By Amy Trotter Houston
Virginia’s rich viniculture now boasts more than 200 wineries and vineyards producing award winning vintages. Fall is a perfect time to explore Virginia wine country.
The centuries-long struggle to produce palatable wine in Virginia is widely documented in the annals of history. From vain attempts by settlers at Jamestown to the venerable Thomas Jefferson’s many failures at Monticello, the fickle grape vine was a bane to the existence of many a vintner. Thankfully Virginians never gave up and today there is a thriving wine industry drawing thirsty visitors from around the globe.
Celebrate Virginia Wine Month in October. Travel along one of the wine trails, explore little towns that time forgot, and enjoy the breathtaking countryside. Whether you are a serious oenophile with a nose for terroir or you simply enjoy clever wine bottle labels, Virginia offers numerous places to enjoy a superb glass of wine, a decadent meal, and a gratifying slumber. Take a trip out of the city from Washington, DC to one of these locales. We’re certain you’ll have a marvelous time.
For a quick trip away from Washington, DC venture across the Potomac River to Loudoun County, home to over 50 wineries. A visit to Bluemont Vineyard (bluemontvineyard.com) will help you forget about any stresses associated with DC. They produce 100 percent Virginia wine with a majority of the grapes used grown locally in Loudoun County. Step up to one of three tasting bars and sample a variety of wines from full-bodied reds to sweeter fruit-based vintages. Order a glass (or bottle) of your favorite along with a nibble from the mouth-watering menu and stake out a seat on the patio or deck. The Loudoun Wineries Association recently presented their First Annual Wine Awards with the Chairman’s Reserve Award going to Bluemont Vineyard’s 2013 “The Ram Merlot.” The tasting room is open Wednesday – Monday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The exclusive Foxglove Retreat (www.foxgloveretreat.com) has an inviting suite perfect for two, or rent the house with space for 6 to 10. With beautiful grounds and spectacular Shenandoah Valley views, you may not want to leave. In the evening make your way to Horseshoe Curve Restaurant for local ambiance, burgers and live music. After a peaceful night’s sleep, head to Pine Grove Restaurant for a hearty breakfast. The nearby Bears Den Trail Center is amid the “roller coaster” section of the famed Appalachian Trail. Don’t miss hiking up to Bears Rock Den and watching the sunset over the Shenandoah Valley.
Less than two hours from Washington, DC, Rappahannock County feels much further removed, and with more than 10 wineries, it’s a destination ripe for exploring. Enjoy a taste of India at Narmada Winery (narmadawinery.com), where the ample tasting bar allows plenty of room to sample some of the 15 wines. Select one of three tempting tasting flights to discover your favorite. Enjoy small-plate food pairings from traditional antipasto and cheese to Indian specialties. Relax in the lovely tasting room or take a seat on the outdoor deck or patio, where you can savor both the wine and the view. Narmada Winery’s 2010 “Yash-Vir” was added to the Governor’s Case at the 2015 Governor’s Cup Awards. The tasting room is open Thursday – Monday.
It’s a 20-minute drive to Warrenton for a stay at the Airlie (www.airlie.com) where the vast grounds and fresh air are sure to sooth the soul and provide the perfect backdrop for a getaway. Accommodations are located in several historic buildings and cottages. Dinner at the Garden Bistro is not to be missed, where the talented culinary team prepares captivating modern Virginian cuisine. They also collaborate with local vineyards on special dinners. Enjoy a nightcap at The Whistling Swan Pub before retiring for the night.
A great weekend destination, Richmond is an easy drive straight south on I-95. What makes the trip even better is that James River Cellars (www.jamesrivercellars.com) is located just off of the interstate (exit 86B to Elmont). This family-owned and operated winery features vintages made with 100 percent Virginia grapes. Wines include Hanover White, Rad Red, Meritage and Montpelier. Sample wines in the tasting room and peruse the wares in the gift shop before heading out to the patio or terrace to enjoy the view. If you like cool wine labels, take a look at the ones commemorating the Civil War. Children and pets are always welcome here. The tasting room is open Wednesday – Monday, and by appointment on Tuesday.
