Virginia is for lovers. History lovers!

Columns and architecture at the University of Virginia

In another post, I shared my discovery and enjoyment of Virginia wine country – in that post I mentioned how Virginia is for wine lovers. Now it is time to focus on the awesome history that I discovered on that weekend in the Virginia Piedmont – why I think Virginia is for history lovers too!

University of Virginia

 

The weekend trip was anchored around Charlottesvile, VA, home of the University of Virginia, a fine higher education institution (one of the best public universities in the U.S.) with sometimes a great basketball team.  The university was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, 3rd POTUS and a learned man in his time for sure.  The university is the only U.S. university to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  That makes it a must-see for its historic and architectural value.

The university campus is very close to downtown Charlottesville and sports many buildings with columns.  Many buildings with many columns.  Jefferson liked columns.  And octagons.  UVA’s builders over the centuries may have over-emphasized the importance of columns just a tad too much…

Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia

Jefferson, columns, and a couple in front of the university’s iconic Rotunda building

In any case, it is a very nice campus.  My favorite part though was the quadrangle or courtyard by the iconic main building on campus – the area known as The Lawn, headed by the Rotunda, inspired and built to half the scale of the Pantheon in Rome, Italy.  The buildings around The Lawn have tons of columns…  One of the students told us how students apply to get to live in one of the rooms in the courtyard (a privilege) and how professors are also honored when selected to live in a space there.  Of course, the professors’ digs are WAY nicer than the students’ but who cares, right?

Columns and architecture at the University of Virginia

The hallway with the students’ rooms at The Lawn

Columns and architecture typical of the University of Virginia

Professors’ quarters at The Lawn

Open hallway to the courtyard at University of Virginia with rocking chairs

Around The Lawn – love the rocking chairs

Monticello

As nice as the University of Virginia is, it pales next to the majesty of the homestead Thomas Jefferson built for himself:  Monticello.   Jefferson decided to build this homestead on a hill he knew from his childhood.  The hilltop was flattened and over a period of many decades, and Jefferson built his home there.  Assignments like Ambassador to France and the Presidency did not stop the progress on Monticello.  Jefferson eventually died there, in the beauty of this estate.

Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello

Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia

We drove over from Charlottesville (Monticello is right on the outskirts of town) early on a Saturday AM to beat any crowds and make the most of our day in the area.  We made it just in time for the 9:30AM house tour.  A shuttle bus took us up the hill from the visitor center and the tour promptly started.  (By the way, the visitor center has a museum and a short movie that should be checked out.)

The tour takes you through the main level of the house.  The upper levels (2 more) are not accessible to the public and the basement is open to tour on your own, as are the rest of the grounds.

Monticello basement

A visitor exploring one of the basement rooms

The house is set up pretty much as it had been during Jefferson’s time even if not all the objects are original.  Jefferson died bankrupt and the family’s possessions were sold along the way to raise funds.  Jefferson did get to live in that house until his death at an old age with his daughter and her family (Jefferson had widowed a long time before).  Seeing his studio with the items of interest to him, his bed between the study and his bedroom, and the other living spaces was very special.  It was incredible how this man of the 18th century was so clever in the design of everything in this house.  My favorite was the wine “elevator” that would get bottles up from the wine cellar to the dining room.  I can imagine how impressed his guests were whenever he pulled that trick!

Wine caddy or elevator at Monticello built by Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was smart about the layout of every room in the house and under the house.  The basement and the side structures were cleverly used to keep out of sight the activities the family did not wish to see from inside the house.  But also to take advantage of the coolness of being below ground:  like for the kitchen or wine making!

So the home is a special place indeed but the grounds are equally so.  Unfortunately, some of the structures that used to be around the grounds are no longer there to fully serve as witness to how life was back then in an estate, including how slaves and other workers lived.  But, with the grounds completely open, the views are incredible.  Especially on this fall day.

The beautiful grounds of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia
Monticello gardens and crop plots in Virginia
Ruins at Monticello, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson's home

A short walk downhill, you can see from the outside the plot where the family and its descendants tend to be buried. It gives an incredible feeling to stand there and think about our nation’s very short modern history and yet how ancient Jefferson’s times feel.

The Jefferson cemetery at Monticello: where Thomas Jefferson is buried

Monticello is a testament to a great man of his times even if all that he was may not fit our times.  Jefferson made the most of what was available in his times and his legacy lives on at Monticello, at the University of Virginia, and in the good ole US of A via that marvel of a document, the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson's tomb in Monticello, Virginia

RIP, Tommy Boy!

Image reflection on a window at Monticello

Is that the ghost of Jefferson??

Virginia is for lovers. Wine lovers.

Wine being poured at a winery in Virginia wine country

This past weekend, I got to explore an area most will never think of visiting when looking for wine country:  Virginia!  Virginia may be for lovers, but Virginia is DEFINITELY for wine lovers!

Wine being poured at a winery in Virginia wine country

I have been very lucky as a wine lover AND a traveler to have visited some primo wine country in my travel lifetime.  Bordeaux, Hunter Valley, Sonoma/Napa, Mendoza, Stellenbosch, Burgundy, Moldova, Mosel Valley, the Loire Valley, Tuscany, etc.  I have never thought the U.S. had any good wine regions besides California and Oregon.  And I don’t know but Virginia would have never been in my top guess list…  But some Virginia friends introduced me to Virginia wine with one named Octagon from Barboursville winery, north of Charlottesville, VA.  It was good!

Octagon from Barboursville Vineyards - a great Virginia wine

We had talked over the last couple of years of getting together and making a trip to Virginia wine country. FINALLY, we scheduled it for this past weekend.

My friends suggested we head to the wine region in the Piedmont area, on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One of their favorite wines, the Octagon referred to above, is from the area and they had not been to the winery so I, of course, happily went along with the suggestion!  Of course, going to see Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home on the countryside) and University of Virginia (founded by Thomas Jefferson) were of interest so it was a great destination choice.

The Vineyards and the Wine

Jefferson Vineyards

After visiting Monticello, we stopped at Jefferson Vineyards since it was very close to Monticello.  Of course, this likely means it is more touristy and the price tag for the wine tasting showed that (it was $10 whereas the rest of the wineries were $5; oh, and they do not take AMEX in this day and age…).  However, you can take your large Riedel wine glass after the tasting which makes it an OK price.

At Jefferson Vineyard in Virginia wine country

A wine wall:  wine bottles!

Some of the staff was very friendly but our server, though he shared information, just seemed to be going through the motions – he was not rude by any means, just uninspiring.  It was the only winery at which I did not buy a bottle (and I ended up buying no less than 3 at least per winery…).  .  Wineries, remember, your servers are the front line.  It applies to your business as to any other business!  But I did not buy wine because of him.  The primary reason was that it was just not for me.  Most of the wines seem too light for me.  That may be what others find enjoyable in a wine but the whites and reds were not robust enough for me.  Also, the wines, even the Riesling, were generally drier than my preference.  However, it surely is worth a stop – you may enjoy their lighter and drier wines and end up with one of the friendlier servers.

Barboursville Vineyards

Fortunately, the story gets better from here on!  We had planned our first day (of two) in the area with two anchors:  an early visit to Monticello (more about it in another post) and a late lunch at Barboursville Vineyard’s Palladio Restaurant which features northern Italian style cuisine.  The lunch can be done with wine pairings but  we were going to do tastings after lunch since we did not have enough time between the Monticello visit and the available slot for lunch.  Therefore, we opted to save a little money by not doing the pairings with the lunch and instead going for that delicious Octagon wine of theirs.  The wine tasting of 21 wines would come afterwards – but only after we walked the grounds to help push our digestion!

Vines and ground of Barboursville Vineyard in Virginia wine country

Beautiful grounds at Barbousville Vineyard in Virginia wine country

The good thing is that Barboursville offers more than food and wine.  It also gives you a helping of history.  See, Mr. Barbour was a governor of Virginia in the times around Jefferson.   Jefferson designed Barbour’s house which unfortunately burnt down one Christmas Day in 1884.  However, ruins remain of the skeleton of the house which allow you to see yet more columns and another octagon.  Yes, Thomas Jefferson was rather predictable.  (Unfortunately, Charlottesville and UVA keep thing more columns and octagons make tons of sense…)  Anyway, Barboursville offers this and plenty of space and grounds to grab a bottle of wine and hang out some more.

