WINE LOVERS and would-be connoisseurs alike will be raising a glass -- or 19 -- this Saturday at the Fourth Virginia Wineries Festival in Culpeper. Nineteen of Virginia's 29 bonded wineries will be serving up samples of their wines, all yours for the tasting for the single admission price of $9.
That's a bargain when you consider what you'd spend on gas alone visiting wineries all over the state. And along with the wine there'll be plenty of song provided by a Dixieland band and, one presumes, plenty of women presiding over the craft tables featuring made- in-Virginia stoneware, baskets, prints and weavings.
Commonwealth Park, host to many of the area's tony horse events, is the site of this year's festival. All three of the park's own restaurants will be open during the festival serving Italian, German and American food. And there'll be food booths offering baked goods and snacks. Although the park's facilities usually include a bar as well, on Saturday the only alcoholic beverages sold will be Virginia wines.
Younger visitors will enjoy the energetic grape-stomping show, and brew-it-yourselfers won't want to miss the wine-making demonstration. All afternoon, carousing and browsing will be accompanied by the music of Wild Bill Whelan and his Dixie Six.
For those who like to observe the wine process from the roots up, two nearby vineyards will be open all day: Rapidan River Vineyards off Route 3, and Prince Michel Vineyards, just down the road from Commonwealth Park on U.S. 29.
Rapidan is one of the few Virginia wineries that make champagne. Normally, its champagne isn't available on tasting tours, but corks will pop on Saturday.
At Prince Michel, the state's largest vineyard, a new winery is under construction. A 110-acre vineyard adjacet to the new winery is open for self-guided walking tours, and the new winery equipment will be on display.
Back at the festival, while you're making up your mind about your favorite vintage, expert judges will announce the winner of the Governor's Cup for the outstanding wine of the festival, along with medal winners for each variety of wine. Last year's overall winner was Ingleside Plantation's 1982 chardonnay.
Doug Flemer, Ingleside's manager and this year's president of the Virginia Wineries Association, offers this tactical advice on how to attack the festival:
"First, plan out the vineyards you most want to sample. Then begin your tastings. If you can, the best way is to start with the white wines -- first the drier ones and then the sweeter ones -- then go back for the ros,e, and finally, make a round of red wine tastings. Between tastings, be sure to eat. It is best to eat mild, unsalty foods between tastings so as not to agitate the palate."
And Joachim Hollerith, general manager of Prince Michel, offers this supplementary advice on making the tasting more enjoyable:
"First, for the ladies, do not wear lipstick to a tasting. Although at this festival you will have your own glass and not have to worry about leaving lipstick marks on a glass for others, the lipstick can impart a flavor to the wine and give you a false impression of it.
"For both ladies and gentlemen, do not wear heavily scented perfumes or colognes on the day of a tasting. These can interfere with your judgment of the wine's bouquet and taste."
He also offers a few other pointers on handling the wine to be sure that you can fully appreciate its flavor.
1. If your "host" offers to rinse your glass with water between tastings, decline. Water can impart a flavor of its own. Use a drop of the next wine you will be tasting to swish out the glass.
2. Hold the wineglass by the stem, not the cup. Holding by the stem will let the light shine through so that you can judge the color of the wine.
3. Swirl the wine lightly in the glass two or three times to release the bouquet.
4. Sniff it! At this point, educated noses can tell the variety. "You can picture the wine," says Hollerith.
5. Take a sip of the wine and swish it about in the mouth so that it covers all four of the taste areas on your tongue.
6. While it is in your mouth, remember the first taste sensation and the last.
7. Swallow. At some European festivals there are special sandstone floors so that the tasters spit out each taste of wine rather than swallow it. Since the Park is not sandstone, courtesy would indicate retaining the sip.
8. Before you try the next glass, eat a small, bland cracker, such as an oyster cracker.
And, of course, bring along a few dollars with you so that you can take home a bottle of the wine you liked best.
The wine flows at the Virginia Wineries Festival this Saturday from 10 to 4, rain or shine, at Commonwealth Park near Culpeper, Virginia. Tickets are $7.50 if bought in advance at a Virginia winery, $9 at the gate. The ticket price includes a glass and all the wine tasting you can manage. Those under 21 cannot participate in the wine tasting, so they're admitted free. Parking is plentiful and free. Call 703/364-9745.
To get there from Washington, take I-66 to the Gainesville exit and take U.S. 29-211 south to Warrenton. Continue south on U.S. 29 (about 25 miles) to the second exit for Culpeper (Rte. 3, Mineral). Proceed on Route 3 about 1/4 mile to a right on Route 522 south. Commonwealth Park is three miles down on the left. The trip is 74 miles from Washington.
PRINCE MICHEL VINEYARDS -- 200 Lovers Lane, Culpeper. 703/547-3707.
RAPIDAN RIVER VINEYARDS -- Rte. 4, Culpeper. 703/399-1855.
If you miss this festival, there are several other large festivals this season and a host of smaller ones. Virginia, with 29 bonded wineries to Maryland's nine, has the bulk of the activity, but good wine is available in both states.
SUMMER WEEKENDS -- Open-air theater by the Rural Festival Theater Company and wine-tasting tours at Guilford Ridge Vineyard in Luray. 703/778-3853.
TASTINGS -- Special tastings and events throughout the summer at Meredyth Vineyards, Middleburg. 703/687- 6277.
VIRGINIA FOOD FESTIVAL -- August 7, in Richmond. 804/643-3555.
MIDDLEBURG WINE FESTIVAL -- August 17, at Piedmont Vineyard. 703/687-5528.
FESTIVAL AOUTEMENT -- (Harvest Festival) August 24. Rose Bower Vineyard, Hampden-Sidney, Va. 804/223- 8209.
WINE SEMINAR -- August 24 & 25, a meeting of the American Wine Society featuring seminars on grape growing, wine-making plus tastings and a picnic. Montbray Wine Cellars, Rte. 1, Westminster, Md. 301/346-7878.
VIRGINIA WINE FESTIVAL -- August 31. Middleburg. 703/754-8564.
OPEN HOUSE -- Weekends, noon to 5, beginning in September. Catoctin Vineyards, Church Hill Road, Myersville, Md. 301/293-1110.
HARVEST FESTIVAL -- September 8, at the Shendandoah Vineyard, Edinburg, Va. 703/984-8699.
FALL FESTIVAL -- September 21-22, at Tri-Mountain Winery, Middletown, Va. 703/869-3030.
OPEN HOUSE -- September 28 & October 12, at Stonewall Vineyards in Concord, Va. 804/993-2185.
MARYLAND WINE FESTIVAL -- September 28-29, Farm Museum, Westminster, Md. 301/848-7775.
HARVEST FESTIVAL -- October 5 & 6, Byrd Vineyards, Myersville, Md. 301/293-1110.
CHATEAU MORISETTE FESTIVAL -- October 12, Meadows of Dan, Va. 703/593-2865.
BACCHANALIAN FEAST -- & Albemarle Harvest Wine Festival, October 12 & 13, Boar's Head Inn, Charlottesville. 804/296-4188 weekdays.
NOUVEAU TASTINGS -- Starting November 16. Weekend tastings of nouveau wine with pate, cheese and French bread. Boordy Vineyard, Hydes. Md. 301/592- 5015.
WHERE THE VINES ARE
For a complete list of Virginia's wineries and guide to the state's festivals, write the Wine Marketing Program, Virginia Department of Agriculture, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209 or call 804/786-0481.
For a complete list of wineries in Maryland, write or call the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Marketing Services, 50 Harry S. Truman Parkway, Annapolis MD 21401. 301/841-5770.