To use a wine term, a year can dramatically alter the terroir in Virginia’s wine country.
If you visited just a couple of years ago, you might have encountered sweet viogniers and dry cabernet francs, but you wouldn’t have tasted notes of sarsaparilla and roasted barley at a brewery or sat for a formal tasting at the historic home of a chief justice of the United States.
This year, Virginia wine country offers the chance to do just that. Longtime wineries have expanded their tasting rooms and new ones are offering pairings beyond the standard baguette and cheese. The next few months present a prime time to visit, as a wash of oranges, yellows and reds begins to sweep over the landscape and grape-harvest season gets underway. Vineyards will be bustling with activity, and the weather will allow for long picnics and games of Frisbee in the rolling hills.
Check out three trips, each pointing the way to an established winery and at least one new feature, as well as stops to pick apples, grab a farm-to-table burger or stock up on sundries.
At the northern tip of Virginia, spitting distance from the West Virginia border and Harpers Ferry, the area around Purcellville has exploded into one of the state’s most concentrated wine regions in just a handful of years. There are new vineyards and restaurants to experience, as well as a brewery on the grounds of a winery, a Napa-style cycling tour and an organic market that flips “yoga burgers” for hungry urbanites.
The secret is to visit on a Sunday, when the whole town moves at a languid pace and the locals seem to enjoy Purcellville’s newfound popularity with city-dwellers.
Corcoran Brewing Co.
Tasting notes: This fun, informal brewery provides an inspired palate cleanser near wine-soaked Purcellville.
Until recently, Jim Corcoran’s wife, Lori, was the one with the offbeat hobby, aging cabernet franc, viognier and limoncello- infused Petit Manseng on their sunny estate just outside Purcellville. But in 2010, Jim planted hops next to Lori’s grapevines to indulge a passion of his own: beer. Corcoran Brewing Co. opened last year in a rust-colored barn around the bend from the Corcoran Vineyards tasting room, and for now, it is one of Virginia wine country’s best-kept secrets.
A Saturday visit means you might meet Corcoran’s friendly, mustachioed brewer, Kevin Bills. On Sundays, you might find assistant brewer Brian Spak behind the bar chatting up guests about the offerings, including the LoCo, an English-style I.P.A., or the somewhat-sweet Round Hill Root Beer, brewed with wintergreen, vanilla, honey and sarsaparilla. (A favorite, the Padawan Pumpkin, will be available in October. )
The brewery isn’t yet using the more than a dozen hop varieties grown on-site, and production isn’t high enough for wide distribution, so you must visit to taste Corcoran’s beers (though restaurants including Fire Works Pizza and Magnolias at the Mill will soon carry them). In July, the tasting room began serving pints, providing all the more reason to camp out on the patio and sup on superlative brisket sandwiches or pastrami on rye ($8-$10) served by the on-site barbecue stand, Monk’s BBQ. Owner Brian “Monk” Jenkins works the wines and beers into his bevy of rich barbecue sauces (the blackberry whiskey is to die for) and supplements the smoky meats with a handful of tempting sides, including smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese, hush puppy-style fried pickles and slaw.
14635 Corky’s Farm Lane, Waterford. 540-882-9073. www.corcoranbrewing.com. Saturday-Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Tasting, $7; pints, $5-$6. Monk’s BBQ is open Saturdays and Sundays during operating hours.
North Gate Vineyard
Tasting notes: A pristine tasting room offers a break from the swirl-sniff-sip routine with chocolate truffle pairings.
Every winery has its charms. This sparkling tasting room is not only vast and bright, thanks to large windows overlooking the vines, but it’s also green. Mark and Vicki Fedor were the winemakers for nearby Corcoran, but after 2007 they turned their attention to making small batches of their own wines (try the petit verdot, the winery’s estate-grown, award-winning offering). In 2011, the Fedors opened North Gate on a quiet plot where they had been nurturing vines. The tasting room was built to green specifications, with a bartop made of recycled wine bottles and electricity generated in-house.
What makes a tasting here stand out? For $5, you can add three artful truffles from Frederick’s the Perfect Truffle to your wine tasting. Each confection has been picked by Vicki Fedor and the chocolatier to match the wines. Recently, the pairings included such sweet finds as a speckled white-chocolate ganache truffle heady with vanilla bean (paired with the winery’s 2011 viognier), and a tart, cherry-puree-filled dark chocolate (matched with a 2009 Meritage).
16031 Hillsboro Rd., Purcellville. 540-668-6248. www.northgatevineyard.com. Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tasting, $5; with chocolate pairing, $10.
