Let me just say here that although I grew up in North Carolina, and will always consider it home, I have been a legal resident and part-time physical resident of Virginia since I was 15, and a full-time resident since I was 18, and I will admit that I love this “Commonwealth” (it’s not a state, they are real picky about that . . . ). And Virginia’s wine growing region is not the least of the reasons why.
I should also mention that I love wine. A lot. Like, almost as much, and on some days more than food. Jeremy and I have been visiting Virginia wineries for the past five years or so, and this past year we took our dream trip to Napa Valley. We are winos, plain and simple.
Finally, I should mention that October is Virginia Wine Month which is really fortunate, because as the saying goes – grapes don’t grow in ugly places. And Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October is the opposite of ugly. So we took advantage of several situations this past weekend: the peak of the fall foliage season in Shenandoah, the fact that my cousin and her husband just moved to Staunton, VA, and Virginia Wine Month = wine-tasting weekend!!
Virginia wine is pretty amazing, and I can say this even more confidently now, having been to Napa and having tasted some of the best wine the USA makes (I’ll post about that trip later, but I’ll just note here that we tasted and toured Opus One in Napa, which might be one of, if not the, most exclusive wine in the region and while MOST impressive, it still does not outshine the beauty, character and body of Virginia Vino). I fully believe that in the next 10-20 years, Shenandoah Valley will be the East Coast equivalent of Napa Valley. According to VirginiaWine.org “By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, 107. At 192 wineries and counting today, only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than Virginia. The persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is now coming true.”
I could write, and several people have, a book about the influence Thomas Jefferson had on Virginia’s agricultural economy, and specifically wine growing, but we won’t get in to that here. The bottom line is, it’s a historical industry that is finally getting its due, and will continue to flourish in years to come as the wines become more well known and the industry continues to improve.
Here was our wine itinerary for the weekend:
Stop 1: Barren Ridge Vineyards
This very small, but well designed winery with amazing views was a great way to start the day. More low-key than some other wineries we visited, we did not feel rushed and tasted several great wines, the highlight of which was their Traminette and Vidal Blanc. Then we took some cheesy pictures:
Stop 2: Afton Mountain Vineyards
Afton has a great selection of wines and offers a classic and reserve tasting. I splurged for the reserve tasting (seriously it’s only $3 more, so just do it), and was really impressed with their reds, particularly their Festa di Bacco, a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and their Cabernet Franc, which is a grape that grows particularly well in Virginia – you’ll find a bottle of this at almost every winery in the state. Jeremy, Sara and Bryan (my cousin and her husband) did the classic tasting and all agreed the Riesling, which was semi-dry and not too sweet (less than 2% residual sugar – a number very important to those of us who detest wines that taste like grape flavored corn syrup) was a winner. So we shared a glass of the Riesling on their beautiful patio. Did I mention the weather was perfect? It was perfect.
Stop 3: Veritas Vineyard & Winery
Veritas blew us all away. It was shocking to me and Jeremy because it was busier and crazier than anything we’d seen in Napa. The inside of the farmhouse style building was decorated beautifully, tastings are done in groups throughout the house – either at the bar, or in big, overstuffed leather couches, and they have a fantastic yard with a beautiful view where you can picnic or just hang out or nosh on a house cheese tray like we did. There was a line out the door to taste that never disappeared while we were there – although people were being moved through and seated pretty quickly. Far and away the star of the show here is their Saddleback Chardonnay (2011). This is an “old-world” style Chardonnay that starts in stainless steel and is matured in neutral French oak barrels for 4 months. The results is a smooth wine that is not “oakey” or buttery the way many barrel fermented Chards are. It’s light and smooth but still has a lot of body. We bought a bottle, grabbed a cheese tray and set up camp for a while. And wouldn’t you know it, I found the only pug visiting wineries that day in Shenandoah?
Stop 4: Pollak Vineyards
Our intention had been to stop after Veritas, but at the tasting bar a gentlemen informed Sara that Pollak was very close and a must-taste, so we hit the road again and headed to this fairly new, but well done vineyard that grows enough grapes that they actually sell some of their crop to other local wineries. The owners here originally owned a winery in California’s Carneros region of Napa Valley. The tasting bar was PACKED, so this man must have been really spreading the word, but we waited patiently for our taste, and decided to spend some time on the property here as well, so we all headed outside with a bottle of their Pinot Gris and a glass (for me) of their Cabernet Sauvignon (a hard wine to make in VA, but this one was worthy). Sara took a pretty awesome panoramic picture of the winery and our table, and then we took some photo opps down by their little pond . . . at this point we may have tasted a bit too much wine to be standing that close to a body of water, but we took our chances.
The whole day was awesome and I remain amazed and impressed with the wine grown in my “commonwealth” and as much as I love Napa, this is MY wine growing region, and I will continue to support it, no matter what month it is.
Have you been to a Virginia Winery or tasted a Virginia Wine? If you live outside of Virginia – have you tasted any wines produced in your state? What did you think?