Virginia Wineries

Three Fox Vineyard: Great Wines and Atmosphere in Delaplane

 Back in the early 2000Logos, Holli and John Todhunter were scoping out Delaplane, Virginia in hopes of opening their own winery. After several trips to Italy and southern France, they'd developed a love of the wines and the lifestyles they'd seen, and wanted to bring some of that to Northern Virginia. While visiting one particular plot of land just off Rt. 66, Holli spotted three foxes bounding over the verdant hills. That sealed the deal and settled the name; Three Fox Vineyards was born.

3FoxOutside1 Cute story, huh? It's fitting, as Three Fox is a really cute winery. Just a mile off of 66 at exit 23, the winery's barn-like tasting room is set amongst rolling hills, littered with well-manicured shrubs, umbrella-shaded tables and statuary. About 10 acres of land are under vine on the fifty acre estate, where they grow local favorites Viognier and Cabernet Franc, along with three native Italian varietals, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. Most of the winery's small production comes from these vines, which they supplement with a little bit of Chardonnay, Vidal and Chambourcin from other local growers.

3FoxInside Inside, the tasting room is a small, comfortable, two-room affair, decked out in the usual array of winery knickknacks, with an unsurprising vulpine bent. Being nice and early, we had the place nearly to ourselves, so we had the unusual luxury of a private, leisurely tasting.

3FoxFoxes Three Fox offers a diverse, very reasonably prices selection of tasting options. At the time of our visit, 11 wines were up for sampling, for the meager price of $6.00, with the option of keeping it all red or white for only $3.00. On top of that, Three Fox also featured a "Guest Wine," the always fabulous Thibaut - Janisson Sparkling Chardonnay from down Monticello way, for $2.00.

3FoxTastingBar Across the board, the wines we sampled that morning were quite good, particularly the estate grown selections. The La Boheme Viognier 2009 ($25 / bottle) was dry and light for the type, with nice light peach fruit, and a mild minerality. The Calabrese Pinot Grigio 2009 ($23) was revelatory, showing good fruit and a nutty finish, and an unexpected depth for a grape that doesn't usually perform so well in Virginia. The range of dry, Sangiovese based reds ran the gamut from light and cherry accented to rich and gamey, displaying the full range of another rare grape in the Commonwealth. Most impressive of all was the 2008 Piedmontese Nebbiolo ($29). This noble Italian varietal does not often perform well off it's native soil, but Three Fox did a fantastic job, creating a well structured, spicy wine with lots of dark cherry, earth and tar.

3FoxPotty Along with the great wines, we had a wonderful time talking to the attendant, who was very sweet and quite knowledgeable. It also must be noted that, though there are no indoor facilities available to the public, Three Fox has the cleanest and most lavishly decorated port-a-johns I have ever seen, which you may note at left.

The winery offers a selection of meats and cheeses for picnicking on the grounds, and all the wines are available by the glass -- we weren't able to hang out on this trip, but given the quality of the wines, I would gladly stop back for a glass or two in the future. The Todhunters are planning to plant another three acres in the coming years, and up production to 5000 cases annually. As of now, the wines are only available at a handful of locations, and through their online store, but hopefully that will soon change.

Three Fox Vineyards
10100 Three Fox Lane
Delaplane, Virginia 20144


Tasting Room Hours
Thurs, Fri, Sat and Mon: 11am - 5pm
Sun: Noon-5:00pm

Potomac Point Winery of Stafford, VA

POTOMACOUTSIDE1 As I am sure you are all aware, I-95 is a horrid, horrid bitch of a road. Traveling back up from visiting my brother in Richmond last Sunday (welcome to Virginia, James and Christine!), we'd hit a couple nasty backups, but it was pretty much smooth sailing until Exit 148, when we saw a nasty bit of business looming. On a whim, I took a hard right off the highway in pursuit of Potomac Point Winery, whose sign I'd seen a couple clicks back, rightfully thinking that a couple glasses of wine beat the hell out of sitting in traffic for a half hour.

POTOMACBAR Beyond the one on the highway, signage is a bit sparse on the six-mile journey to the three year-old winery, and we promptly lost ourselves on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere; if you plan to visit, make sure you actually, like, know the address. After a bit of GPSing, we arrived at the tasting room, a large, pretty, white stone and brick structure set high on a hill, amongst some small vineyards and well manicured shrubberies. The inside is open and comfortable, with very high ceilings, the usual array of knick-knacks adorning the walls and alcoves, and a large, island-style, marble-topped tasting bar in the center. Amenities include an olive oil tasting bar, courtesy of Stella Cadente, a dim, dark wood accented lounge, a patio bistro, and even a children's playroom (a brilliant idea, left un-photographed cuz I'm too pretty for jail). Overall, very pleasant in that slightly cheesy, faux-continental sort of way that tasting rooms have.

