Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Road to Winchester: Part 3

Continuing with our examination of the three main highways leading to Patsy Cline's hometown, and apple capital of The Commonwealth, we land on Route 66. And not "that" route 66. Although after partaking at several of these wineries, you will get a kick of another kind.

Interstate 66, for those unlucky (or lucky) enough not to be familiar with this interstate, rolls about 80 miles from the Shenandoah Valley to Washington DC, via the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, after which the interstate abruptly ends around Virginia Avenue (where else?) in the District. The highway is mostly traffic clogged in Virginia from Arlington to Manassas (sometimes Haymarket), but once it opens up past Haymarket, it's a relaxing and scenic ride all the way to its western terminus, at I-81. The town of Winchester is some 10 miles north of the 66 and 81 interchange, however some folks use 66 as a faster way to the town. And of course that means a highway winery sign at nearly every exit, from the Haymarket area to Front Royal.

With so many wineries along this highway, there are many favorites. We will focus on three locations that are each about 10 minutes away from the interstate, so visitors will get a real feel of getting away from it all. While wineries right along the interstate may benefit from more foot traffic (Barrel Oak Winery, Three Fox Vineyards, Chateau O'Brien), getting away from the highway noise is sometimes essential (but for the record, the blogmasters adore the three aforementioned locations).

The first stop is at Exit 23 on I-66, which we dub the "winery exit." This is where you can peel off I-66 and drive along state highway 55, the former highway that connected the DC area with Front Royal and points west of that town. Route 55, the northern Virginia "wine highway," runs parallel with I-66, through the villages of Markham and Linden, and eventually puts you in downtown Front Royal. The winery we will focus on with this blog entry is Delaplane Cellars, named after the village of Delaplane you will pass by the railroad tracks on the way to this beautiful location.

Delaplane Cellars boasts a very large, airy, and bright (thanks to large picture windows) tasting room, with a second floor reserved for club members. There is ample outdoor seating for warmer weather (including freakishly warm January days): A wrap around deck with some tables, another patio near the entrance, and a few picnic tables up on a hill overlooking the tasting building. The views are incredible. The Blue Ridge Mountains can be seen immediately to the west. The winery is particularly picturesque under snow:

The wine offerings are different every time we visit, but there a few mainstays. Their Petit Verdot is a fine example of a grape that is becoming increasingly popular as a stand alone varietal in Virginia. We also enjoy their Mélange Rouge red blend.

Another winter view at Delaplane Cellars:

The parking here is rather cramped, being up against a mountain and all that. So get here early for the best spot (for you and your car).

The second and third stops are locations about half a mile apart from each other, each winery offering a different type of experience. Exit 18, the Markham exit, will drop you into another cluster of wineries, including the aforementioned Chateau O'Brien. Follow the signs (or "Siri") to Winding Road Cellars, a relatively new location compared to other wineries in this area. Winding Road Cellars is not far from the old Hume Vineyards, a defunct location which was the scene of a crazy summer mini-tornado several years ago (captured on film by the blogmasters). Winding Road is making some unusual wines ("because my husband is crazy" was the deadpan response we received from one of the owners when we inquired about this). Chardonnay, Viognier, Chambourcin, and Cab Franc are of course familiar names to anyone who knows anything about Virginia wine. But the wines here have a unique twist - we can't quite put our fingers on it. This is not a scientific analysis of the wines by any stretch; you will just have to visit and decide for yourself. Apparently Pinot Noir and Riesling are also on the owners' agenda in the future.

View of Winding Road Cellars tasting cabin, from the back:

There is a lot of room to move around outside at this winery. The pond behind the tasting cabin is a nice 5 minute walk from the tasting room, and the old boat house offers many photo opportunities:

Crowds apparently have not discovered this winery yet, at least the two times we have visited. One can spend an entire afternoon here and just drink in the atmosphere.

The vineyards at Winding Road:

The final stop on this Road to Winchester examination is right down the winding road from Winding Road Cellars. A Commonwealth favorite celebrating its 9th Anniversary this month, Philip Carter Winery. This beautiful location is almost always hopping, whether it's an acoustic performer, a family picnic, or a company outing. The tasting building is roomy and expansive, and the staff always sets up additional tasting counters whenever necessary. No one will be waiting here for a tasting.

Philip Carter Winery is also one of the few wineries in the area that has a real wood fireplace, and allows (and encourages) guests to tend to the fireplace themselves. Firepits are great for warmer weather, but winter (usually) does not allow for outdoor wine imbibing. The outdoor area has nicely arranged picnic tables and boards for a game that is becoming quite popular at Virginia wineries:

You can enjoy your bottles of wine close to the vineyards and even enjoy a cigar if the mood hits you.

The wines here are uniformly great and represent Virginia so well that the owners and winemaker have brought them to far away locations like China. The Sabine Hall Viognier is our favorite white here, a nice example of
"Virginia's white," with notes of honeysuckle, and all of the reds are good to great. Nomini Hall Cabernet Franc is a regal example of "Virginia's red," and is blended with Petit Verdot and Merlot for a smooth finish.

The number of wineries along I-66 can make it tough to decide where to go. Here's an extensive list of the wineries, from east to west, and their links, for easy access to other spots:

Winery at La Grange
Cobbler Mountain Cellars
Barrel Oak Winery
Blue Valley Winery
Miracle Valley Winery
Three Fox Vineyards
Delaplane Cellars
Arterra Wines
Naked Mountain Winery
Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn
Chateau O'Brien Winery
Philip Carter Winery
Winding Road Cellars
Linden Vineyards
Fox Meadow Winery
Chester Gap Cellars