After seeing a constant stream of favorable articles about Virginia wine country, I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss is about. In July, the New York Times featured a roundup of wineries to visit in the article, Virginia Wines: In the Old Dominion, a New Terroir. Forbes followed up in August asking if Virginia is poised to be the East Coast Napa.
To answer Forbes’s question; the Virginia wineries I visited are on their way to becoming destination wineries and are producing good wines. Unlike Napa, there are not hundreds of great wineries that you should visit, but certainly enough for a two day trip.
What Virginia does have is a rich and important history of pioneering grape growing winemaking in this country. From Thomas Jefferson’s dreams of growing wine in the 1700s, to slaves working on plantations, and the experimentation that went on to try to produce wines that would rival European wines, a visit to Virginia wineries will round out your knowledge of this country’s wine history. This of course dates more than a hundred years before grapes were first grown for wine in Napa.
As Thomas Jefferson said in 1791, “We could in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly the same, but doubtless as good.”
Jefferson’s dreams of producing quality wine did not come to fruition during his lifetime, but today wineries like Barboursville, Early Mountain, Trump and others thrive in producing the wines that he knew were possible.
How to plan your trip:
There are wineries throughout the state of Virginia, but we focused in on the Central Virginia area, near Charlottesville. The wineries are not side by side, as you may have seen in other regions, so plan your days to cover wineries that are close by, otherwise you will spend a lot of time driving.
Day 1: Stone Mountain Vineyards, Early Mountain Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards
If you can survive a drive up a steep gravel driveway, Stone Mountain Vineyards is a good place to go. What looks like a large, rustic chalet, Stone Mountain has spectacular views and is the highest winery I think I’ve visited. The drive is not for the faint of heart though. (Do not use a GPS, you’ll have to map it and follow the signs)
Early Mountain Vineyards is owned by Steve and Jean Case, the founders of AOL. A lovely lounge-like tasting room that rivals anything I’ve seen in Napa is a true destination. Along with the wines, you can buy many other gourmet items. This is a great place to stop for a cheese plate or to have lunch on the patio. We really enjoyed the wine flights here. The wines are excellent and explained by a sommelier who was able to go into the details about the local grapes like Viognier (which you’ll hear a lot about in Virginia).
Barboursville Vineyards was the highlight of our trip. With a deep history, a great tour, and certainly the largest selection of wines, we really enjoyed this visit. In all reports of Virginia wines, Barboursville Vineyards is a name that leads the way. This is a winery with a very long history (originally settled in the mid 1700s). It is Virginia’s most awarded winery, with its premium wine, Octagon featured on wine lists throughout the state. Read the full review of our visit here.
Day 2: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Trump Winery, Blenheim Vineyards
A trip to Charlottesville would not be complete without a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. This will give you a true sense of Jefferson’s many passions, including his love of wines. Throughout the day they offer a garden tour, slave tour and of course the house tour. We learned so many things about this brilliant man, and also his dreams (and struggles) to produce quality wines. There is a vineyard on site from which wines are now produced. As you’ll learn, Jefferson was known for so many things: author of the Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, United States Minister to France, founder of the University of Virginia, historian, philosopher, plantation owner, wine lover and viticulturalist.
Trump Winery is well worth a visit. Donald Trump purchased what was previously Kluge Estate, a sparkling wine producer, in 2011. His son, Eric Trump, runs the winery that also includes a very nice tasting room. The Trumps have continued the sparkling wine tradition, as well as produce few still wines, and their popular Cru, a fortified Chardonnay. This is a great place to stop for lunch or a small plate to pair with the wines.
Blenheim Vineyards, owned by musician Dave Matthews, is nearby. Designed out of what looks like an old shed, inside it is rustic but sophisticated, with views through a glass floor into the barrel room, a large patio overlooking the vineyard. I especially liked the Rosé here.
Day 3: Veritas Vineyards & Winery, King Family Estate
Veritas Vineyard & Winery is a great place to sit and relax on the wrap around terrace or one of the Adirondack chairs overlooking the vineyards. With good quality wines, this is also a popular wedding venue. They also have a bed and breakfast, “The Farmhouse” on site.
We arrived at King Family Vineyards just after a polo game. The owner’s other passion is polo which adds an interesting element to this winery. It seems like a popular place for locals to come. The wines were very good here too, and we especially liked the Chardonnay, which is more of a French-style, and light on the oak.
Overall, Virginia has plenty to do and see from a wine lover’s perspective. With these top wineries leading the way, and a deep sense of history that comes through in the visits, it seems like the area has a strong future as a wine destination. All of our guides and hosts were very friendly and had a good knowledge of the wines and the region. This is no Napa, but a region unique to itself.
- No appointments are required at any of the wineries.
- Tasting fees are on average about $7 per person at most wineries but you’ll also get a souvenir glass.
- Early Mountain doesn’t do a tasting as such, you will need to buy a wine flight or by the glass to taste the wines.
- Plan your day around wineries that serve lunch. Trump Winery and Early Mountain both have lunches and small plates. Barboursville Vineyards has a restaurant for which you will need a reservation. Stonefire Kitchen, near Barboursville, is also a great place to stop for lunch if you don’t have time to dine at the vineyard restaurant.
Where to stay:
The Lafayette Inn: Charlottesville is not cheap, but we found The Lafayette Inn was great place to stay in nearby Stanardsville. This is a historic inn with large rooms and conveniently has a great restaurant open for dinner. There is not much to do in the town itself, but you are about 15 minutes away from wineries and Charlottesville.
The 1804 Inn: Located on Barboursville Vineyards, this would be a nice stay for a special occasion, or if you are dreaming of waking up on a vineyard.
The Farmhouse: This is a luxurious bed and breakfast located on Veritas Vineyards in Afton.
Date of visits: September 2013
Have you visited Virginia wine country? Let us know below which wineries you liked.