Despite the number of Virginia wineries approximating 275, with the number growing each year, you can be sure of one thing when it comes to wineries in the Commonwealth: No two are alike. Some tasting rooms may be similar (we have friends who still get the tasting room at Pearmund Cellars confused with the one at King Family), but the wine lists will be different, the shape of the tasting building will vary from location to location, and of course the views will be unique to the winery.
We have visited over 210 Virginia wineries (slowly but surely, we are getting to all of them...), and looking through our logs and photo albums, we have pinpointed five that we feel are the most unusual. And we don't mean unusual in a negative context. Every Virginia winery brings a different adventure, whether you're a fan of mountain views, water views, bustling places, quieter places, dry wine, or off dry wine.
Our five most unusual (unique) wineries in Virginia:
5. Maggie Malick Wine Cave (northwest Loudoun County)
The closest in our list to Northern Virginia, Maggie Malick Wine Caves is located in a string of relatively new wineries on Harper's Ferry Road, off state route 9. The wine cave where the tastings are held is a man-made structure using the most economical, and eco-friendly, cooling technique available: Natural. A layer of grass covers the cave, ensuring cool temperatures that the barrel-aging wine needs, and also keeping the customers cool in the hot months (and warm in the colder months).
Maggie Malick Wine Caves entrance:
Guests may feel as if they are walking into the entrance of a place where trolls live. Actually, we'll save the Tolkien references to another winery on this list. Maggie offers an interesting selection, particularly for this section of Loudoun County. The Albariño is crisp and dry and a nice alternative for those who may be tired of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Tannat is a bold red with raspberry notes and will age on your rack nicely.
Inside the cave:
Bring your dog! There is a large pond in the back and dogs are welcome (and highly encouraged) to take a dip. Maggie Malick Wine Cave makes for a very memorable experience in a county rapidly becoming rather choked with wineries (not that that's a bad thing...)
4. Cedar Creek Winery (south of Winchester)
If you're new to the Virginia wine scene, but have been to at least five wineries, you have probably noticed that most in the state offer two varietals: Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Cedar Creek Winery, on the edge of the Allegheny range south of Winchester, knows what grapes grow best in this climate and soil. So those are the only two varietals offered. Expect a vertical tasting of these two wines in an extremely relaxed, rec-room like environment (complete with intriguing pictures on the wall and antiques).
Tasting the line up at Cedar Creek:
Most likely, the owner and winemaker, Ron Schmidt, will guide you through an informative and entertaining tasting. What sets this winery apart, besides the "only two varietals" rule, is the lack of live music, weddings, dogs and kids, and general festivities. Not that there is anything wrong with those; Virginia wineries are thriving thanks to the live music and event venues many of them offer. But at Cedar Creek, it's all about the wine, and getting absorbed into the beautiful scenery. Seriously, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the state.
Don't expect food purchases here, aside from perhaps a small bag of Cheez-It crackers. But you are welcome and encouraged to bring your own picnic.
3. Burnley Vineyards (north of Charlottesville)
Burnley is one of the Commonwealth's original wineries; planting started in 1977, the first wines were offered in 1980, and the tasting room opened in 1984. This winery is not far from more famous (and decidedly slicker...again, not a bad thing) Barboursville Vineyards, about an 8 minute drive from Burnley. Visiting the two wineries on the same afternoon will give you two completely different Virginia winery experiences.
Entrance to Burnley:
The entrance to the winery has probably not changed much since 1984. We haven't visited the winery in a few years, so the basketball hoop may be gone, but for some reason, we doubt that. They focus on making wine here, not on window dressing at the winery. That would also explain the interior of the winery, where your group can "unwined":
The wines are all very well-priced. This is an excellent location for those who are just getting into wine, and still like their offerings on the sweeter side. Although dry fans will find a lot to like with their Cab Sauv and Norton.
Vineyards at Burnley:
2. Wisteria Farm Vineyard (Stanley, VA)
This is the only winery in Virginia that offers a red varietal called Carmine, which is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and lesser-known Carignan. Carmine is a totally American grape, not even grown in Europe. It fares best in northern California and Pennsylvania, but they grow it at Wisteria.
This is a working farm, so you will be sharing the grounds with animals (mainly roosters, rabbits, and sheep), some of which roam the property freely. Others are inside pens, making this a good choice for the kids.
Besides Carmine, their Seyval is a winner, and perfect for the hot summer days that are in our near future in the Commonwealth. And those views...another eye pleasing location in Shenandoah Valley.
1. Grayhaven Winery (between Richmond and Charlottesville)
Continuing with the farm vibe, Grayhaven winery in central Virginia gets our vote as the most unique winery in the state. What makes it unique to us is the vibe...this is by far the most relaxed winery we've been to. There is even a small playground on the premises. Horses roam freely on the grounds. And the tasting room is housed in a Hobbit-like structure, complete with a koi pond in front.
Like Wisteria, Grayhaven offers a wine that is not found elsewhere in the state: Touriga. This is a variety developed by the Portuguese and often used in the production of Port wines, and goes very well with red meats. Like Tannat, it will age well. Another favorite is Sojourn, a blend of Touriga and Cabernet Franc, with a balanced acidity, soft tannins and a plum notes; perfect for pasta dishes with tomato sauce. The selection of wines here is vast. The owners are originally from South Africa and know what they are doing (South Africa, like Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina, is a big player in the southern hemisphere wine universe).
This location is miles away from other wineries, so be prepared to stay awhile. You'll feel transported to another world.
What are the most unusual Virginia wineries you've visited?