  Potomac Point offerPOTOMACOILs three tasting options, ranging from $5 to $10 per person, each including a souvenir glass and free access to the bread and infused oil's at the olive oil bar; not too shabby! At the host's suggestion, we opted for the whole shebang, and made our way to the bar.

After the fact, I read a few reviews online that gave PP less than stellar points in the service department, which I can totally corroborate. For all the six or seven employees wandering around the place, there was only one attending to the 10 or so customers at the bar. Several staffers were screwing around just next to us, and the two women at the cashier's stand were comPOTOMACPAINTINGpletely unoccupied, while the poor girl serving us and all the other tasters did double-duty, also being the service bartender for the bistro. She eventually got a little relief, but in any case it took us nearly an hour to taste through, and we got little attention or info. Bad show, there.

  The wines were... dry. "Dryness" in a wine is a reflection of it's residual sugar; that is, the amount of sugar that is not convertePOTOMACVINEYARDd into alcohol by the yeast during fermentation. The actual experience of dryness is relative; a heavy Chardonnay could have a good amount of sugar in it, but have enough in the alcohol, acid, and flavor department to still taste "dry." Potomac Point lists the residual sugar content of each of it's wines on the tasting sheet -- most are categorized simply as "Dry." This is a bit of an understatement: the "Dry" wines seemed to have no  residual sugar whatsoever, which worked to their detriment.

POTOMACPORCH1The La Belle Vie Rose 2009 ($18.99), made from Syrah (a rather rare find in VA), was lightly fruity and drinkable, and the Reserve Chardonnay 2008 ($21.99) was a good bet if you like 'em oaky. The rest of the whites were harsh and bland -- the 2008 Chardonnay ($16.99) overly lemony, the Virginia favorite Viognier 2008 ($21.99) was downright sour, and the usually light and flowery Traminette 2008 ($18.99) was flat and oily. 

As for thPOTOMACPORCH2e reds, the "Chianti-style" 2009 Abbinato ($16.99) was pleasant and far more balanced than most of the offerings, and the 2007 Heritage ($26.99) Bordeaux blend had pretty good fruit and acid, but the 2008 Merlot, Cab Franc, and Norton each left a lot to be desired. The winery offered a couple sweet wines that hit the spot, but most of the others were very disappointing. All of the really poor performers were from the 2008 vintage, so I'll give PP the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a rough year for growers, and they purchased some real under-ripe grapes -- I certainly can't imagine them surviving these past three years if that level of quality as the standard.

POTOMACGLASS Afterward, we retired to the patio for the obligatory glass of pink wine. The bistro was serving, and the food looked pretty good, but we'd filled up on bread and olive oil, and took a pass. Looking out over the grounds through the patio's wrought iron fencing was lovely, and the rose made a nice compliment to the late afternoon sun. Being a unique, convenient rest stop off of Satan's own highway, I could definitely see myself visiting Potomac Point again -- but with Pearmund, La Grange and Paradise Springs closer in to the west, I am pretty sure I wouldn't make it a destination.

Potomac Point Winery
275 Decatur Road
Stafford, VA‎ 22554
(540) 446-2266‎
Directions and Hours

Paradise Springs: Fairfax County has a Winery!

  ParadiseOutside2 Last weekend I took a trip out Route 50 with a buddy of mine to visit Chrysalis Vineyards, one of my all time favorites, out in Middleburg, VA. The wines were good, as always... but that's not the story. While sipping a glass of rose out on the patio, I flipped through the new 2010 Virginia Winery Guide, and saw a new little dot in the Northern Virginia Region marked Paradise Springs. "Holy Crap," I exclaimed, "Fairfax has a winery!" Seeing as how we were wild and crazy guys out on a manly adventure, we promptly downed our sweet pink wine and hit the road.

Paradise Springs is on the outskirts of the tiny village of Clifton, just northeast of Manassas. Clifton itself is such an odd little place; driving through toParadiseoutside1wn on Route 645 is like passing through an upscale Mayberry, with its general store and wooden churches, interspersed with Victorian manors and high end eateries, like Trummer's On Main. We headed through town and south, past newer mansions that would give those by Great Falls a run for their money, and down a winding one lane road to a sizable log cabin that was our destination.

  As we would ParadiseBack1soon learn, the cabin is an early 19th century construction built on a property that has been in the owners' family since the early 1700's. In 1955 the cabin was refurbished by a protege of famed architect Frank Llyod Wright for use as a summer home. Jane Kincheloe and her son Kirk Wiles inherited the property some years ago, and in 2007 followed through on a long discussed family plan to turn the 36 acre estate into a farm winery. Though the wines are all presently made offsite, Paradise Valley just broke ground on their own winemaking facilities this past Saturday, which they hope to have up and running by year's end.

