Saturday, September 24, 2016

The road to Winchester

Winchester is a Shenandoah Valley town situated on the north end of the valley, known for its apples and as being the home town of Patsy Cline. Winchester is also the home to hundreds of commuters who leave their town as early as 3 AM in order to get to their jobs in DC, Tysons Corner, or Reston. These commuters most likely take route 7, route 50, or I-66 from their home town to the DC area - all routes have their share of wineries. For this series, we will examine some of our favorites on these three routes, starting with the northern-most route, state highway 7.

Getting through the Leesburg and Purcellville area of route 7 can be a challenge depending on when you travel (particularly in the afternoon Monday through Friday - especially Friday if a nice fall weather weekend lies ahead). Several well-known Loudoun wineries are a few miles from the route 7 bypass (for those who choose not to take the more scenic route 7 business route, through the small towns of Hamilton and Round Hill, in addition to their larger sisters, Leesburg and Purcellville): Sunset Hills, The Barns at Hamilton Station, Casanel, and Otium Cellars, to name just four.
Once travelers clear Round Hill, the highway narrows a bit, as it prepares to cross the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The best way to experience the Bluemont/Berryville wine trail leading towards Winchester is to start with the wineries on the right side of the road, and loop back eastbound either in Winchester, or Berryville (if you don't feel like going all the way to Winchester).

The first stop is Twin Oaks Tavern, up the hill on route 7, about a mile from the Bluemont left turn-off. This is a beautiful location along a cliff overlooking the northern Blue Ridge, into West Virginia. The tavern itself was a stop-over for Washington residents of the early 1900s, who yearned to escape the muggy, hot summers of DC in the years before air conditioning. The Blue Ridge Mountains were the solution, and Twin Oaks Tavern was a favorite destination.

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery: view from their deck.

Chardonnay, Norton, and Cab Sauv are stars here, but our consistent favorite is their Raven Rocks Red, a Bordeaux-style blend with plum notes. Twin Oaks also offers fruit wines, typically peach and raspberry. Prices here are also considerably lower than their more-famous neighbors.

Twin Oaks Tavern Winery: The vineyards on the slope.

Spend an hour or more enjoying the altitude and the views, not to mention their wine, here. Then continue on route 7 westbound, towards Berryville/Winchester, to stop #2: 612 Vineyard (make the right turn at the Citgo station, and load up on bottled water!) A drive down a few country roads take you deep into the Blue Ridge foothills - you will find it hard to believe you're only an hour from DC once you make that turn-off.

Enjoy the slow paced tasting in the 612 Winery tasting room. They offer several unusual (for Virginia) styles here, including Riesling and Traminette. We particularly enjoyed the "Always and Forever" red blend (Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Chambourcin), and the "Blushing Rosé," 100% Syrah and bone dry. They have a lot of room to stretch out here, and if the mood strikes you, play some horseshoes (a nice change from "Bags," or "Cornhole," depending on where you're from....)

612 Vineyards:


After a breathtaking view of the mountains from Twin Oaks Tavern, and then a rolling view from 612 Vineyard, you may be too relaxed to move on, but there are two more wineries to conquer! Make the right turn back onto route 7 westbound, and get some food in your stomach at one of the many fast food joints in Winchester (including local favorite Bojangles'). After lunch (or early dinner), return to route 7 eastbound for the final two stops.

Nearly across route 7 from the 612 Vineyards turnoff, on the eastbound side of route 7, is the road which will take you to one of Virginia's original wineries: Veramar Vineyard. Veramar opened to the public in 2000, and now boasts their flagship tasting room, as well as two other locations (Bogati Winery, directly off route 7 near Purcellville, which is a tasting room offering their wines; and James Charles Winery, between Winchester and Stephens City). They also currently make the wine for Valerie Hill a few minutes from the town of Stephens City.

Inside Veramar's tasting room:

They have several award winning whites and reds, including a slightly oakey chardonnay, and a not-as-sweet-as-you'd think Seyval Blanc. Their Riesling/Seyval blend was also a surprise, not nearly as sweet as we thought it would be. The Rooster Red blend is a consistent winner.

There are many acres of rolling property to enjoy here, including a cigar smoker's pavilion where cigar smokers get priority seating (no worries - there are plenty of other outdoor spots to "unwined" in if cigar smoke is not your thing). Fire pits and Adirondack chairs are also scattered throughout the property.

Veramar's front patio and fire pit:

The final stop on this quick jaunt to Winchester is one of the northern Virginia favorites: Bluemont Vineyard. Bluemont is a very happening spot, and boasts one of the best views in the state (you can make out the tips of the Dulles Airport control towers and even the Washington Monument from this winery on clear days). Live bands, cornhill (or "bags," for the midwest readers out there), farm animals, even a fruit orchard and brewery near the property - Bluemont aims to please. We affectionately call it the "Disney World of Virginia wineries," as there is plenty to do to keep all ages happy. Keeping with their farm background, many wines here are named after barnyard animals - The Pig (Norton), The Goat (Viognier). Other animals are represented as well (The Ram - Merlot). Our favorite is their "Farm Table Red," a Bordeaux blend with touches of Chambourcin and Norton, for a truly unique (and Virginia) red wine experience.

Bluemont Vineyard view:

How about a bottle of The Goat?

After four wineries on this Winchester wine trail, Bluemont is the final stop. Grab something to soak the wine in (Bluemont offers the usual assortments of cheeses and meats, as well as occasional food trucks). Find your indoor or outdoor spot in one of Bluemont's many seating areas. Toast the view and toast Virginia wine.