the state: Mountain Cove Vineyards. Al Weed (who has dabbled in local politics as well as crafting wine) offers visitors a truly Virginia wine tasting experience. The tasting room is located inside a ramshackle cabin that hasn't been updated since the mid 70s (the tasting room opened in 1974). Al's wine selection has not changed for many years - a red blend called "Tinto," a delicious (and light) red blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin, and Skyline White, their signature wine and the only winery in Virginia still producing this much wine from Villard Blanc variety, slightly sweet with a touch of effervescence. And then there are the fruit wines: Apple, peach and blackberry, which will please fans who may have been disappointed at the dry offerings at stop 2 (Democracy). The name Mountain Cove derives from the location; the vineyards and winery are surrounded by peaks of the Blue Ridge and one feels as if he or she has been temporarily beamed to southern Germany. Al doesn't plan on offering new varietals anytime soon; these are the wines he does best. And with no bottle over $15, you can load up.
The final stop must be in the top ten of Notebook favorites, based on the number of times we've spotlighted this location. Wintergreen Winery is located off county highway 151, near the entrance to Wintergreen Resort. Nestled along the babbling Rockfish River, Wintergreen offers the best of both worlds: A large events building and an intimate tasting room and gift shop perfect for finding holiday gifts for the wino in your family. The star varietal here is Chardonnay; Black Rock Chardonnay offers the perfect combination of crispness and mellow oak (and the bloggers are not fans of oaky whites). Blends rule supreme here and on the red side of the scale, Three Ridges Red gets two enthusiastic thumbs up; a blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with distinct notes of cigar and tart cherry. This red can be paired with pretty much anything, from shellfish to pasta, mainly due to its blending of lighter and more mineral reds (Chambourcin and Cab Franc, respectively). The picnic tables next to the Rockfish River are inviting every time of the year, including winter if you've brought your coat. Things don't get more relaxing than imbibing in Wintergreen's blends and listening to the babbling river.
There are many other stops in this quadrant of the Monticello AVA that we've spotlighted before. Really, you can't go wrong with this section of Virginia. Wine it, and/or beer it - enjoy the fruits of Jefferson's beloved Monticello AVA.
Featured winery links:
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Mountain Cove Vineyards
Other Southwest Monticello AVA wineries:
Cardinal Point Winery
Flying Fox Vineyard