Tasting notes: Savvy wine pourers and picnic tables amid the vines make this a winery where you’ll want to grab a glass and linger.
You likely won’t encounter a bored wine pourer at Doukenie; every staffer has a wine buff’s enthusiasm (their name tags all read “wine educator”). So go ahead, ask about the extensive mix of wines produced here, 90 percent of which are made with grapes grown on the estate. The red wines shine. Like many Virginia wineries, Doukenie has had success with dry cabernet franc, though the “Zeus” blend of merlot, tannat and petit verdot is a stunner, too.
If you’ve already visited Doukenie, it might be time to return: In 2011, the winery nearly doubled the size of its tasting room, setting the stage for events such as the bistro nights, when the winery has music and, occasionally, a pizza maker, and guests can buy wines by the glass. The bistro events take place each Friday through the end of September. Outside, the picturesque patio with a view of a small pond and the picnic tables scattered among the vines are sure to be popular spots as the colors begin to turn.
14727 Mountain Rd., Hillsboro. 540-668-6464. www.doukeniewinery.com. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tasting, $8.
Trail’s End Cycling Co. This bike shop sits at the end of the W&OD Trail, so it’s no surprise that serious cyclists frequent the block on weekends. James Hodges, the shop’s head of tours, began arranging wineries-by-bike tours last fall. Every weekend, spring through fall, he leads riders down gravel roads and across Purcellville’s winding landscape, past cornfields and hay bales, for visits to about three wineries. The ride can be intense — it’s 10 miles on hilly terrain just to get to the first stop — but for active types, it can make for an exhilarating day.
201 N. 23rd St., Purcellville. 540-338-2773. www.trailsendcycling.com. Cycling tours, $100 (includes picnic lunch and bike rental; tasting fees extra).
Stoneybrook Farm Market
The owners of a 45-acre certified organic farm opened this quaint yet brilliantly stocked market shop in 2010, and it has become an oasis for city dwellers who come to town for wine tastings. Tasty fruit pies (small, $8), jams, coffees and milk, ice cream and more from the boutique dairy Trickling Springs fill the shop’s charmingly rough-hewn shelves. Seating was added last year, as well as an espresso machine, salads, sandwiches and the “yoga burger” (that’s vegetarian, natch) for fueling up on something more substantial than bread and cheese. Seasonal vegetables come fresh from the adjacent farm.
37091 Charlestown Pike, Hillsboro. 540-668-9067. www.stoneybrookfarm.org. Sunday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Purcellville’s farm-to-table ethos now extends to burgers. This burger joint uses local beef and cheese and makes its own pickles and a handful of tempting mayos, including curry and cranberry. It’s an ideal place to fortify your stomach before an afternoon of tastings, but we hardly needed an excuse for burgers and fries.
145 W. Main St., Purcellville. 540-751-1145. www.marketburger.net. Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Call ahead: The restaurant closes early if it runs out of food.)
Virginia’s hunt country, with its pastures lined by charming stone walls and historic homes and mills, has long been home to vintners, including Chrysalis Vineyards and Swedenburg Winery, which sit just outside the main streets of Middleburg.
But this year, there’s reason to take another look: A winery long closed to the public finally has opened its doors. And, little more than 10 miles away, another has begun extended tastings perfect for a date. Start the day with lunch and shopping in Middleburg, but save room for this dining-heavy itinerary.
Boxwood Winery Tasting notes: For serious sippers, this locale offers a chance to experience a unique tasting at a long-closed estate.
This summer, just a few winding roads from Middleburg’s quaint main drag, the familial estate and vineyard of John Kent Cooke (son of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke) quietly opened its gates for the first time.
Sipping Boxwood wines used to be a strictly off-site affair (the winery owns the popular chainlet the Tasting Room, with locations in Reston, Chevy Chase and National Harbor). But in June, Boxwood began allowing drop-in visitors on weekends.
Unlike most busy wineries, there’s an undiscovered quality to Boxwood, where the stone-and-steel tasting room remains sanctuarylike. Though a tasting offers just five wines (loaded, notably, with dry, smoky reds and one popular rose), stick around to take in the jaw-dropping architecture, which brings to mind an ultramodern interpretation of a barn. Circular motifs extend from the tasting counter to the wine cave, where the barrels seem to float in the darkness in a ring formation (neither the production facility nor the cave is open to the public, but guests can peek in through a glass wall).
2042 Burrland Rd., Middleburg. 540-687-8778. www.boxwoodwinery.com. Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tasting, $10.