ParadiseInside2 The property itself is very pretty. Picnic tables litter a rustically manicured, hilly yard, bordered by forest on all sides. When we arrived, a band was finishing their set under a  white awning set just below a field of young grapevines. Inside, several people mingled in the comfortable, warm wood-accented and richly appointed kitchen area that serves as the winery's gift shop. The tasting room is in the basement; a super-cool, very low-ceilinged space evocative of the cellar of a French chateau. 

PV offers up a selection of eight wines -- four reds, three whites and a rose -- for the reasonable tasting fee of $7.00. Since their own vines are so young at this point, wines are made from grapes purchased ParadiseInside from a wide variety of locations around Virginia, and made by a team of consultant winemakers, including Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars and The Winery at LaGrange. The wines are not cheap, ranging from $21 to $32 per bottle, but they are nearly all excellent. Though the Nana's Rose ($23) was a little sulpheric and kinda grapey, and the Vidal Blanc ($23) kinda bland, the rest were solid. Most displayed characteristics I've learned to be typical of Pearmund's wines; dry, balanced, and light on fruit and oak. The 2008 Viognier ($27) was classic Virginia, with a full body, mild oak influence, good acid, and soft pear and apricot fruit. The 2008 Cabernet Franc ($22) is aged in locally sourced oak, is a light and soft example of the type, with mild plum fruit, and just a bit of tannin on the finish. The 2008 Norton ($29) was hands down the finest of the lot. Though the most noble of American varietals, Norton still often comes off gamey or foxy; not so PV's, which has great balance, rich dark berry and earth flavors, and a lengthy finish, implying years of potential aging in bottle.

ParadiseBottle All the wines are available by the glass ($6-$8), and I am told there is light fair to be had, though I regret to say I didn't find it in my short stay. Almost worth the price of tasting is the rather large, high quality sampling glass that comes free with the sampling fee.

It was nice to discover that Fairfax's first winery seems to be a winner. The wines are really great, but of such low production that I doubt you'll see them much outside the tasting room, and the aforementioned Trummer's On Main. I look forward to seeing what they do when they get their vines start producing and the winery up and running.

Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Road
Clifton Virginia 20124
Tasting Room Hours:
Apr-Dec -- Wed through Sun, 11am - 7pm
Jan-Mar -- Sat & Sun, 11am - 6pm

Winery At La Grange: Prince William County's First Vineyard

LaGrangeManor The Virginia wine boom has seen vineyards creep closer and closer to DC in these past couple of decades. Though we've yet to see a winery open up in Fairfax (Sorry, Springfield Estate is actually in South Africa), as of 2006 the fine wine of the USA's fifth largest-producing state is made a mere 40 miles from the Capitol. On our way down to Charlottesville last month, Eliza and I made a quick detour off 66 to check it out.

When Chris Pearmund (owner of the nearby and well establish Pearmund Cellars) looked for an vineyard site in Prince William County, he wanted something special. He found it in the La Grange Manor, a 20 acre estate centered around a three-and-a-half story red brick house built in the 1790s. With vineyards just recently planted and not yet mature, the winery now produces a wide selection of wines made from grapes purchased from local vineyards.

LagrangeArbor The estate itself is beautiful to behold. Set off a small road in the middle of brush land and farm country, the hill-set house cuts a stately figure, surrounded by tall boxwoods, which form a fetching trellis arching over the house's back porch. Great pains were made to restore the interior in a historically accurate fashion, based on scant evidence gleaned from some early twentieth-century photographs, giving the ground floor tasting area an old-world, turn of the century feel. To the right of the front door, horseshoed around a brick and white-paneled fireplace is a modern, tile covered tasting bar — we sidled up to take in our options.

La Grange offers two tasting programs, one featuring eight of their whites and reds, the other the full range of 12, for a reasonable five and eight dollars respectively. Curious about the high-end "Snort," a Portuguese style fortified wine, we opted for the whole run.

The first few years of operating a winery and developing a style can be tough, so it was not a great surprise that La Grange's offerings were rather hit or miss. In the win column is the 2007 Pinot Gris ($19.00) — an unusual varietal for the area — which was pleasingly dry and citrusy, with good body and impressive acidity. The 2008 Cuvee Blanc ($19.00) made a pleasing, off-dry quaff, and we picked up a bottle to enjoy on our balcony. Impressive too was the 2006 Norton ($19.00), which was well balanced, spicy, and gamey, just as a good Norton should be. Also nice were the 2006 Merlot ($21.00), with its soft tannins and plummy, tobacco accented nose, and the 2006 Meritage ($25.00), which, though tannic, should show well after a few years in the cellar.

