Sunday, June 26, 2011

Virginia Winery Snapshots: State Hwy 55

A virtual trip on the "wine highway" near Delaplane/Marshall, VA. Click on photo to start slide show.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

VA Wine Country "Budget" Trips

Right off the bat: No B&Bs will be featured. There are plenty of websites and travel guides devoted to B&Bs. B&Bs work fine for couples and families. But two straight guys who are really into Virginia wine, staying at a B&B? The implications...

So what's a male VAVINO head to do? Just visit the wineries in Northern and Central VA that can be experienced in one day? That means severely limiting your time at the wineries due to driving distances.

We've compiled a list of a few reasonable motels (not hotels) in various Virginia wine hot spots, to help fellow wine lovers with the challenge. (And there are plenty of couples and families who don't dig B&Bs as well, so they may be thankful for such a list).

These motels (some border the hotel classification, but that could be pushing it) have hosted the blogmasters more than once. And we've gotten to know their home towns quite well through the years.

Front Royal:
Front Royal is becoming the hub of the northwestern Virginia wine territory. Excellent wineries on all sides of the town, and Front Royal is close enough to DC to make the drive in 2 hours, but far enough from DC to feel like you're really getting away from it all.

Suggested Motels: Quality Inn Skyline Drive. This motel will take you back to the mid 70s. Rooms are small, all exterior entrances, walls are a bit thin, but the prices are right, even in the middle of peak seasons (summer and fall). And after a day of wineries, you'll be too buzzed to really care. Plus they have a nice pool and a large picnic area, with grills available to guests. Extra bonus: Walking distance to downtown Front Royal, and a host of interesting restaurants.

For a more modern experience, try the Holiday Inn right off I-66. This is a newer hotel, built after Holiday Inn reinvented itself to compete with the Hiltons, Hyatts and Westins of the world. Interior corridors, closer to modern shopping centers, quite upscale, and fairly expensive in all months except January.

Must-see wineries around Front Royal:
Glen Manor Vineyards
Chester Gap Cellars
Fox Meadow Winery
Rappahannock Vineyards
Desert Rose Ranch and Winery
Chateau O'Brien at Northpoint

Woodstock, VA:
Woodstock is located right off I-81, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, and is close to George Washington National Forest and several fine wineries. The town is quaint and pure Americana. We recommend the Comfort Inn. It's your typical Comfort Inn, clean and comfortable and affordable, with a Taco Bell in walking distance, which hits the spot after a day of partaking......

Great wineries near Woodstock:
North Mountain Vineyard
Wolf Gap Vineyard
Cave Ridge Vineyard
Shenandoah Vineyards
Wisteria Farm Winery

Located between Charlottesville and Staunton, Waynesboro is the perfect launching pad to wineries as well as both Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Quality Inn near downtown is the perfect place to hang your hat. A coffee kiosk exists in the parking lot next door for those mornings after a day of winery hopping.....and KFC is a 10 minute drive away. Fried chicken and wine? YES!

Winery escapes near Waynesboro:
Pollak Vineyards
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Barren Ridge Vineyards
Veritas Vineyard
King Family Vineyards
Flying Fox Vineyard

Natural Bridge area:
Further down I-81, there is a motel perched up on a mountainside that will take you back to when Three Dog Night, America and Jim Croce ruled the airwaves. The rooms haven't been upgraded much since then, but the spot is utterly charming. A family-owned and operated motel with a good restaurant right down the hill: The Wattstull Inn. The famous Natural Bridge and the historic town of Lexington is close by.

Wineries to visit near Natural Bridge:
Rockbridge Vineyard
Lexington Valley Vineyard
Blue Ridge Vineyard
Virginia Mountain Vineyards

These are some spots nestled in the mountains of Virginia that are worth a long weekend or two. More suggestions to come.......

