Sunday, June 28, 2015

Virginia Wine Weekend Getaway Towns: Part 4

Continuing with our six-part examination of getaway spots in the Commonwealth where you can partake in Virginia's finest, and explore an interesting town while doing it, we move closer towards the Shenandoah Valley and focus on a town more famous for a cave than the town itself: Luray.

Luray Caverns needs no introduction. The most famous public cave on the East Coast (and some would argue the country), the caverns have left millions of visitors breathless. Virginia boasts several caverns in the state (Skyline, Shenandoah, and Dixie to name three others), and all of them offer photo ops galore. Luray is the most popular mainly due to its relentless advertising since the 1960s, and location other attractions affiliated with the tourist spot, including an auto museum and "Singing Tower Park," which features a carillon, directly across from the caverns.

The town was formerly (as recently as the early '80s) rather downtrodden, but the world popularity of the caverns and a vigorous town Chamber of Commerce publicity campaign starting in the mid '80s has allowed to town to prosper and grow into a best-kept secret destination with art galleries, charming stores, and farm to table restaurants.

If you add nearby Stanley (off U.S. highway business route 340), which has Americana small town charms of its own, you the makings of a terrific holiday weekend (heads up: one such holiday weekend is coming up!) There is a fine selection of restaurants in these two towns. Our favorites include Uncle Buck's, The Speakeasy, Gathering Grounds Cafe, and Countryside in Stanley.

Which leads us to the wineries. The first two are on the other side of Shenandoah National Park from Luray; if you approach Luray from the east, via U.S. highway 211, you can hit these two wineries on your way to the town. If you visit Luray via Interstate 81 on the west, these two wineries are a pleasant (and extremely scenic) 30 minutes from the town.

Sharp Rock Vineyards resides on our list of the most relaxing wineries in the Commonwealth. The Hughes River, which you cross via a one lane bridge leading up to the winery, is a favorite of fly fishermen/women, and the owners (Jimm and Kathy East) offer picnic tables, hammocks, and even an overnight cottage with a balcony over the river, for interested guests. The tasting room resides in a cozy cabin, with a nicely appointed sitting area outside. The views at this winery are, in short, breathtaking. Old Rag Mountain sits behind the winery and hikers gather in the tasting room after day hikes.

Sharp Rock Vineyards - one of the most scenic spots in the state:

Jimm owns one of the original Virginia wineries; we have been visiting his spot since the early '00s. He makes incredible wine. Rosé is our usual choice for our visits, however his Chardonnay, with green apple notes, and "Synergy" (his blend of Petit Verdot and Merlot) are noteworthy. Jimm or Kathy will keep you entertained during the tasting with stories about eccentric neighbors.

Sharp Rock Vineyards is a tough place to leave, but after spending a few hours here, you won't have far to go for the next location: DuCard Vineyards:

DuCard is situated in a "mountain cove," meaning you are surrounded by mountains on three sides. Like Sharp Rock, you are truly one with nature in another irresistible mountain location. The tasting building is eco-friendly green, and a bit slicker than the rustic cabin at Sharp Rock, but the tasting process is equally intimate at DuCard. Standout offerings include the Signature Viognier, with its honeysuckle and melon notes; Gibson Hollow White, off-dry and refreshing and a perfect summer cookout wine; and the Popham Run Red blend, a Meritage-like blend with bold notes of cherry and pepper.

More from DuCard Vineyards:

The final winery in this spotlight is a truly one-of-a-kind location near the town of Stanley. Wisteria Vineyard is a working farm, complete with free-roaming chickens and roosters and several sheep, with a European-meets-Woodstock (New York) feel. Acoustic live bands frequent this spot, which is off the beaten trail but well worth a visit. The property extends through the vineyards to several picnic areas, all with incredible views:

The varietals change here from year to year, it seems. Typically, Viognier and Chardonnay are styles offered. This is also one of the only Virginia wineries that offers a "Carmine" red; peppery and mineraly, similar to a fine Cab Franc, but smokier.

The vineyards give way to remote picnic areas near a creek - if you want to get lost at a winery, this is the place to do it.

