Saturday, February 15, 2014

Winery Weekends: Alternatives to Charlottesville

Charlottesville and the Monticello AVA are well-known as being the heart of Virginia vinoland, but word has gotten out. Ten years ago, you could book a room at the Omni or DoubleTree in Charlottesville for the two weekend nights for under $100 a night. Nowadays, you're lucky if you can get a room at the EconoLodge there for less than $120 a night (unless you prefer to visit C'Ville in the middle of January). And it's not just the fall, with its brilliant colors and Cavalier football fans, that causes the price spike. It's the Monticello AVA, four quadrants (recently discussed in the Notebook) of wineries that fit every taste, literally and figuratively.

As any resident of the high blood pressure region of Northern Virginia will tell you, getting out of the confines of the Beltway, Tysons Corner, and the Fairfax/Vienna/Oakton metroplex is essential for survival. Some folks own a cabin in the mountains or a beach getaway, while others rely on the hospitality of other towns, in picturesque settings like the Shenandoah Valley or the Northern Neck. Charlottesville is a great spot, as it's just far enough away from the hustlebustle of Northern Virginia and offers big city amenities (as many college towns do) like great restaurants, independent stores and of course, vineyards.

As much as we'll endorse Charlottesville until we're six feet underground, the costs (and several clogged roads around the city) are beginning to resemble the NOVA scene.....not exactly a great escape. But there are some viable alternatives to the Cavalier city: Waynesboro and Staunton.

Waynesboro is a city about 20 miles west of Charlottesville, a crossroads where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins (or ends) and Skyline Drive ends (or begins). The wineries in the Southwest Quadrant of the Monticello AVA are actually closer to Waynesboro than Charlottesville. This city has a more blue collar and downtrodden feeling compared to Charlottesville or even Staunton, but the economy is picking up. The Chamber of Commerce is taking advantage of the proximity to Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the numerous wineries that surround the city, and the downtown area is looking a bit more prosperous (although they still have a few years to go). Interesting restaurants, wine shops and coffee kiosks are popping up over town, which does get its share of gridlocked traffic (mainly due to the exits off I-64). Several affordable motels, including a new Best Western Plus, dot the city. We usually get a few rooms at the Quality Inn near the center of town. It's old-fashioned (exterior entrances), affordable and clean, and boasts large rooms if small bathrooms. You can throw a stone and hit the downtown section of town.

Unique restaurants and shops are beginning to crop up. A few worthy of checking out:

The Green Leaf Grill
The Boardwalk Cafe
The Purple Foot

Staunton is a town the Notebook adores. We've spotlighted it before. Here we offer some great, eclectic restaurant choices and a few photographs:

Byers Street Bistro
Barking Dog

Staunton is a photographer's dream:

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In Praise of Fireplaces and Firepits

In the midst of a cold and snowy/icy winter, there is no better place than a Virginia winery with a tasting room (or patio) warmed by a fire. A real fire. Although we wholly approve of gas fireplaces in wineries where real fire could pose a hazard (such as a tasting room inside a restored old wood barn), nothing beats the romance and mellow vibe delivered by a real fire. The ex Boy Scouts in us love visiting a winery where a fireplace or firepit is raging. We tend to the fire, keep it going, so the staff can dedicate itself to the pouring and serving of other visitors. Several years ago, we posted the blog "if we could build a winery, they would come," and a real fireplace was near the top of our list of ingredients to make a perfect winery and tasting room.

The Notebook has a list of wineries that not only have a real wood fireplace, they actually USE the wood fireplace. Some tasting rooms have resorted to using their fireplace as a piece of furniture, sticking a table or bookcase or vase in the fireplace. Wood fireplaces require maintenance and resources (i.e. wood), and some locations have bigger fish to fry, like perfecting the wine and improving the tasting room experience. But we have a strong bias in favor of those locations that offer fireplaces or fire pits (the latter can be enjoyed in the winter if it's relatively mild outside, as well as all other seasons, exception being a sweltering and humid summer night).

Here's a listing of wineries with active (that is, usually ignited) wood fireplaces. Location names are hyper-linked to their websites:

Philip Carter Winery (near Markham, VA)

Pollak Vineyards (near Waynesboro)

Paradise Springs Winery (Clifton)

Barren Ridge Vineyards (near Staunton)

Naked Mountain Winery (near Markham)

Potomac Point Winery (near Stafford)

Valhalla Vineyards (Roanoke)

Byrd Cellars (near Goochland)

Afton Mountain Vineyards (near Waynesboro)

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery (Bluemont, VA)

Firepits: These can be outside, or on a patio. Firepits are nicely self-contained and work in every season, except those aforementioned sticky summer nights......

Firepits tend to be more popular with wineries as they present less of a potential hazard compared to a wood burning fireplace inside a tasting room. For that reason, most wineries with outdoor areas have firepits. A few of our favorites:

North Mountain Vineyards (south of Winchester)....not only a firepit, but a large brick firepit, perfect for campfires, of which this location has many during the warmer months (and some not so warm nights right into December!)

Hunters Run Wine Barn (near Leesburg)

Fabbioli Cellars (near Leesburg)

Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards (near Purcellville)

Cooper Vineyards (near Mineral)

"Almost" fireplaces:

A shout-out to some favorite tasting rooms that don't offer a real wood fireplace, but nice alternatives:

Fox Meadow Winery (a real wood burning stove that keeps the tasting room nice and warm in the winter)

North Gate Vineyard (one chimney that houses a gas fireplace for inside, and a wood fireplace for the outdoor patio)

Old House Vineyards (nice warm gas fireplace inside the Old House)

White Hall Vineyards (gas fireplace facing the tasting bar)

Escape the winter blues and visit one of these spots this month!

"Fire is good. Fire is our friend." -Young Frankenstein