Saturday, January 31, 2015

Virginia Wine Weekend Getaway Towns: Part 3

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 or city (following our spotlights on the Eastern Shore and the Northern Neck), we land in a fascinating town often overlooked as Virginia getaway spots: Petersburg.

Petersburg is a historic city about a half hour south of Richmond, with a charming, cobblestone-street Old Town district that's less popular and more walkable than its more populated/popular sister city to the north. Petersburg, like Richmond, was pretty much ravaged during the Civil War, the famous Appomattox River flowing through the city's northern border and providing key access to the James River. Battlefields surround the city, giving the city a haunted vibe (weird Virginia fact #45: The only house made out of tombstones in the country is in Petersburg). The battlefields include the site of the horrific Battle of the Crater (depicted in the 2003 film Cold Mountain). You can spend your morning touring the battlefields, visit two nearby wineries during the afternoon, and finish up at a variety of cool spots in the Old Towne district of Petersburg.

Tour the battlefields!

The blogmaster in front of a piece of artillery:

The Crater:


Winery time!

Two wineries are located east of the Petersburg/Hopewell/Colonial Heights corridor: New Kent Winery and Saudé Creek Vineyards.

New Kent Winery is a unique location as it is the only winery that we're aware of in the state that was developed as not only a wine destination, but a permanent housing community. This is a planned community not far from the busy I-64 corridor between Richmond and Hampton Roads, with vintages in mind. In fact, some of the neighborhoods in this community have names like "Viniterra," and the community is popular with American families and retirees alike.

The impressive winery building was built from historic materials reclaimed from buildings and structures well over a century old. Heart-pine trusses were reclaimed from a 1901 Southern Railroad Depot located in the Shockoe Bottom area of Richmond, handmade, pre-Civil War bricks were added, and the siding and roof shingles were milled from cypress logs that had been submerged in north Florida rivers for more than 150 years. The result is an inviting structure that mirrors the attitudes of the owners, the staff, and the wines.

Of the vintages, we adored the Chardonnay Reserve, with smooth vanilla notes and a hint of oak; the unique white Norton rosé, with a touch of sweetness that works perfectly with curry-based foods, and the bold Merlot, with its notes of blueberry and raspberry. The tasting process is Virginia Lady or Gentleman style; deliberate, entertaining, and intimate. Visitors are welcome to join tours of the impressive property throughout the day. Or, you can kick back inside or outside on one of the patios (in warmer weather, of course) overlooking the grounds and the community. This is not Reston. This is a low-key, decidedly Southern, winery experience.

Not far down the road from New Kent, about 20 minutes southeast along highway 249, Saudé Creek Vineyards is another impressive, relatively new location. Their tasting building is built on a bluff about half a mile from the Pamunkey River (a tributary of the York) and you can see the river through the trees from their expansive outdoor deck. New Kent Winery's offerings were heavy on the white side; Saudé Creek offers more for the red fans in your group. The Chambourcin has a Pinot Noir-ish medium body, and is dry and tasty as a fine Chambourcin should be, with a slight mouthfeel of plum. Their Cab Franc has soft tannins and a slightly chalky and peppery finish; wonderful. For the whites, we loved their Pamunkey Fall, a blend of Viognier and Chardonnel - fruit forward yet dry. Fans of sweeter wines will enjoy their blush Squire's Blend, a blend of Chambourcin and Muscadin, as well as their Traminette, perfect for white pasta dishes or Thai food.

Video clip of the experience at Saudé Creek:

Petersburg and the nearby cities of Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and Chester offer numerous hotel, motel, and B&B options. You can visit the Virginia Tourist Guide's Petersburg for a list of options. For a great selection of beer (both European and craft), as well as a warm (in both senses of the word) environment and great food, we highly recommend The Brickhouse Run, a true British pub (go for the Scotch eggs, bangers and mash or the delicious Petersburger). From their website: "We like to think that if Petersburg, Virginia were part of Britain this is what its pub would be like." True, that. The bar tender was immensely chatty and knowledgeable, particularly about craft beer. We didn't notice Virginia wine offerings, but we were in a beer mood by the time we arrived here anyway.