As for overnight accommodations, Luray is well-covered. Several national chains have locations here, as well as the original Luray Caverns Motels (two locations in the town). For a "throwback" feel, try the Hillside Motel, a modest, clean motel with a spectacular view, east of town on route 211.

Plan a long weekend trip to these easily accessible (from Washington DC and Northern Virginia) towns and wineries this summer!
And be sure to visit our previous entries on Virginia Wine Weekend Getaway Towns.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Goodbye to Three Winery Friends

The Notebook was saddened to hear about the recent closures of three VAVINO favorites: Hume Winery, Unicorn Winery, and Wintergreen Winery. The reasons behind the closures are not certain based on our research, but we gathered they relate to owners yearning to retire, and/or the business was more intensive and costly than the owners (or new owners) imagined.

As anyone familiar with the industry in the Commonwealth can tell you, making a lucrative business out of grape growing in Virginia is not the sure-fire recipe for success as it may be in California (that is, when drought and earthquakes do not interfere with growing), Oregon, Australia, or France. Mother nature plays a big part, as do all variety of animal life (mammals, birds, and insects), fickle patrons, bottling and distribution costs, and so on.

Hume Winery was the youngest of the three. They opened in 2011, what planned to be a side project for the owners. However we understand the owners' day jobs increased in intensity. What was meant to be a weekend hobby turned out to be burdensome and costly. Assistance from other wineries was appreciated, and their location in the Flint Hill/Front Royal area of Northern Virginia was striking (especially when lightning struck on this very warm summer day in 2012):

The tasting room was a restored cabin that provided an intimate experience. With a little help from wineries such as Breaux, Hume was crafting fine wines from the time they opened their door to their last vintage.

One of the most memorable experiences the Notebook had at Hume was a crazy hailstorm during the summer of 2012. The storm clouds in the photos above welcomed us, and twenty minutes later the skies opened up. We captured the event on film--click here to check it out.

Not every visit was as unstable:

Hume Winery will be missed. Fortunately for those who live in this area of the Blue Ridge foothills, a winery opened last year close to Hume to fill the gap left with Hume's closing: Winding Road Cellars.

Unicorn Winery was a perennial favorite of the blogmasters. Located about five minutes from busy route 211 between Warrenton and Washington, VA. Several years ago, new owners acquired Unicorn and immediately made improvements to the property, and the wine. A fountain was installed in the pond on the property, which was previously peaceful but rather lily pad and algae clogged. More picnic tables were added along the shore of the pond, and down the hill on the banks of the Rappahannock River. The wine improved as well, particularly the Meritage blend. And we also enjoyed the visits from Franc, their mellow, prize-winning Schnauzer.

Shots from Unicorn over the years:

Unicorn frequently paired up with other wineries, such as Hartwood near Fredericksburg, for mini festivals on their property. Despite being close to a busy U.S. highway, Unicorn was a true best kept secret; a low key alternative to the busier, more bustling wineries further down the highway.

Wintergreen Winery was located in Nelson County, south of Waynesboro, near the entrance to the Wintergreen Resort. Like Unicorn, Wintergreen was one of the Virginia originals; about 15 new wineries (and a few breweries) have sprung up in Nelson Country over the last ten years, but the Notebook always found our way back to Wintergreen, for the wine, the gracious (and funny) hosts and hostesses, and the view.....

Circa 2004 (original Wintergreen logo sign):

Wintergreen Winery had an irresistible picnic area, where you could hear the gentle rapids of the Rockfish River. Rockfish is a familiar name to anyone familiar with the TV show The Waltons. Earl Hamner, the real "John Boy," grew up in the area (the Waltons Museum is about 20 minutes away from Wintergreen). He visited the winery on occasion to give informal talks and sign books.

Circa 2009, updated logo sign:

Every time the bloggers would bring friends to Wintergreen, we would go for the Black Rock Red, kick back by the river, and it seemed as if we were melting into the landscape that day.

We sincerely wish the former owners of Hume, Unicorn, and Wintergreen all the best in their future endeavors. You will be missed.