Friday, June 3, 2011

Best in Show: VA Wine Style

The blogmasters have visited 144 Virginia wineries since beginning our VAVINO odyssey in 2002, and before creating this blog and our Facebook account, we kept track of each winery via EXCEL. A spreadsheet, which we still maintain, listing the wineries and scoring each one on a scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent) for several categories. We rarely give scores of 1, but there have been a few. Some wineries excel at wine, but fail at nearly everything else. And others excel at being venues for live acts, gift shops, highly slick places, but fail on the wine. So in other words, we rate more than the wine. In Virginia, it's all about the full experience.

The categories: Wine Quality; Indoor Set Up; Outdoor Set Up; Friendly Factor; Price; Busy Factor; View. The scores are then averaged to allow for rankings. And then additional points (half an extra point) are given if the winery has a cat or cats, and if the winery has a fireplace, or outdoor firepits, that they use (wood burning or gas for the fireplaces).

Over the past year, we've visited and re-visited many wineries, and took a hard look at our categories, and scored and re-scored. The rankings are now in. The Top Five (mean score in parenthesis). If the mean score is over 5, that means the winery received extra points for having cats and/or a fireplace/firepit:

1. First Colony Winery (5.64)

First Colony has long been our favorite, for a variety of reasons. First off, the wine is good to excellent: Every option. The staff are extremely friendly and follow the "you can stay after we lock up" rule (wineries that allow visitors to linger outside after they close for the day). It's amazing to us how many wineries kick their guests out, even if the winery has outdoor seating and doesn't require a visit inside after they lock up (this rule generally works better for men than women, of course.....) The view from the deck is lush forest, and there are many options for outdoor seating. Favorite wines: Merlot, Meritage and their Rosé.

2. North Mountain Vineyard (5.29)

At the top of the Shenandoah Valley, North Mountain Vineyards has a "Story Book Land" building housing its tasting room and guest rooms - it's irresistible in cold months, and even harder to leave in the warmer months. There is a lot of outdoor space here, including a large deck overlooking the vineyards. They have a large variety of wines, from dry to semi-dry to sweets to fruit wines (being so close to Winchester, they must have an apple wine - and it's delicious). Favorite wines: Chambourcin, Tom's Brook Red (table red), and that apple wine.

3. Pollak Vineyards (5.21)

Pollak Vineyards is only a few years old, but it's become one of our favorites because they're focused on creating quality wine (their wines are already major award winners), while keeping guests happy with friendly tastings, a bright and airy tasting room, a fireplace (they allow guests to maintain the fire in the winter and keep the logs close at hand), wonderful mountain views from a valley, and a charming pond. Favorite wines: Viognier, Chardonnay, and Cab Franc.

4. West Wind Farm Vineyard (5.14)

This great winery is located in Southwest Virginia, on the highway between the Wytheville area and Charlotte, NC. This is real southern hospitality, and the blogmasters were treated to extra tastings when we told them how far we had driven to visit them. The wines - incredibly good, crisp and refreshing. The rolling hills and quietness of the landscape instantly reduced high blood pressure. You never know how stressfull northern Virginia is until you visit these faraway destinations. Favorite wines: Riesling, Galena Creek Red (blend), Cabernet Sauvignon

5. Fincastle Vineyard (5.07)

A little closer to DC than West Wind Farm Vineyard, but still not feasible for just a day trip (drop anchor at a hotel or motel in nearby Roanoke), Fincastle Vineyard is what we call "the Waltons winery." The house that doubles as a B&B and tasting room is right out of the Waltons. And yes, they have a porch for sipping overlooking the fields and vineyards. The owners make you feel like part of the family. Another great Virginia wine getaway - and the wines are fine too. Favorite wines: Cab Franc, Chardonnay, and their Rosé.

"Coulda been a contenda": So many wineries in Virginia, so many contenders. Here are three that nearly made the Top Five: Fox Meadow Winery, Afton Mountain Vineyards, and Old House Vineyards .

These are the eight wineries that the blogmasters find themselves heading towards even during the dead of winter. But in regards to Virginia, remember what George Martin said when he tried to pick his favorite Beatles songs: "They're all pretty good." The same applies to Virginia wineries.