Virginia may be better known as the state for lovers, but this southeastern state, famed as one of the original 13 colonies in the United States, has become a significant player as a wine destination over the past decade.
One of Virginia’s most prominent and enthusiastic boosters is wine professional Fred Reno, who loves to share stories of the region’s long winegrowing history and its modern-day success on his podcast, Fine Wine Confidential. For example, he recounts how in the year 1619, the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, enacted Acre 12, a resolution that required each male colonist in the Old Dominion of Jamestown to plant ten grapevines for the production of wine “for Crown.” However, the grapes were hard to grow, and the resolution soon failed.
Today, 28 types of grapes are cultivated in over 4,000 acres of vineyards throughout the state, and because of the diversity of growing conditions in 10 disparate regions (mostly in north and central Virginia), seven distinct AVAs (American Vinicultural Areas) have been assigned. Red or white? Well, in Virginia, it’s a 50/50 split.
It would be reasonable for anyone living in the Napa Valley to be skeptical about Virginia’s standing as a wine country. But plan to be pleasantly surprised on day one of wine tasting because Virginia indeed has legs in the wine world.
WINERIES TO VISIT IN THE MIDDLEBURG AVA
Loudoun County is located 50 miles west of Washington, D.C., bounded by the Potomac River to its north and the Blue Ridge to its east, west, and south. It spans almost 200 square miles and contains over 230 acres of vineyards and 24 wineries.
Stone Tower Winery
Upon arrival at Stone Tower Winery, located on Hogback Mountain Road in Leesburg, one might swear they were in the Napa Valley. However, the lush expanse of vineyards and its sophisticated wine tasting spaces reveal a seriousness of purpose completely unexpected.
With reservations pre-arranged, arriving guests are greeted for a private tour by a winery brand ambassador before boarding an all-terrain vehicle for a ride to view the winery’s 85 acres of vines. As guests cradle a glass of Stone Tower Chardonnay, the brand ambassador explains the surrounding geology. For example, a hogback, also known as hog’s back, is defined as a long, narrow ridge or a series of hills with a narrow crest and steep slopes.
Also noted is the climate, which is usually windy and explains the label’s name: Estate Wind Swept Hill, a 2015 cabernet blend with a tasting profile pleasantly merlot dominant, sure to be a favored sip on tour.
From the vineyards, the ATV’s next stop would be up to the building that houses Stone Tower’s private tasting room. Guests are invited to take a seat on a comfortable sofa to enjoy a food and wine pairing akin to one served in a Napa Valley winery. At meal’s end, expect a tiny pour of Wild Boar Porton, the winery’s delicious, fortified wine with tastes of wild berries. // www.stonetowerwinery.com
Walsh Family Wine
Also in Loudoun County is Walsh Family Wine, founded in 2014 by Sarah and Nathan Walsh. Both Sarah and Nathan have worked in the wine industry their entire adult lives.
In 2019, Nathan wrote about the progress of quality Virginia wines in the Walsh Family Grown, Produced, and Bottled By magazine. He noted, “Over time, I believe that the great sites of Virginia will gradually become known through consistency of quality and vineyard-specific bottlings.”
If proof is in the tasting, the Walsh Family has succeeded in its mission. One taste of a Petit Manseng, a white grape with a lemony pear taste, offers a shoutout to a varietal that hails from southwest France. Let it be stated that Virginia produces the grape just as admirably. // www.walshfamilywine.com
8 Chains North
Down the road from Leesburg, eight miles west, is a rustic boutique winery called 8 Chains North. This Virginia winery is where its former owner, Ben Renshaw, retains his place as vineyard manager and winemaker. The property offers extensive outdoor seating, a dog park, and a beautiful private event space perfect for weddings — all with stunning vineyard views.
To savor a glass of North Furnace Mountain Red, a Bordeaux blend barrel-aged for 18 months, is to taste the best of fourteen Old-World wines produced here. // www.8chainsnorth.com
On the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bluemont Vineyard’s tasting room is over 900 feet above sea level, offering breathtaking views of the Loudoun Valley. Bluemont Vineyard was established in 2007 when the first grapevines came into full production. Today, the vineyard grows over ten varietals of grapes, including Viognier, Norton, and Cabernet Franc.
