We’ve gotten grumpy as we’ve gotten older. That dense elbow-to-elbow city-ness that my husband and I used to love about being inside the Beltway when we were younger is something we look to escape every so often these days. So we’re blessed that, in under an hour, we can be driving past stately wooden fences, rolling hills and stone buildings that signify one thing: We’re in Virginia wine country.
It took us too long to visit it. Our little kids (don't take them to a winery; just don't), and the extreme good fortune of spending bits of every summer visiting my parents’ vineyard in Sonoma County kept us away. But finally, this March, we pawned our now older kids off on some friends and headed west for a weekend.
Virginia wine country is unique from Sonoma or Napa because of its history. The ancient stone inns and horse fences stretching over pastoral hills and two-lane brick roads taking you through downtown Burgs (Middleburg, Leesburg) are beautiful in their longevity and sense of place. I’m not a Horse & Hound kind of woman, but I definitely see the appeal.
Wine is produced in every nook and cranny of Virginia – it’s the fifth-largest wine-producing state – but we stayed north of I-66 and east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where we had almost 40 wineries to choose from.
Wineries We Visited
Hidden Brook Winery – We began our tasting north of Leesburg at Hidden Brook Winery, a cabin in the woods in an area that’s becoming a crossroads for wineries, with Hidden Brook, Fabbioli Cellars, The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek, and Tarara Winery all in a couple of miles of each other. If you follow my rule of no more than four wineries in a day, you could hit this quadrant and be done. Hidden Brook was a lovely place to visit.
Fabbioli Cellars – This family home with the tasting room in the cellar knocked me out! The tasting was an event, a seven-course, food-and-wine pairing with a host all to ourselves. And any West Coast snottiness was wiped away by the appeal of these Fabbioli Wines. We walked away with several bottles of the Tre Sorelle, a Table Red, and a Tannat for a special occasion.
Barrel Oak Winery – The two times we’ve been to Barrel Oak (once for a friend’s birthday party), we found the crowds we were trying to escape. Just off I-66, the winery is perched at the top of a big hill filled with picnic tables and fire pits and 20-somethings in their aviator glasses admiring the view. Which is great for this obviously popular winery. But not so great for us grumps. We snuck into the besieged tasting room, bought a bottle, drank a bit of it at a picnic table, and escaped.
Three Fox Vineyards – Three Fox Vineyards has a small and cozy tasting room on the south side of I-66, and a large, beautiful meadow rolling down to benches facing a creek. This is where we walked with our last glass of the day to enjoy the late afternoon light. Three Fox focuses on producing Italian-style wines, and we took home a couple bottles of the Piemontese Nebbiolo.
Bluemont Vineyard – Bluemont Vineyard was our last stop before we headed back home Sunday. What a way to go out! The drive alone was awesome – we took a “shortcut” north along the spine of a mountain-top road with incredible views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, and then up a steep, sweat-inducing road to get to the winery. On a clear day, you can see Tysons from the ski chalet-like second story deck. The tasting room staffers are loads of fun and as many locals seemed to be filling the tasting room as non-locals. Oh, the wine? We couldn’t leave without a few bottles of their Cabernet Franc.
Visiting Virginia Wine Country
For everything you could ever want to know about visiting Virginia wineries, check out VirginiaWine.org.
Where to Stay: We stayed at the Red Fox Inn, a fieldstone building and collection of cottages in the quaint downtown strip of Middleburg. It is thought to be the oldest continually operating inn in the United States, and it has been visited by President John F. Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor and was a regular destination during fox hunting season for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Where to Eat: We had some outstanding meals in Virginia wine country.
- The Wine Kitchen
- Tuscarora Mill
- The Ashby Inn in Paris, Va. - I have to give a special recommendation to The Ashby Inn's Sunday brunch. Paris, Va., is a two-block town in a valley with the Ashby Inn at the top of its main (only) street. And the three-course meal and accompanying brunch cocktails were some of the most innovative and beautifully presented food and drinks I've had in my life.