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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!).
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??