It’s worth a trip to Virginia wine country

On a recent trip to central Virginia wine country, I was really impressed with the region. It’s hard to believe that there are around 275 wineries in the state. Time spent there in search of vinous delights, culinary wonders, hospitality, and American history will not be disappointing.

The central part of the state is a hotbed for wine production. Here, the Blue Ridge Mountains play a huge part in this region’s terroir because of granite-based soils. Snuggled up to the slopes of these mountains, the Monticello and Shenandoah Valley AVAs are great producing areas. Historically, Thomas Jefferson spent a long time in Monticello trying to grow European grapes. Over the years many grape varieties, including Viognier, Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Petit Mansing, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Tannat, Syrah, and Norton have flourished.

Central Virginia is a bit warmer than further north in the state and benefits from a longer growing season. Generally, wineries at somewhat higher elevations in the region have slightly cooler temperatures while those lower down or in the valley are warmer. Humidity is substantial, making grape growing challenging and resulting in an overall shortage of fruit and slightly higher pricing for the wines. If you’re looking for “New World” California-type vinos here, you’ll be sadly disappointed. Styles definitely tend to lean to the “Old World” with great expressions of their terroir and understated oak treatment.

In Fishersville, check out Barren Ridge Vineyards for their exotic 2013 Viognier and tropical fruity 2013 Traminette. Two delightful producers are located in Crozet: King Family Vineyards and Stinson Vineyards. All King Family wines are superb. The clove-laden 2013 Merlot, smoky 2012 Petit Verdot, Bordeaux-like 2007 Meritage, and marmalade-like 2013 Lorely are particularly noteworthy. At Stinson be sure to try their strawberried 2014 Rosé, cedary 2013 Merlot, and peachy Vidal Blanc-based 2013 Sugar Hollow White.

Charlottesville offers a great dining experience at “The Local.” Head Chef Matthew Hart thoughtfully prepares all meals with flare and gusto. In Keswick, at Keswick Vineyards, try their fragrant 2014 V2, Viognier/Verdelho blend, smoky 2013 Chardonnay, honeyed 2013 LVD Viognier, and watermelon-like 2014 Norton Rosé.

You simply must stop at the Barboursville Winery. Owned by famed Italian producer Zonin, it’s a real treat. Deciding what local wines to try here is hard as all are excellent.

Taste their chocolaty, red Bordeaux-like 2009 Octagon, sandlewood 2007 Cabernet Franc, stewed fruit 2008 Merlot Reserve, and savoury 2010 Nebbiolo, to name but a few. Be sure to dine at their on-premise Italian restaurant “Palladio” – the food is magnifico.

Madison hosts Early Mountain Vineyards. A floral 2009 Trump Rosé and melon-like 2014 Pinot Gris are well worth the effort. Spend the night at the secluded Rockwood Farm and have the entire cottage to yourself, complete with a swimming pond. Bridgewater in scenic Albemarle County is home to Bluestone Vineyards with their toasty 2013 Estate Chardonnay, red-berry 2013 Rosé, cassis and licorice-like 2010 Meritage, clove-noted 2012 Houndstooth and tropical fruity icewine-style 2013 Estate Blue Ice. Rhone-style wine lovers will dig Muse Vineyards, with their barrel-fermented nutty 2013 Roussane and spicy blackberry-like Grenache-based 2013 Calliope.

These are but a sample of the producers and wines awaiting you in central Virginia. No question, it’s a gem of a wine growing region with tons to offer the consumer. The next time you’re in this neck of the woods or motoring south for the winter, consider a side trip to this state’s wine country. I’m sure you’ll be as enamoured with it as I am.


Edward Finstein is a wine writer, award-winning author, TV and radio host, educator, judge

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