Virginia is home to more than 300 wineries; Maryland boasts just over 100. Each has wine trails that encourage visitors to explore the vineyards. And the truth is that what you’ll find throughout the region is better than ever. Gone are the days when visiting a local winery meant tasting through a mediocre Chardonnay, a sweet Viognier and a brawny, tannic merlot: You’re more likely to hear tasting room staff talking about unusual grapes (when’s the last time you had a Tannat?) or pet-nat, a sparkling wine that finishes fermentation naturally in the bottle.
But if tasting superlative wine is your only objective, you could save yourself the drive to wine country and head to Maxwell Park, the Dabney Cellar or another D.C. wine bar. Visiting wineries around Middleburg or in the Blue Ridge Mountains is often about everything but the wine: fresh air, views and spending the day with friends, family and even your dog. So we put together this guide to some of our favorite local wineries with that in mind.
If you want an especially beautiful view, try . . . Bluemont Vineyard
To get to Bluemont Vineyard, visitors must drive up a narrow road that begins as a hill and ends as a surprisingly steep mountain. But the reward for reaching the tasting room, which sits 951 feet above sea level, is a jaw-dropping view of the Loudoun Valley, filled with farmland and brightly colored foliage.
Climb to the second-floor deck and take a moment to orient yourself: Middleburg is off to the right, Purcellville is on the left. Far off in the distance is the cityscape of Reston and, beyond that, Tysons. On a clear winter day, says Bluemont General Manager Hailey Zurschmeide, you can use the winery’s telescopic viewfinder to look for the tip of the Washington Monument, more than 45 miles away
The upper deck holds around 40 people, while the lower level — including the patio with the viewfinder — seats 170. For the best shot at enjoying a flight with a view, Zurschmeide recommends arriving before 2 p.m. on weekends. (Guests can also make reservations for an “Elevation Tasting,” which features higher-end wines than the basic tasting room menu, including the Bordeaux-blend Ascent, and ask to be seated outdoors.)
As beautiful as the views are, the party buses of large groups and families clogging the patio with diaper bags and strollers can make the setting less than tranquil. Some might prefer the more intimate Fox Meadow Winery, located in Linden, about 16 miles to the southwest. The deck at the tasting room offers a spectacular view overlooking vineyards and the craggy spines of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The laid-back atmosphere, including a wine tasting that features local chutney and other small bites, is more relaxing than some of the more popular vineyards closer to the District.
18755 Foggy Bottom Rd., Bluemont. bluemontvineyard.com. Open daily. — Fritz Hahn
If you’re going with a group, try . . . Sunset Hills Vineyard
This 10-year-old Purcellville winery — a companion to Middleburg’s 50 West Vineyards
— has a lot of open land surrounding its focal point: a rustic two-story farmhouse that serves as the main tasting room for a streamlined batch of offerings that includes a standout rosé. But one of the first things that strikes you about Sunset Hills is how almost every large gathering spot is treated as its own intimate section.
Once you step inside the tasting room, you’ll notice its coziness: There’s a den, which hosts live acoustic music, set off on one end, and on the other, a two-tiered outdoor perch with seats that overlook the vineyard property. If sipping wine indoors isn’t quite your speed, the farmhouse is flanked by welcoming grassy spaces flush with well-spaced picnic tables (covered and uncovered) and Adirondack chairs circling a fire pit.
The winery even makes use of a quaint barn on-site as an auxiliary tasting room, which on a recent visit was doling out pleasingly spiced mulled wine. While your definition of a group might vary, it’s worth noting that any gathering of eight or more requires reservations. But some extra planning would be well rewarded with plenty of charming views and space for a lavish picnic. 38295 Fremont Overlook Lane, Purcellville.
sunsethillsvineyard.com. Open daily. — Hau Chu
If you’re bringing your kids, try . . . Rocklands Farm Winery
The most popular features at this six-year-old Montgomery County winery include a mountain of used tractor tires, a pond filled with ducks and a fetch-playing farm dog named Scout. “There’s a lot of families in the area that are hungry to come out to the farm and enjoy the space,” says Rocklands co-founder Shawn Eubank. Last year, to provide “a fun and safe space for kids,” Rocklands created a family area with mulch and picnic tables, where parents can supervise their children as they play — while the grown-ups enjoy a wood-fired pizza and a bottle of Monocacy, a bright, fruity but not-too-sweet blend of Valvin Muscat and Chardonel.