LaGrangeBarn File under "not so hot" the 2007 Rose of Merlot ($16.00), which was kinda limp for want of acid. The aforementioned 2007 Snort ($29.00) was a bit of a disappointment, bearing more residual sugar than its meager tannins could handle. Worst of all was the 2007 Cabernet Franc ($19.00), which the winemaker's notes describe as "A medium bodied wine with strong cherry and toasted almond aromas." In fact, the cherry flavor was so strong as to approach that of a Luden's cough drop, and the almond flavor was overwhelming, crossing over to the realm of artificial extract. Though I thought the wine undrinkable, I couldn't fault La Grange for false advertising.

LaGrangeCheese After running the line and thanking our bartender, we proceeded to the retail counter, where purchased a couple glasses of white and a hunk of cheese, and then retired to environs. We snagged a couple Adirondack chairs near a huge outdoor stone fireplace, and looked out over a vineyard of young Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The cheese was excellent, the view lovely, and the musical stylings of Blondie and Journey — courtesy of a wedding reception at the winemaking facility above — gave the whole experience a pleasant air of the surreal. Though the wines may be a bit pricey and variable, La Grange is a fine place to spend a sunny spring afternoon, and well worth the hour's drive.

The Winery At La Grange
4970 Antioch Road
Haymarket, VA 20169
(703) 753-9360
Food: Large selection of light fare (cheese, crackers, pate, etc).
Wine Availability: Limited availability in Virginia.

"Wasting Time" at Blenheim Winery

Blenhieminside1 Remember Dave Matthews? Oh, sure ya do: mid-nineties? All over the freakin' radio with such angsty hits as "Don't Drink the Water" and "Crash into Me?" Remember "Satellite," and that high school dance when you were slow-dancing to that song, and your hands were so hella sweaty that it soaked through that girl's dress, and then she freaked and called you a "scrub," and everyone just laughed and laughed? Remember? Don't you?!

 In any case, shove that memory back into the ol' subconscious (who's a failure now! I write a blog, dammit!). On a recent trip to Charlottesville, we learned from a local that 'Dave' — a Charlottesville native — was Blenheimbarrelsin town that weekend, which put me in mind of Blenheim Vineyards, an area vineyard founded by the rocker in 2000. Thanks to its owner's fame, Blenheim is perhaps the most well-known winery in northern central Virginia, which makes it all the more odd that it was also one of the few wineries in the area without a tasting room. However, a quick glance at the new 2009 Virginia Winery Guide (an invaluable tourism tool, available at any VA winery or over the web) showed that Blenheim has opened up to the public as of this February. Just a brief drive up the road from where we were staying, we decided to brave the crowds of DMB fans to give the place a gander.

DMBROX  Okay, so there were no crowds, but there was definitely at least one major fan there (see picture at right. Tee hee). Nope, no crowds as we circled the big white barn and approached the triangular, lodge-style winery building below, but there was a contracted bouncer — big dude, in sunglasses, with a fancy ID badge, company windbreaker, the whole deal. He checked our IDs, stamped our hands (yeah, that's right), and allowed us entry.

The building — designed by Mr. Matthews himself for minimum environmental impact, and made with reclaimed lumber — is very impressive. Bare wood beams hold up a high, peaked ceiling, whose numerous windows let in tons of natural light. Three tasting stations are set up around a central walkway with a glass floor, allowing a view of the barrel room below. We walked up to cashier, paid our $5 each, and sat down at a large table close to the rear window.

Tastingroom1  Blenheim offers a generous nine wines for your fee, along with one of the sturdier tasting glasses I've used, which is yours to keep. The wines fall into two classes: those made from from the Viognier, Chardonnay, Petite Verdot, and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon grown on premise, and those purchased from local farmers, with origins printed clearly on the bottle. For the current vintage, Blenheim has gone all screw cap, a further step toward protecting the environment.

I don't want to go into detail on every wine; suffice it to say that they were all excellent, and most very reasonably priced. The highlights for me include the 2008 Viognier, which has a lovely dry finish and a unique smokey quality, and the  2008 Rose, which is full of red berry flavor and has ample acidity. Of the reds, the 2005 Meritage is an undeniable steal for $10, and would make a fantastic summer patio wine thanks to its light tannins and juicy finish. The only wine that failed to Blenheimbtl impress was the 2005 Blenheim Farm Cabernet Franc; while good, and definitely age-worthy, there is no way this wine lives up to the $40 asking price. Though, according to our host, every wine on the list is available for $5 a glass, making the Cab Franc a bargain if you are a fan of dark, dusty, heavy expressions of the grape.

Blenheim is conveniently located about 11 miles south of Charlottesville city center, and very close to other great wineries, including Kluge and Jefferson Vineyards. The wines are very good, and commonly available, so if you can't make it down, definitely pick up a bottle next time you see it. If, however, you think DMB ROX, a visit to Blenheim is a must, as it is rumored that Dave sometimes shows up for the odd impromptu jam session!

Blenheim Vineyards
31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA
(434) 293-5366
Food: Light fare (chips, soda, etc).
Wine Availability: Common in Virginia, occasionally seen in DC

Virginia Wineries: Orange County, Part 2

Being so rich in viticultural treasures, I felt that the Orange county region requires a little bit more attention. To this end, continuing in last week's vein, I have here outlined my experiences at a couple more of the area's fine wineries.

Keswick Vineyards

 KeswickA few miles up Route 22 as it winds its way from Charlottesville, just over the border into Albemarle County, signs pop up in the green pastures for Keswick Winery. The winery is set a good ways off the road up a long and winding path, and our drive up said path was like being transported into some pastoral poem. To the left, farm dogs frolicked amongst the vines, while rabbits popped their heads in and out of their warrens; to the right, gnarled fruit trees stood stark in the tall grass, and on an a small and swampy looking pond, a Great Blue Heron made a majestic marine landing. Hand to God.

Up on a nearby hill, set behind a copse of trees, a large barn-like structure houses the very modern tasting room. Inside, a large L-shaped tasting bar dominates the large, dark-wood furnished room, otherwise occupied with books, T-shirts, and other tasting room knickknacks. Near the door is a fascinating little glass table displaying artifacts uncovered during the vineyards' planting.

Being rather early on a Sunday the place was empty, so we were eagerly greeted by the two young women behind the bar, probably happy for the diversion. We chatted pleasantly as we paid our $8 and sampled the ten or so wines being offered that morning, most sourced exclusively from the surrounding 40 acre Edgewood Estate Vineyard. The 2006 Rose was lovely -- light, with just a hint of sweetness on the raspberry fruit palate. By and large the whites did not impress me, but it was interesting to see that Keswick grows the Spanish varietal Verdejo -- several VA wineries have been experimenting with this suddenly popular varietal; expect to see many more in the near future. The reds were solid, if a bit lower in acidity than I would have liked. The 2006 Norton was rather impressive, though, showing a classic profile of burnt fruit and earth, a full body, and none of that grapey or foxy quality for which the grape has been derided. We picked up two bottles for $20 apiece.

While there is not much in the way of food to be had, Keswick makes some good wines that you may consume in undeniably gorgeous environs. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, pack a picnic and pay a visit.

Keswick Vineyards
1575 Keswick Winery Drive
Keswick, VA 22947
(434) 244-9976
Food: N/A
Wine Availability: Widely Available in Virginia

Horton Cellars


I have only visited this winery once, and briefly, but I certainly plan on visiting again. It was kind of late on a Sunday, and after a rather lengthy tasting at Barboursville, I thought it would be a good idea to see what Horton was about, being only a few miles up the road. As it was threatening rain and about 20 minutes till closing, my companions disagreed. After a bit of whining, I got my way.

We pulled up to the tasting room just as the drenching rain began, and rushed under useless umbrellas to the welcoming Tudor style miniature castle. Inside, the tile floored, vaulted ceilinged room was a bustle of activity, with four tasters running back and forth serving some 20 or so guests. I soon learned what all the commotion was about: Horton offers their entire portfolio, 40 wines strong, open for tasting, free of charge.

With only about 15 minutes to taste and so much on hand, we quickly moved through a few solidly made  fruit wines and then went for the dry reds. The Stonecastle Red, an unusual blend of French and Portuguese varietals, was a pleasant surprise — lots of gamey flavors and depth of fruit given the light body and $12 price tag. The Cotes d'Orange, a cleverly named Cotes du Rhone inspired blend was similarly appealing, though a bit more tannic than its brother. The Malbec, an almost unheard of grape to see at a Virginia winery, was much lighter than its South American counterparts, but satisfyingly fruity, Hortonnorton and also well priced at about $15. Though we skipped it on that particular outing, Horton's Norton (pictured right) is also perennially solid for under $15, as well it should be, being the first commercially released example since prohibition.

I could go on, but honestly, we were in such a rush and I consumed so much wine that my memory is a bit fuzzy. Suffice it to say that a winery that offers such a breadth of esoteric wines, and is willing to let the public try them on the house, is a bit of an anomaly. I have no doubt that a good number of the wines are mediocre at best — that said, the best way to learn about wines is to taste as many as possible, and Horton offers a unique opportunity to get a good number under your belt. Though, even if you are spitting, a designated driver might be in order.

Horton Vineyards
6399 Spotswood Trail
Gordonsville, VA 22942
(800) 829-4633
Food: N/A
Wine Availability: Distributed all over the mid Atlantic and in Chicago

Again, please chime in with your own experiences at these and other Virginia wineries. Cheers, and keep drinking locally!

Winery pictures courtesy of the respective vineyards' websites.

Virginia Wineries: Orange County, Part 1

Vamap1 Step aside California, Virginia has an Orange county, too; though, unlike its west coast counterpart, our OC is not full of beautiful people making each other miserable, but beautiful countryside, and enough wine to keep anyone happy. The area around Charlottesville is one of the fastest growing regions in Virginia winemaking, and to the northeast, in beautiful Orange county, is where a lot of it began. Before anyone had any confidence in the ability of Virginia to yield great wine, passionate winemakers staked their claims here, with several still thriving more than thirty years later. Here are my experiences at some of the wineries in and around Orange county.

Barboursville Vineyards

Ruins1 Even if you are not a wine lover, but say, an armchair historian, Barboursville has plenty to offer. Just down the hill from the grand tasting room and winery facilities are the Octagon Ruins, the remnants of a 19th Century estate designed by Thomas Jefferson himself. Afterwards, the food lover may retire to the award winning Palladio Restaurant, which offers a small but constantly rotating menu of Italian and southern cuisine of the highest caliber. For the organically minded, Palladio is a dream; all their meat is sourced from the highly regarded Polyface Farms, and many herbs and vegetables are harvested from the adjoining garden. I have only eaten there once, and I have to say the meal was excellent, but very leisurely — plan to be seated for several hours, and be sure to make reservations several weeks in advance.

Barboursville1 As lovely as the ruins and restaurant may be, the main show at Barboursville is most certainly the wine. Barboursville offers a brilliant array of some 20 wines, including such Italian classics as Pinot Grigio, Barbera and Nebbiolo. Winemaker Luca Paschina, informed by his Piedmontese background, produces wines of a decidedly Italian character, high in acid and food friendly. For a modest $4 fee (which is waived with wine purchase) the bar offers a sampling of about 16 wines. The whites are universally appealing, and the dry Rose is particularly noteworthy for its balance of strawberry fruit and acid. The reds, too, are all top notch; the Barbera amazes me year after year with its varietally correct cherry and tomato flavors — it actually tastes Italian, a feat no California producer has replicated in my experience.

Undoubtedly the greatest treat of the tasting is the winery's flagship red, the Octagon, an homage to the Ruins and Jefferson's dream of producing world class French style wines in that very region of Virginia. This Bordeaux blend incorporates Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot in the 2004 vintage, the wine's seventh incarnation. On the nose and palate it is classic right-bank Bordeaux, with black currant, coffee, and earth leading to a firm and bitter tannic finish. Though young and a bit expensive at about $40 a bottle, this wine is easily one of the most age worthy in Virginia, and will certainly provide years of pleasure to any wine fan willing to take the chance.

Barboursville Vineyards
17655 Winery Road, P.O. Box 136, Barboursville, VA 22923
(540) 832-3824
Food: Palladio Restaurant — reservations available online, or call (540) 832-7848.
Wine Availability: Widely available in Virginia and DC.

Burnley Vineyards


Burnley will always hold a special place in my heart as a figurative port in the storm. Orange county is vineyard and horse farm country, and as such, is all but bereft of the usual amenities. So when my girlfriend Eliza and I found ourselves driving through the gorgeous countryside, suddenly beset by ravenous hunger and casting about in vain for a Sheetz or a Wawa, we pulled out our Virginia winery map (available for free at most wineries) and hoped for a miracle.

"Well, there's a place called Burnley about seven miles from here"
"Do they have food?"
"It says 'light fare'."
"We'll have to risk it!"

And so we found ourselves driving 50 mph on the highly rural Route 33, stomachs growling. We pulled off the main road, wound up a glorified cow path, and pulled up to the hill set raised ranch that is Burnley Vineyards' tasting room. We rushed inside, eyes shifting and desperate, and practically before we were even greeted set upon the complimentary oyster crackers like wolves.

"Would you like some cheese and a warm baguette?" The man behind the bar asked. "It shouldn't take but 10 minutes." We nodded, embarrassed but grateful.