For a fun stay in Richmond opt for the newly opened Quirk Hotel (www.destinationhotels.com/quirk-hotel), where art, design and history merge. Light-filled guest rooms and suites feature custom furnishings and original artwork. Browse the boutique, peruse works in the gallery, sip an espresso in the coffee bar and, later, partake in a hand-crafted cocktail. Did we mention the coffee bar? Savor a meal at Maple & Pine, the hotel’s signature restaurant, serving creative dishes highlighted by seasonal, locally-grown and artisanal foods.
Roughly 100 miles east of Richmond, Norfolk boasts the first urban winery in Virginia. Mermaid Winery (mermaidwinery.com), located in the lively Ghent neighborhood, offers an intimate tasting room where patrons sample the winery’s small-lot vintages. From the tasting bar, you can view the winemaking process. In addition to their own wines, they offer 450 wines from around the world. Enjoy lunch or dinner with menu options that include small plates, salads, sandwiches, and entrees. It’s a nice way to spend an afternoon or evening. If you stay over a weekend, stop in for Sunday brunch. The winery is open daily.
After enjoying a tipple, stroll the streets of Ghent and peruse the wares of locally-owned boutiques, and vintage and antique shops. Stay at the beautifully decorated Historic Page House Inn (www.pagehouseinn.com) with seven lovely guest rooms and a full breakfast. The inn is next door to the Chrysler Museum of Art, where you won’t want to miss the glass exhibits or demonstrations in the Perry Glass Studio.
A trip to Bedford from Washington, DC is a four-hour commitment, not counting stops. Therefore, we think you should traverse its entire Bedford Wine Trail (thebedfordwinetrail.com) and sample the wares of its six wineries. These family-run vineyards are dedicated to producing top quality vintages amid relaxing and picturesque locales. From the unique fruit wines at Peaks of Otter Winery to the serene Smith Mountain Lake vistas of Hickory Hills Vineyards and Ramulose Ridge Vineyards, you’re sure to find a special vintage and, perhaps, a new favorite happy place. Don’t miss the farm animals at LeoGrande Winery and note that White Rock Vineyard and Winery now brews beer. Lastly Savoy-Lee is under new ownership as Seven Doors Winery. Visit historic Centertown Bedford and the Bedford Welcome Center for more information on the wine trail. Don’t miss the impressive and moving National D-Day Memorial and, since you’re already in the neighborhood, Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s summer home is in nearby Forest.
Backtrack to Lynchburg and park your suitcase at the Craddock Terry Hotel (www.craddockterryhotel.com), a boutique property that pays homage to its former life as a shoe factory in whimsical ways. The hotel has two restaurants, Shoemakers American Grille serving upscale cuisine and the more casual Waterstone where the pizza is outstanding, especially when paired with a beer from The Jefferson Street Brewery, the onsite micro-brewery. Enjoy exploring the historic district and take a stroll along the James River.
Additional Useful Information
Get the Virginia Wine Travel App – Virginia Wine in My Pocket. Use it to track the places you visit and learn more about the various wineries and vineyards, and discover one of the many wine trails.
Due to the limited size of tasting rooms, groups generally must make an appointment with the winery to ensure there is enough room. It’s always best to check beforehand.
Most wineries charge a tasting fee; some refund this fee with purchase. Some wineries allow you to bring a picnic and purchase wine to enjoy with your nibbles, and some allow pets. To avoid surprises, it’s wise to ask in advance about these policies.
Many wineries offer special tastings and pairings, as well as live music. Take a look at the vineyard’s website for detailed event information. You can also follow wineries on social media and share your experience.
Virginia Wine (www.virginiawine.org) provides detailed information on wineries, as well as news, events, and educational information.
Virginia is for Lovers (www.virginia.org) has a great list of wine trails.