The Barbour mansion's ruins in Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia wine country

The ruins of the Barbour home

 

The grounds in Barboursville Vineyard in Virginia wine country great for picnics

Perfect spot for a wine picnic!

The wines were overall very good.  We also enjoyed having a lady named Jessica as one of our servers.  She was extremely knowledgeable and truly shared that knowledge with us.  We had a good time asking her questions people had just asked her and she obliged with a fun attitude right back – wineries, this is the kind of person you want facing your customers!

Surprisingly for me, I enjoyed Barboursville’s Chardonnay (aged in steel barrels) better than their Chardonnay Reserve (aged in oak barrels).  I especially like their Cabernet Franc Reserve (intense dark fruit flavors), Octagon (which I already knew and loved), and their Malvaxia Passito Reserve dessert wine (nice!!! sweet but overly so).  I departed with a good 6 bottles wishing I could take more (had to pace myself, still had 4 wineries to visit the next day!).  How do they manage to make so many good wines???

Cardinal Point, Veritas, and Pollak Vineyards

 

We hit these two wineries first on the next day.  At Cardinal Point, we enjoyed talking to the two ladies at the tasting room and found their wines nice.  I ended up with a box of 3 to take home.  At Veritas, we got to sit in a nice leather couch for our tasting and soak in the ambiance of the tasting room.

Nice leather couch in the tasting room at Veritas winery in Virginia wine country

Comfy seating to enjoy wines!

The winery has a large tasting room and it was built in the 2000s – the vines themselves were planted in 1999 (quite recently when you think of vineyards in Europe!!).  Their White Star blend of white grapes (Viognier, Traminette, Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc) was pleasantly surprised me – low on residual sugar I think it is a wine to be enjoyed on its own for sure.  Let me re-state that, it very pleasantly surprised me!

The grounds at Veritas Vineyard - great fall colors in Virginia wine country

Best time of the year to visit – just look at this!

We made our way to Pollak Vineyards, which has a spacious tasting room and outdoor terrace.  Its vines were planted in 2003.  Casey was our server.  We learned from her a good bit and enjoyed talking to her – great job!  I especially enjoyed the Petit Verdot and the Cabernet Franc (nice hints of chocolate and coffee) wines.

Pollak Vineyards' outdoor space in Virginia wine country

Pollak Vineyards’ outdoor space

King Family Vineyards

Our final stop in wine country before going to the airport was King Family.  We promised ourselves a short visit to ensure we were on time but we enjoyed our visit so much we stayed longer at the tasting room.  This vineyard has a great setting and outdoor open spaces that are great to hang out – we stayed indoors sampling and talking wine though for a good 45mins to an hour (who was keeping track of time?!) (I did make it to the airport with plenty of time, by the way!).  In the summertime polo matches are played Sundays on the grounds of the winery!

King Family Vineyard in Virginia Wine Country

The grounds of King Family Vineyards

At King Family we were treated to awesome wines.  I liked just about each of the wines I tasted!  The Viognier had nice mango/peach overtones.  The Chardonnay, though aged in oak, was very enjoyable for me (a rarity).  Their Cabernet Franc was lighter than I expected and, as I prefer fuller-bodied wines, was not one I would have bought definitely had good flavors so I would drink it.  The next 4 wines were all outstanding:  the Meritage (a Bordeaux-style existing mainly in the U.S., created to not infringe on the French region’s ownership of the destination of origin), the Seven (a red wine with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla), the Loreley (excellent level of sweetness:  some but not too much), and the Petit Verdot (incredible power!!).

King Family vineyards' Seven - a great wine from Virginia!

What Did I Think of Virginia Wine Country?

Well, as you may glean, I enjoyed it!  However, with a visit to 6 wineries I have barely scratched the surface of wine country in Virginia.  I love Virginia and its wines!

Have you visited wine country anywhere in the U.S. or abroad?  Which ones?  How did you find the experience, the wineries, and the wines??

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