Partially sated with starch and salt, we spent the time while our bread warmed to sample Burnley's wines. Where its neighbor Barboursville, which was founded in the same year, has gone upscale, Burnley has remained homely. I don't mean this in a negative way — Burnley is homely in the very best sense of the word, from the tiny wood burning stove in the corner, to the screen porch decked out in patio furniture, to the owner's Belgian Shepherd, Cooper (a certified Wine Dog), sniffing about the patrons.

The wines have a similar, honest quality — table wines of fair quality at fair prices. Amongst the usual Chardonnay (which was bad) and Cab Franc (which was good), Burnley offers an assortment of fruit-flavored and spiced wines which, though not likely to impress your more cosmopolitan friends, may make great gifts for that aunt or cousin who drinks Arbor Mist and whom you'd like to introduce to the finer things.

Once our baguette was warm we retired to the porch with it, a bottle of Primitivo (our favorite of the day), and a couple of very nice local cheeses, which we enjoyed thoroughly. Cooper, it must be said, was also a big fan of the cheese — no wonder his coat is so shiny!

Burnley Vineyards
4500 Winery Lane
Barboursville, Va  22923
(540) 832-2828
Food: Bread and cheese available for purchase.
Wine Availability: Limited availability within Virginia.

Stay tuned for part two next week. As always, if you have had notable experiences at any of these wineries or with their wares, please chime in. Oh, and if you have a favorite winery that you think I should visit, I'd love to hear from you!

Pictures courtesy of the respective vineyards' websites. Map courtesy of

Virginia Wineries: South of 64

With fuel prices as high as they've ever been, a messed-up environment as evinced by bizarre winter weather, and the decreased competitiveness of our currency, the onus is on us more than ever to think globally and drink locally. We residents of the DC metropolitan area are in a unique position vis a vis this proposition — few regions outside of Napa Valley offer a better wineries-per-square-mile ratio than Virginia wine country. Over 100 wineries strong and growing every year, Virginia winemaking is a boom industry amidst a landscape stricken by stagnation.

Though its reputation is improving, I'm sorry to say that the suggestion of VA wine still leads to many an upturned nose. Now I'll grant you, quality is not superb across the board, but what wine region can honestly make such a claim? If you are one of the deriders, good on you for being skeptical, but propriety demands that I ask you not to knock it till you've tried it — and the best place to try it is at the source! If your travels take you anywhere south or west of the beltway, options abound for the adventurous drinker looking for an excuse for a quick glass, some beautiful scenery, and in several cases, some really good food.

On a recent trip to the south Eliza and I hit the back roads and visited a few of the wineries south of Route 64 between Stauton and Charlottesville. In what I hope is the first in a series, here are my experiences at a few of those places.

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Following convenient signs on the highway, about 6 miles of driving up narrow, hilly country roadsAftonsign brought us to the unvarnished wooden home of Afton Mountain Vineyards. At 960 feet above sea level, Afton produces some of the highest elevation fruit in the state of Virginia; elevation is actually an important facet in grape growing, as higher vineyards keep grapes away from low-lying pollution, allow for sunnier days and cooler nights, and give the eonologist a more difficult but rewarding soil to cultivate. Afton is one of the few wineries of its output (about 5,000 gallons annually) to utilize a gravity flow vinification process, which keeps stress on the grapes to a minimum and yields higher quality juice.

Afton's tasting bar is a quaint affair, tile floored but comfortable, where tasting room staffer Brian (a friendly and knowledgeable guy) offers a selection of about 10 wines to taste. The offerings are eclectic for Aftontastingroom the state, including such oddballs as Gewurztraminer and Sangiovese, along with the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. All the wines were good, if a bit expensive — the Cabernet Sauvignon in particular struck me, being more pleasantly tannic than one usually gets in the area. What surprised me most was that Afton offers a Pinot Noir made from 100% estate-grown grapes, an animal almost unheard of in the Virginia wine menagerie. This wine was not up for sampling, as production is limited to a few dozen cases, but curiosity got the better of me and I bought a bottle, reasoning that I'd blown $20 on much stupider things. I opened the bottle a few days later, prepared for the worst; Virginia's generally moist climate is not conducive to growing the popular grape and few vintners have even tried. Only a few sips in I was rather impressed — a pretty burnt-leaves and raspberry nose, medium body, and good acidity give way to a very interesting woodsy, black-cherry finish. Having none of the green notes or low acidity for which Virginia wine has been condemned, I have to say that this wine was as well made as any Pinot I've had from the US for less than $25.

Afton Mountain Vineyards
234 Vineyard Lane
Afton, VA 22920
Food: Cheese, crackers and baguettes available for purchase. Scenic picnic area.
Wine Availability: Tasting room, website and wine club; otherwise, limited.