Petersburg is a college town (Virginia State University, Richard Bland College), so there can be a lively atmosphere here. For a throwback to your college days, visit Longstreet's, a burger/sandwich joint with an expansive selection of craft brews. Stroll around the cobblestone alleyways and be sure to visit the Appomattox River, where a mere 100 miles up the river, the Civil War was put to an end.

Any season is the right time to visit one of Virginia's best kept secret towns: Petersburg.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

'15 New Winery Spotlight #1: Winding Road Cellars

As we usher in another year of hopping through Virginia's finest, we embark on a series of blog entries focusing on (relatively) new wineries that have sprung up over the past 12 to 18 months. Some of these locations have been listed in the past two annual Virginia Winery maps; others were open "by appointment" only, and just recently established regular business hours.

As we await the publication of this year's Virginia winery map, which will most definitely list new wineries to explore in the coming year, we focus on some spots that have been open for some time now.

Winding Road Cellars

A few weeks before Christmas, we loaded up several Beatles CDs and decided to pay a visit to a few favorites around Front Royal, including some new spots. As we passed Philip Carter Winery on the left, traveling near the village of Hume, we inserted the Let it Be album and turned left into Winding Road Cellars. The road leading to the tasting building was not exactly long, but it was a bit winding, as the gravel driveway led us down the incline to a tasteful holiday-decorated building.

We were greeted by one of the owners, who seemed a bit reserved at first but friendly. She led us through a tasting including the requisite bites of chocolate to pair with the wines. Although they have promise, we don't think Winding Road is quite there yet, compared to other mainstays in the area like Philip Carter, Chateau O'Brien and Fox Meadow Winery (although the wines were all decent to good.) Sometimes it takes newer wineries a few years to find their way, to determine what grows best in the vineyards, as the soil in the Commonwealth is so varied from region to region. We felt the same way about two other wineries near Winding Road, which opened in 2011 and have since locked into varietals that they're confident in creating: Cobbler Mountain Cellars and Capitol Vineyards.

The tasting included two off-sweet styles that would work well with extremely spicy dishes like spiced crab dip or Thai food: Vidal Blanc and Semi-Sweet Chambourcin. Both styles are favorites of wine "newbies," so Winding Road will do well with the scores of young people who descend on the winery scene throughout the year (and not just in the spring, summer, and fall anymore...) The Vidal Blanc was a touch too sweet for us, with some honey notes, but would work well with the aforementioned foods.

The 2010 Chardonnay was quite good, offering notes of butterscotch. The big guns were their reds, all of which have potential: Chambourcin (regular, not semi-sweet), Cab Sauv and Cab Franc. We understand that the owners are going to grow styles quite unusual to this part of Virginia, namely Pinot Noir and Riesling, because "my husband is a little crazy" (exact quote from his wife, who led us through the tasting with dry wit).

The interior of the tasting building is mostly wood, which is perfect for sound absorption. Although there was not a live band when we visited (thankfully), we understand from their website that bands do perform here. At least the wood will buffer some of the sound, unless the band is acoustic (and acoustic bands get a pass from us; they actually work very well in a tasting room).

Outside, a deck overlooks the large pond (bordering lake in its size). We asked about the decrepit little boathouse on the pond's shore, and she told us the previous owners of the land kept canoes and kayaks (and even a small sailboat) in the boathouse. The boathouse looks like a true fixer-upper and we envision another seating area or tasting room in that location.

All in all, Winding Road Cellars is a solid addition to the region. We were sad to hear Hume Vineyards, which also opened in 2011, closed its doors last year, due to a myriad of issues. We visited Hume several years ago during a crazy mid summer storm and documented the event (click here).

Some pix to get you inspired for a long and winding afternoon at this winery:

The pond:

Additional photos - during this pre-Christmas jaunt, we visited a few other spots in the area. As it was a Friday before Christmas week, we had the normally very bustling Rappahannock Cellars almost to ourselves!

And on a less positive note, we pulled in to the infamous Oasis Vineyards, to look at their sad property. These vines will have to be completely pulled up and the soil turned over, before new vines can be planted. This would explain why the nearby wineries are not interested in this land. It's such a sad story - the original owner made such fine wine, but he turned the operation over to his son, who was more interested in entertaining celebrities, operating a limo business, and crashing White House galas: