Virginia and wine have a lengthy history, one that dates back to the pre-nation days of Thomas Jefferson and others. Only recently, however, has the commonwealth become famous for wine again, beginning to draw tourists in the same way places like Sonoma and the Texas Hill Country do.
No, Virginia doesn’t boast the sheer number of wineries as states like Washington and California do, but it’s home to a rapidly growing scene. And with 8 AVAs and more than 250 wineries, the scene is both respectable and varied. In short, Virginia should be a state you now associate with quality wine, whether it’s a Bordeaux-style red blend or a fascinating white like Petit Manseng.
One of the best reasons to check out Virginia wine right now is that it’s still figuring out what it is. Quality has been trending up here for several years now but because the winemakers are still getting a firm grasp on the climate and soil types, a lot of interesting experimentation is going on. That translates into a one-of-a-kind tasting experience for consumers. Better, you can say you did so before the fame sets in, which is almost surely on its way.
It’s a scenic atmosphere, with varied terrain and welcoming labels eager to show—and pour you—what they’ve been up to. America’s oldest wine grape, Norton, was born here and is proving to be so much more than just a grape you’d make breakfast juice out of. There are great takes on old standbys like Chardonnay and Merlot as well as distinctive versions of lesser-knowns like Viognier or Petit Verdot. As the trade group, Virginia Wine says, the scene is located halfway between California and Europe and embodies that space — “like perfect French spoken with a slight southern drawl.”
Here are the wineries and tasting rooms you should frequent while in Virginia, play a few places to eat and stay should you decide to extend your visit. If you can’t make it in person, look for these names at your local bottle shop or see if they can ship directly to your home state.
Located in the Monticello AVA near Charlottesville (and Jefferson’s old haunt), King Family Vineyards was first planted in 1998. Since, the label has become known for its lovely Cab Franc, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, and even some sparkling wines. Increasingly, the winery is turning out some inventive small-batch gems, like a recent skin-fermented Viognier with lots of structure. A number of tasting options are available, including a foray through the estate vineyard rows and production facility.
Michael Shaps is one of those names in the contemporary Virginia wine circuit that everybody in the area knows. He’s one of the state’s most decorated winemakers and trained in Burgundy, where he continues to run a sibling winery. At his Virginia outpost, you’ll find elegant blends and memorable takes on grape varieties like Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Tannat, and more, including some dessert wines. There are two Charlottesville locations where visitors can take his local work, as well as some of the wines he’s made abroad or has enjoyed and imported.
Set in Madison, Virginia at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Early Mountain Vineyards offers a great taste of the Virginia wine scene. In addition to its own esteemed lineup of wines, the label, launched by former America Online execs, touts a best-of-the-state program that highlights vineyards and producers all over the commonwealth. Visitors will be dazzled by ambiance in addition to the wines, as the tasting room is one of the most inviting in the land. Look out for great pours of wines like Chardonnay, Cab Franc, and Rosé.
Set in the northern Virginia town of Purcellville, 868 Estate Vineyards is a part of the Loudoun County Wine Trail. The decade-old project is set within 120 biodiverse acres of forest, vineyard, orchard, and gardens. The estate offers a host of bites to go along with the wines, from snacks and flatbreads to weekend entrees. Look out for Italian-style dessert wine called Passito, along with Chardonnays done in both steel and wood, and somewhat rare wines like Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid.
The cool kids are drinking Lightwell Survey wines and it’s really no wonder. It all unfolds in an old mill in Waynesboro, where crafty blends and unique offerings like a pink wine made from grapes like Vidal Blanc and Blaufränkisch and others are poured. The tastings are intimate, allowing you to get the backstory on the unique blends and understand the label’s fairly daring approach. It’s at stops like this where you’re likely witnessing the future of the Virginia wine scene, being poured right into your glass.
Charlottesville is a great option for a long weekend in wine country, as more than 40 labels operate in and right around town. You can stay on a working vineyard at places like Glass House or Meriwether Springs, which even has its own brewery. There are pastoral joys around every corner in this part of Virginia, as it’s home to a thriving orchard and agricultural scene.
For grub, eat in the heart of the Monticello Wine Trail at Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards. In town, there’s no shortage of great options, from trattoria’s like Tavola to Feast!, for great lunch options. Locals love the southern food at Whiskey Jar and as well as the fittingly named Local, with an ever-changing menu. Pop over to Tillman’s for a good old-fashioned wine and cheese pairing. Start the day off right with a proper breakfast at the Blue Moon Diner.
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