Virginia isn’t the most ideal state for producing wine, but that has stopped few from trying.
Even Thomas Jefferson labored for decades to grow multiple grape varieties at his Monticello estate, never producing even one bottle. And while the founding father’s unwavering persistence ultimately proved unsuccessful, it did inspire generations of winemakers who learned to work with the environment and land to grow wine grapes in the commonwealth. Today, we can quite literally drink in their progress. Over the past several years, Virginia winemakers have produced award-winning, highly drinkable wines on stunning estates that nearly rival California and Europe.
And, as viticulture — the science and study of grapes — continues to evolve, breakthroughs bring varietals that wow. Today, the state boasts more than 250 wineries, nearly 100 of which are in northern Virginia, within an hour’s drive of Washington, D.C., according to the Virginia Wine Board, a state-sponsored trade association. If you’re overwhelmed by too many great choices, board director Annette Boyd recommends choosing just a few.
“Do two to three wineries a day,” she says. “A lot of the things that make those visits so special are being able to stop and smell the flowers and savor the wines.”
Traversing the serene vistas of Virginia wine country can work up an appetite. Thankfully, there’s 868 Estate Vineyard’s restaurant, Grandale Vintner’s Table, which serves fresh gourmet food in Loudoun County. Spring and summer brings visitors to the restaurant’s deck, while a fire warms patrons inside during fall and winter. Wine flights, daily specials and a seasonal menu are part of 868’s congenial charm. The winery, named for the property’s elevation, grows merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay and many other varieties. Taste the 2015 Cabernet Franc, blended with cabernet sauvignon and merlot, 100 percent estate-grown.
Before you leave, make sure to shoot pics of the gorgeous, 125-year-old barn for your Instagram feed.
For some international flavor, head to Narmada Winery in Rappahannock County, where the estate’s wines are paired with Indian fare. Owner and CEO Pandit Patil and his wife, Sudha, the estate’s winemaker, named the winery after Pandit’s mother, whose support made it possible for him to head to the U.S. to earn an engineering degree decades ago. There’s a limited menu during the week, but the weekends bring on mmmm-inducing dishes — spiced butter chicken, creamy vegetable korma and aromatic papri chaat, all with recommended wine pairings.
One variety to try: Narmada Mom, blended from two grape varieties grown on the estate as a tribute to hardworking moms around the world.
How Sweet It Is
Dessert wines are the perfect end to a meal, so for a sweet treat, head to Barrel Oak Winery in Fauquier County for its Chocolate Lab, a wine made from estate-grown chambourcin grapes. After the grapes complete fermentation, the wine is fortified with distilled grape spirits, and organic cocoa nibs are steeped in it to give a hint of natural chocolate flavor. The name is both a nod to the winery’s dog-friendly atmosphere (Barrel Oak Winery as an acronym, with „wow” added, is BOW WOW) and to the wine’s origins as a laboratory experiment with chocolate.
Relative newcomer Stone Tower Winery touts multiple French varietals grown on the rolling hills of Hogback Mountain in Leesburg. (Be sure to head to the outdoor seating area and rub the nose of the bronze hog for good luck.) After your tasting, pick up a bottle of Porton, a port-style wine from the Norton grape originally bottled in 2016, first cultivated in Richmond, Va. (though today, Missouri claims it as its state grape). Because the production of the wine was relatively small — only about 100 cases; the winery plans to make more this summer— it’s treated as a „speakeasy” product, not advertised in the tasting room and only poured at special events.
Hitting All The Right Notes
Cheese isn’t the only thing that pairs well with wine. The Winery at Bull Run features live acoustic music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday year-round. While the estate’s two vineyards grow Norton grapes, viognier (named Virginia’s official grape in 2011), cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot, merlot, chambourcin, chardonnay and traminette grapes are grown at the winery’s Rock Mill Vineyard in Little Washington, about 40 miles away.
The working farm-vineyard takes its name from its history. The first major land battle of Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run, took place on the property, as did the Second Battle of Bull Run a year later. The Confederates referred to the battle site as Manassas, after the nearby town; the Union called it Bull Run, for the creek that ran through the site. Check out the winery’s Civil War museum, populated with relics from the two Manassas battles.
Paradise Springs Winery also features a bit of history. The Fairfax County winery hosts free live musical acts every Friday evening and Saturday afternoon (and some Sundays) for winery patrons. Before you get settled, take note of the estate’s spaces — which include an 1800s log cabin, renovated in 1955 by Howard Richter, a protege of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a red bam relocated from downtown Fairfax, Va., that houses the tasting and music spaces.
Paradise Springs’ estate-grown cabernet franc and viognier, from fruit grown on properties in Loudoun County and the Shenandoah Valley region, are sublime.