You've heard about Virginia's growing wine industry, but where to start? How much is a day trip going to cost? How far away are the wineries? Since starting this blog, these are common questions people come to me with so here is Virginia Winery Touring 101.
Wineries are usually open from 11-6, some are noon-5 and others have extended hours in the summer time.You should know that some wineries love hosting groups, others do not. Typically "groups" refers to 6, 8, 10 or more people and might require a reservation, if less than that feel free to walk right in. Some wineries also serve bread and cheeses on site, but its always wise to bring some snacks of your own. Most allow you to bring in your own food for picnics, but consuming alcohol from outside vendors or even wine from a neighboring vineyard is illegal in Virginia.
WHO TO BRING
For nuances concerning hours, numbers of visitors and if pets are allowed please check out the vineyard website before you go, if I don't have a link to a particular vineyard below or on my homepage the Virginia Wine Board Marking website (www.virginiawine.org) should have the information on all +200 wineries in the state. Virginia Wine Board Marketing also produces an annual "Virginia Winery Guide" map that can be picked up at any vineyard for free and is a great resource to keep on hand.
Tasting fees run from $5-$10 on average and can include a souvenir wine glass-the best such glass is by far from Jefferson Vineyards. There are sometimes options to participate in a reserve tasting (typically older vintage) or a vertical tasting (the same varietal from different years) which will usually incur a higher cost ($10-$15). The cost of a bottle, that you can take home or enjoy on site, can range from $15-$45, but most Virginia wines are in the $19-$32 range. If you find something you really like take a bottle or two home, chances are it won't be around for long and next year's vintage could taste much different especially with this hot, dry summer.
Getting there requires a car; for those public transit dependent in greater DC there are bus tours starting at $35 that are open to the public (http://www.zerve.com/Boomerang/Vineyard). If you want to avoid driving and be taken care of all day that is certainly an option; Chariots for Hire, Reston Limousine, Fairfax Limo and Captiol Region Tours are all limo companies that have pre-organized and priced out winery tour options.
WHERE TO GO
I enjoy visiting 2-3 vineyards in a day, it gives you a chance to relax and enjoy the vineyard. Now that you know the basics, here are some tried and true options for self-directed day trips, times are based on approximate driving time from DC:
1.5 hours southwest from 66 to 29 to 211 towards Warrenton and Amissville
Gray Ghost Vineyards is a civil war inspired stop with some award winning whites, about 2 miles from them is Narmada Winery a winery where you can "Experience India and Taste Virginia" as one might suspect Indian food is served and they often have live music. About 10 miles from these two is Morais Vineyard, another international adventure as it is a Portuguese winery. If you don't have time to make it to Morais, or you are feeling ambitious and want to visit 4 wineries Unicorn Winery is also off 211 near Gray Ghost and Narmada.
1.5-2 hours northwest on 7 (the toll road) to 9 towards Leesburg, if you know where the outlet mall is go past it.
There are lot out this way very close together. Hillsborough Winery, North Gate Vineyard, and Sunset Hills Vineyard all have great views, airy tasting rooms, comfortable outdoor space and are tucked off the main road. If you are looking for a more intimate and unique experience that way I'd suggest Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, Loudoun Valley Vineyard and 8 Chains North.
1.5-2 hours west on 66
First you will hit Pearmund Cellars and Winery at la Grange both quality stops with close to 15 wines to try at each, you could easily be satisfied with these two stops and call it a day. If you want to drive farther out for some mountain views, take the 55 split west and try Chateau O'Brien and Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn.
Charlottesville, 2 hours south has options in town for dinner before heading home, but it is also a great spot for an over night trip. I find I really enjoy the Merlot and Chardonnay in the area and the farther south you go the more cost effective the tastings tend to be.
Heading down 29 you'll pass by a few, Early Mountain Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards are worth a visit. Early Mountain is still getting off the ground after a recent renovation and change in ownership while Barboursville is one of the older vineyards in the state with Jeffersonian ruins on site. Castle Hill Cider, Keswick Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards, and Blenheim Vineyards are relatively near each other on the eastern side of town. If you head southwest you'll find Veritas Vineyard which is well worth the drive over to visit. Blue Mountain Brewery is also in the area should you have an interest in beer.
For more information on these vineyards please check my homepage. I hope this gets you started on an enjoyable Virginia wine tasting excursion! Feed back is always welcome and if you do take these tips to the road please mention to the vineyards that you read about them here at A Rousing Vine.