Bluemont’s winemaker, Scott Spelbring, wrote, “There is a creative ability as a winemaker to blend and shape each bottle in the cellar. In many ways, a winemaker with barrels is like a chef with spices or an artist with paintbrushes. Each bottle of wine is a creative expression of the winemaker’s vision. My goal as a winemaker is to create balanced wines and show finesse and structure while also conveying the uniqueness of Bluemont.” // www.bluemontvineyard.com
WINERIES TO VISIT IN THE MONTICELLO AVA
Moving south to Central Virginia in the Monticello AVA proves that tasting more Virginia wines would entail repeat visits to its various wine regions. Barboursville Vineyards, for instance, is located half an hour from Charlottesville, Virginia, and sits on land with a mansion with a notable octagonal dining room, one designed by none other than Thomas Jefferson in 1814. Unfortunately, the mansion burned in a fire on Christmas Day, 1884; its ruins today are considered a historic landmark in Albemarle County.
Their Reserve Viognier touts a winning taste with a tropical fruit palate with hints of orange and honey, as does their blend called Octagon with its premier blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. On the label is a reproduction of the mansion’s floor plan, making this wine impossible to sip without a visualization of Jefferson and his friend, Virginia Gov. James Barbour, enjoying a bottle in that peculiarly-shaped dining room. // www.bbvwine.com
Also in Albemarle County, Stinson Vineyards stands out for making the Uruguayan varietal, Tannat, a grape rarely found in the United States. Its taste is akin to Pinot Noir but with tobacco notes and more plum on the finish.
This family-run boutique winery sits in “downtown” White Hall, a historic property with outstanding views highlighting the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its winery is a repurposed garage fashioned with a farm store tasting room with choices of small-batch wines and farm store goods such as grass-fed beef and organic free-range eggs. // www.stinsonvineyards.com
Located in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the county of Albemarle is Blenheim Vineyards. In 1999, Dave Matthews, the lead performer in The Dave Matthews Band, purchased more than 10 acres of land in Albemarle County to preserve its historical significance, which dates back to 1730.
John Carter, Secretary of the Colony of Virginia, obtained a patent for 9,350 acres northeast of present-day Carter’s Bridge in what is now Albemarle County. Here, Carter and his son Edward built the first Blenheim house before 1799. The house was named in honor of the War of the Spanish Succession, fought and won by the British under the command of the Duke of Marlborough.
Blenheim Farms was also where Thomas and Martha Jefferson are said to have experienced coach trouble during a snowstorm. They stopped at Blenheim for warmth and a rest before continuing to Monticello by way of horses borrowed from Edward Carter.
Matthews later decided to plant grapes on the property since it is located within both the Virginia and Monticello viticultural areas. Touches of Dave Matthews’s design prowess may be found in the tasting room. // www.blenheimvineyards.com
Ankida Ridge Vineyards
Ankida Ridge Vineyards in Amherst County is considered Virginia’s “Little Burgundy.” This family-run micro-boutique vineyard grows Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, establishing its premier place in this wine country. Further confirmation is in the translation of Ankida in Ancient Sumerian: “Where heaven and earth join.” // www.ankidaridge.com
WHERE TO STAY
Salamander Resort & Spa
Loudoun County, where Virginia’s renowned horse and wine country is located, is less than an hour from Washington’s Dulles Airport. It’s also where The Salamander Resort & Spa is situated on an expansive 340-acre site in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the lovely town of Middleburg.
This Forbes five-star resort property is a destination unto itself and is a perfect home base when exploring the region’s wineries. The stately drive into this country estate leads to its grand entrance, reminiscent of its history as one of the original 13 colonies. At the back of the resort, the rooms’ French doors open to a sprawling emerald lawn upon which guests in its 168 rooms may gaze (each room features a private balcony or patio). // www.salamanderresort.com
1804 Inn and Cottages
In Monticello, Barboursville Vineyards features three suites on its historic plantation. The octagon suite, in particular, is a visual feast overlooking the Historic Ruins from the bedroom, balcony, and private formal garden. Inside, walls are decorated with historical portraits, while furniture includes rare inlaid fruitwood chests, credenzas, and an armoire. // www.bbvwine.com/our-inn