Vintage Ridge Winery
Tasting notes: Table service for tastings and interesting snacks make this a standout stop.
A two-story tasting room with five steel tanks square in the middle is the first thing you notice at this Delaplane winery. The tanks aren’t just for show; Vintage Ridge’s sweet white wines are aging inside, giving visitors a big, gleaming reminder of the winemaking process.
For those trying to squeeze in a day of winery-hopping, this estate should make the cut mostly as a place to stay awhile, sip a little and chat a lot, primarily because of its unusual seated tastings. Guests may plant themselves at bistro tables, with servers arriving every few minutes to pour sips and answer questions. Order a round of the “chevre devils” — dates stuffed with a chunk of goat cheese ($7) and served with sticky, freshly roasted spiced nuts. The red wines do wonders for bringing out the snack’s complex flavors. The first weekend of the month, Vintage Ridge offers simple, crostini-heavy pairing platters, matching strawberry and balsamic vinegar with merlot; arugula, blue cheese and turkey with syrah; and goat cheese and spicy plum chutney with cabernet franc.
8517 Maidstone Rd., Delaplane. 540-364-3371. www.vintageridgewine.com. Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tastings, $7; with food pairings, $18 (first Saturday and Sunday of the month).
Barrel Oak Winery
Tasting notes: Kids and dogs are welcome here, making this one of the more hectic tasting rooms. For those looking for something more intimate, head next door for a new wine pairing event that’s for adults only.
On a Saturday, the tasting room at Barrel Oak can feel like a zoo, and not by accident. The dog-friendly winery is one of the few to welcome pups into its airy tasting barn, and guests take full advantage. Recently, one could find the tasting room teeming with cocker spaniels, poodles, a hulking Burmese mountain dog, a dachshund and a mutt in a baby carriage. Speaking of baby carriages, in 2012, the four-year-old winery was named the nation’s most kid-friendly winery by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. (The tasting room has a candy jar, and out back, kids may play with a box of toys and a sandpit.)
But the attendants at Barrel Oak never seem to lose their cool, thoughtfully explaining the wines and steering guests toward the more sophisticated offerings. Tasters have three options: a flight of the five sweet “BOW” wines, including a strawberry-scented rose and the Chocolate Lab, a fruity Chambourcin infused with cocoa nibs; the five sophisticated “WOW” wines, which include a sunny reserve viognier and cabernet sauvignon; or both.
Barrel Oak also has added an exclusive-feeling event to its roster, aimed at oenophiles looking for something grander than a typical tasting. Last month, the winery began hosting formal seated tastings with food pairings at the adjacent Oak Hill Estate, a historic home that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, belonged to Chief Justice John Marshall and his family. It marks the first time that the home has opened to the public. Reservations are required for the weekend tastings, and guests can choose their own price range ($25 to $75 a person, through Oct. 28; www.experienceoakhill.com). The tastings include hearty pours of wines from wineries from across the globe: Each flight kicks off with sparkling wine and ends with a sip of Madeira.
3623 Grove Lane, Delaplane. 540-364-6402. www.barreloak.com. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tasting, $6 for the BOW or WOW; $10 for both.
Grab a sandwich and Pellegrino for a picnic, or let the friendly servers pile a hot plate with mac and cheese, Swiss chard or fingerling potatoes and stay awhile at this busy shop on Middleburg’s main drag. The fare leans more Whole Foods than quaint country market, so although you may not find kitsch, you will find hearty snacks for your day and plenty of tempting-looking desserts packed to go.
200 W. Washington St., Middleburg.
If there’s one stop fashion buffs should make in Middleburg, it’s Timmie Jane, a chichi vintage shop packed with snug dresses and bijoux that look like they came out of Elizabeth Taylor’s dressing room. The prices trend high, but check the labels. The shop is swimming in Ferragamo, as well as the occasional Chanel, Dior and frothy designer frock in mint condition.
12 E. Washington St., Middleburg. 540-687-3211. www.timmiejane.com.
Your GPS begins to go on the fritz as pavement gives way to winding gravel roads. You begin to pass train tracks and farms, where colorful butterflies, does and hares peek out from the roadside. It’s almost impossible to believe that, in the hilly terrain around Linden, Hume and Markham, there are two dozen wineries, many brand-new or a few years old. (Pack a lunch; there’s not much in the way of restaurants in this part of wine country.)
