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Visiting Virginia Vineyards: Bluemont, Chrysalis, Tarara, Sunset Hills, Notaviva

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By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

Sniff, sip, swish, spit.

It may be the ritual of wine tasting, but it can be a major turnoff for those of us who are best described as lay wine-drinkers. Who can wax poetic about notes of pear and grapefruit when the only note our untrained palates can make out is "wine"?

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For us, there is a friendly training ground, less than an hour's drive from our doorsteps, where we can sip, swish and definitely not feel obliged to spit.

Oh, yes, we're talking about Virginia. Advances in grape-growing the past few years have helped nurture a Virginia winemaking boomlet. Last year, Loudoun County added a handful of new tasting rooms, and the year before that a handful more, for a total of nearly 25 wineries.

Fall harvest and the busy season for wineries is just around the corner, so we decided to check out some of the biggest and buzziest in search of gems. (If you're skeptical about the caliber of the wines, we got experts to point us to the ones worth trying.)

There are wineries that specialize in music and provide breathtaking views of fall colors. Families can find kid-friendly activities at festivals and take fruit-picking excursions, while budding oenophiles can sip and taste in private sessions with winemakers and experts. There are even dog-friendly events.

And the snobby rituals? They're practically taboo. There are hardly friendlier folks than the sommeliers, winemakers and tasting attendants we encountered in Northern Virginia and Maryland. Tastings are typically about $5 and feature just a sip or two of five to seven wines; the secret to enjoying them, we discovered, is to ask questions: Ask which wine is your pourer's favorite and which is the bestseller; ask about the history of the place as you're doing your sipping.

On the following pages find four reasons you have to visit Virginia wineries this fall.

Go for the View

Bluemont and Chrysalis vineyards

Just when you think you've arrived at western Loudoun's Bluemont Vineyard, you come face-to-face with one last stretch: a long gravel road, winding high up the hill. In the distance is the comely cottage winery, so high you could catch a little vertigo just getting there.

Never heard of it? Former AOL employee Bob Rupy and farmer Mark Zurschmeide opened Bluemont in 2007. The wines produced generally are on the dry side, and with names like the Cow (a Vidal Blanc) and the Goat (a Viognier), they reflect the pastoral setting. But what you're drinking this year comes from grapes grown off-site. Since Bluemont is so new, it expects to serve wines produced from its own grapes (called estate wines) beginning late next year.


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