Rocklands’s co-founders are parents and it shows, from the duck feed for sale next to the pond to the all-natural ice pops and snacks in the wine tasting room, which was converted from an old red barn.
“It does seem like the majority of our customers are families,” Eubank says, but Rocklands wants to make visitors without children feel just as comfortable. An adults-only area is situated next to the tasting room, well up the hill from the play area. Friday night wine-tasting sessions with live music are limited to those over 21, as are weekend tours of the vineyard. “You can’t be everything to everybody,” Eubank says, but Rocklands seems to be finding a successful balance. 14531 Montevideo Rd., Poolesville. rocklandsfarmmd.com. Open Wednesday through Sunday. — Fritz Hahn
If you’re bringing your dog, try . . . Three Fox Vineyards
You can probably find finer wines in the Middleburg A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area) — part of Virginia’s Piedmont region known for its wineries — but you’ll find no better place to sit and sip with your dog than the uber-pooch-friendly Three Fox Vineyards in Delaplane. Less than a 90-minute drive from the District, the vineyard offers a 10-wine tasting menu, featuring four whites, a rosé and five reds — including the silky port alternative Rosso Dolce Chambourcin — for $11, along with plenty of outdoor seating and hammocks on which to relax after you and Fido have made your selection. In the winter, the patio is tented and heated.
Buy three bottles (which run about $30 each), and they’ll waive the tasting fee. On weekends, there’s often live music to go with the bocce, cornhole and fire pits, as well as the occasional food truck. But you might want to consider packing your own picnic lunch at home — outside food is encouraged — or grabbing a sandwich or snack from the Red Truck Bakery in Marshall, a short drive away.
Speaking of that hill: It offers a commanding, Andrew Wyeth-esque view of the tasting room, and the surrounding wine fields and picnic meadow, as well as being a great place to walk or play fetch, off leash, with your furry friend. Bring a ball and a towel: There’s also a great creek near the hammocks, if your dog is a swimmer. 10100 Three Fox Lane, Delaplane. threefoxvineyards.com
. Open daily except Tuesday. — Michael O’Sullivan
If you’re going with a wine snob, try . . .Old Westminster Winery
Even newcomers to the world of wine have heard of “natural wines,” and Old Westminster has been a standard-bearer for the movement in this region. The Baker family, which runs the winery, planted old-world styles, such as Gamay, and forgotten Native American grape varietals, though it uses a mix of grapes from its vines and other nearby vineyards. Of course, what really matters is that the wines are delicious, if sometimes a little different from what casual drinkers may be used to. (The canned Farm Fizz Rosé won our blind tasting of local rosés earlier this summer, even as tasters remarked on its “abnormally pink” color and “full flavors.”)
For all the media attention and on-trend practices, Old Westminster’s Carroll County tasting room is a remarkably attitude-free place to sample and learn about wine. A diverse group of wine lovers gathers around a long bar hewed from a 200-year-old white oak, or shares bottles around communal tables decorated with Mason jars of flowers. Outside, picnic tables and garden furniture beckon.
The reasonably priced tasting — $10 for five samples — showcases a broad variety of Old Westminster’s products: Highlights from a recent tasting included 2017 Grüner Veltliner bright with notes of stone fruit, and the spicy, robust 2016 Anthem with depth from cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot grapes. Sadly, the rotating menu didn’t include one of Old Westminster’s signature wines: The Pet-Nat Chardonnay, a fizzy, juicy sparkler that develops its bubbles naturally during fermentation in the bottle. (You can buy a full glass for $14, and you’ll probably want to leave with a $40 bottle.)
The atmosphere at Old Westminster, which includes live music and food trucks on Fridays and Sundays, stands in contrast to some of the region’s other lauded but more restrictive wineries. Linden, one of the area’s most decorated wineries, only allows “Friends of Linden” — those who buy their wine by the case — to sip on-site on Saturdays and Sundays, and doesn’t allow groups larger than four. RdV, in Delaplane, is open “by reservation only,” and requires the advance purchase of a $65 tour-and-tasting package. 1550 Old Westminster Rd., New Windsor. oldwestminster.com. Open Thursday through Sunday. — Fritz Hahn