Veritas Vineyard and Winery

Though only a 10 minute drive from Afton Mountain Vineyards, Veritas could not present itself moreVeritasdeck differently. In the stead of the small brown building offered by its neighbor, Veritas presents a grand estate. With a full wall of dramatic windows, cathedral ceilings and a sweeping green lawn, Veritas' tasting room and environs evoke all the charm of an old style Virginia plantation, without all the reprehensible oppression and such. Inside it's all old wood, rustic furniture and chandeliers, with a huge stone fireplace to boot — small wonder that in such a romantic setting, a couple of our fellow visitors quite suddenly got engaged!

The basic tasting at Veritas is free, with an additional $4 charge for the high end and dessert wines — having heard good things, we decided to try the lot. Veritas' wines across the board may be called uniformly clean, with the new winery's thoroughly modern approach evident in each. The whites were round and full, most having seen a bit more oak than I would have hoped; the Viognier in this was most dissapointing, being a wine I usually characterize as fresh and fruity. The reds were similarly full and oaky, with the exception of the 2006 Claret, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot that was spicy, bright and racy. By far the most impressive of the group was the 2005 Mousseux, a pink sparkler created with the aid of esteemed Champenoise winemaker Claude Thibault. Produced using the labor intensive Method Traditionelle (where the bubble producing second fermentation occurs in the bottle), this 50% Chard, 50% Cab Franc is elegant and trim, featuring fresh strawberry on the nose and a very bright and slightly sweet finish.  While not as toasty as the French stuff, the Mousseux is one of the better Virginian sparklers I've had, and I hope it marks the beginning of great things for this young winery.

Veritas Vineyard and Winery
145 Saddleback Farm
Afton, VA 22920
Food: Cheese and crackers at the bar. Full menu by resident chef available for special events. Beautiful picnic space abounds.
Wine Availability: Widely distributed throughout Virginia.

Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard

Klugetastingroom A few more miles east on Route 6 and north on Route 20, we were on our way back to the highway with just enough time for a stop off at Kluge, Albemarle county's premier winemaking estate. This gargantuan 2,000 acre facility was founded in 1999 by Patricia Kluge, a woman who has led an... interesting life (I won't get into it here, but read this article and you'll see what I mean). With ten-fold the capital of even her extremely affluent neighbors, Patricia's start in the wine biz was far from typical of the east coast vintner — having brought on the best growers and winemakers money can buy, including the services of superstar consultant Michel Rolland, Kluge's wines quickly gained national renown.

I started out a bit wary of this estate at the get go, and only grew more skeptical as we drove up the wooded hill to the impeccably neat and tidy tasting room. The whole affair seemed out of place for the Virginia winery scene: figuratively in the amount of money that Kluge had been thrown down in this developing wine region, and literally in the form of this cutesy "farmhouse" before me. Though, it had been my morbid curiosity that had brought us out of our way to get there, so in we went.

In appearance the tasting room at Kluge is very reminiscent of those I'd visited in Napa Valley: classy and comfortable in a Disneyesque sort of way, with lots of stuff for sale. The main room is arranged around a display case featuring an array of foods both hot an cold available from the on premise kitchen. Where most tasting rooms feature a bar and a wine-by-wine orchestrated tasting, at Kluge patrons order their food and wine with a cashier and are led to a side room for table service. We ordered a cheese plate (about $8), a bowl of truffled olives (about $4), and two full tastings ($10 each), and were led to a small sunlit table. Our cheese and wine came out promptly, with six wines served in conical plastic cups supported by a large stand — as had been promised, the servings were ample, totaling about two full glasses each. The server took a moment to explain each of the six wines before us, and suggested which might go best with each of our several cheeses. After that, we were left to our own devices.

The wines and cheeses were all good, even great in some cases; of particular note were the olives, which were tasty and made a great palate cleanser with a bit of sparkling wine. The most unusual wine in the mix was the Cru, a fortified Chardonnay aged in Jack Daniels barrels for six months prior to bottling — the spicy/sweet nose and syrupy body did indeed make this a good pair with our blue cheese, though I would have liked a bit more acidity. The Albemarle Simply Red 2004 and Albemarle Rose 2006 were tops with me — both Bordeaux blends showed the French winemaker's soft touch with wood and extraction, leaving the wines elegant and balanced where they could easily have been mawkish and awkward. The estate's flagship New World Red 2004 was also quite impressive, but in need of a few years aging before it really begins to show. We left with full stomachs, a slight buzz, a couple bottles of the Rose, and the knowledge that throwing a lot of money into a project can in fact yield some great things.

Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard
100 Grand Cru Drive
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Food: Full menu of light to heavy fare, available until about 3:30 for purchase.
Wine Availability: Widely distributed throughout Virginia, DC and beyond.

Pictures courtesy of the respective vineyards' websites.