If you’re headed to the Purcellville area:
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 seems to move at a languid pace.
A new way to experience the wine country emerged late last fall when Trail’s End Cycling Co. in Purcellville began offering wine tours by bike. Every weekend, spring through fall, tour leader James Hodges leads small groups of riders down gravel roads and across Purcellville’s winding landscape, past cornfields and hay bales, 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 very active types, it can make for an exhilarating day. The tours are $100 per person (includes picnic lunch and bike rental; tasting fees extra); for reservations, call 540-338-2773.
For a quick, hearty bite, Monk’s BBQ, the on-site barbecue stand at Corcoran Brewing Company in Waterford, is a find. Owner Brian “Monk” Jenkins works wines and beers into his bevy of rich barbecue sauces (the blackberry whiskey is to die for) and supplements the smoky meats and sandwiches ($8-$10) with a handful of tempting sides, including smoked gouda macaroni and cheese, hush puppy-style fried pickles and slaw. Monk’s is open Saturdays and Sundays during the brewery’s operating hours. Also new in town is Market Burger , a farm-to-table burger joint that uses local beef and cheese and makes its own pickles and 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.
I rarely encounter a shop that wins my heart as easily as Stoneybrook Farm Market did; 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 in town for wine tastings. Tasty fruit pies (small, $8), jams, local coffees and milk and ice cream 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 a “yoga burger” (that’s vegetarian, natch) for fueling up on something more substantial than bread and cheese. When in season, the vegetables in the deli fare come fresh from the adjacent farm.
If you’re headed to the Middleburg area:
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 lay just outside the main streets of Middleburg. But not far are newer offerings, including Vintage Ridge . You’d be wise to start the day with a light lunch and shopping in Middleburg, and save a little room for the dining-heavy itinerary.
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 can 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.
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 at Market Salamander . The fare at this busy shop on Middleburg’s main drag 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.
And for those looking for a date idea in wine country, at Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane, a new exclusive-feeling summertime event is aimed at oenophiles looking for something grander than a typical tasting — no kids or dogs allowed. 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 Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall and his family. “ The John Marshall Experience ” tastings mark 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). The tastings include hearty pours of wines from not just Barrel Oak, but from across the globe, with each flight kicking off with sparkling wine and ending with a sip of the Portuguese fortified wine Madeira.
If you’re headed to Fauquier:
Your GPS begins to go on the fritz as pavement gives way to winding gravel roads near Linden Vineyards , Desert Rose and Naked Mountain . Pack a lunch; there’s not much in the way of restaurants in this uber-tranquil part of wine country. (And, 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.) Stops nearby include a sprawling state park and a popular you-pick farm that’s spilling over with fruit.
Just down the road from Naked Mountain, you’ll find the popular you-pick farm Hartland Orchard 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.
In the fall, there are few better views of the trees and stars than those afforded by Sky Meadows State 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.