In July, Fauquier County passed restrictions on such events as wine dinners, catered foods and live music at wineries, which may affect the wineries in months to come. At estates such as Linden, which eschews special events and discourages partyers by limiting access to its patio, things feel much the same: tranquil.
Tasting notes: A quiet temple of winemaking, this winery is ideal for those serious about learning.
The boom in Virginia wine tourism the past five years hasn’t changed Linden Vineyards much. The winery, firmly planted at the edge of Hardscrabble Mountain since the 1980s, has never been keen on festivals, picnickers or anyone but serious wine fans. But for those curious about what Virginia wines can be, Linden — one of the state’s most esteemed wineries — is a worthy stop. Highlights include the beautiful deck, which is open to the public only on weekdays (it’s so lovely, it’s worth playing hooky from work). If you visit on a weekend, go for the hourly reserve-cellar tastings, which provide a glimpse of a variety of the vineyard’s vintages. It makes for a fun comparison, considering how weather and terroir can change, say, a rose or a seyval, from year to year.
3708 Harrels Corner Rd., Linden. 540-364-1997. www.lindenvineyards.com. Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tasting, $5; reserve tasting (offered on weekends on the hour between noon and 4 p.m.), $15.
Desert Rose Ranch and Winery
Tasting notes: Quirky wines match a quirky back story. Desert Rose is the latest pursuit of a worldly government worker turned well-regarded horse trainer.
Many wineries reflect the passions and pasts of their owners in the names of wines or trinkets on the wall. For the story of Desert Rose owner Bob Claymier, just look at the bar, where every imaginable foreign currency is embedded, mementos from the far-flung places his career with the CIA took him. After retiring, Claymier had settled into life as a rancher, but in 2011, the horse trainer and his wife, Linda, added “winemakers” to their résumés.
A sense of humor finds its way into their wines, which include “R.E.D.,” a Chambourcin named for the 2010 movie about former black-ops in their golden years, and “Ole Moo Moo,” an off-dry white blend of viognier and vidal blanc that takes its name from the ranch’s sole cow. With a pond and log-cabin feel, the estate alone makes Desert Rose worth a visit, and the chatty attendants are great resources on the wines.
There is one snag to getting to Desert Rose. Ignore your GPS to avoid driving several miles on frustratingly bumpy gravel roads. As you leave Linden Vineyards, return to John Marshall Highway and travel east to Leeds Manor Road. This will lead you to the rural ranch faster.
13726 Hume Rd., Hume. 540-635-3200. www.desertrosewinery.com. Thursday-Monday, 1 to 6 p.m. Tasting, $5; reserve tasting, $7.
Naked Mountain Winery
Tasting notes: Twenty-something owners have upped the fun factor since buying this 30-plus-year-old vineyard.
Never mind the funny name; this winery reflects the newcomers’ impact on Virginia wines. In 2010, Randy and Meagan Morgan, who are in their late 20s, visited Naked Mountain, a Fauquier winery whose wines were served in the White House under presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. The couple were smitten, and when they learned the winery was for sale, they snapped it up. Since then, they have slowly remade the three-decade-old winery in their own vision, enlisting a new winemaker and adding a greater diversity of wines.
It’s all about appealing to a broader range of wine drinkers, particularly young oenophiles not unlike themselves, says Randy Morgan, explaining why Naked Mountain has added a Beaujolais-style, light-bodied red and a few dry reds. The older vintages are still available for those who want to take home some of those award-winning offerings. And to get a better sense of the current winemaking style and the older vintages, try a reserve tasting.
2747 Leeds Manor Rd., Markham. 540-364-1609. www.nakedmtnwinery.com. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tastings, $5; reserve tasting, $10.
Just down the road from Naked Mountain, you’ll find this popular you-pick farm, which teems with peaches in the late summer and, come September, apples. After Labor Day, the farm hosts small fall festivals every weekend through Halloween, featuring a corn maze, hayrides and more. This is a destination for both color-watchers and folks in search of a real pumpkin patch.
3064 Hartland Lane, Markham. 540-364-2316. www.hartlandorchard.com.
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sky Meadows State Park
In the fall, there are few better views of the trees and stars than those afforded by this park on the edge of the Blue Ridge, just a short distance north of Naked Mountain. The park includes picnic grounds, a campsite and 12 miles of trails, but for those just looking for a cool evening excursion or somewhere to see the changing leaves, events such as the Blue Moon Walk (Aug. 31) and Fall Farm Festival (Oct. 6-28) are highlights.
11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane. 540-592-3556. www.dcr.virginia.gov. Parking is $3 on weekdays; $4 on weekends.