When most people think of great American wine regions, California Wine Country usually tops the list. But one of the loveliest areas for wine hides in the east, in Virginia, where world-class wineries ply their craft in a rolling landscape rich in colonial history. Our editor-in-chief visited a few years ago and said, “We had a splendid time winding our way through this delightful landscape, alternating stops at famous plantation homes with tastings at notable wineries.” He reports that Bordeaux varieties do particularly well here, and Virginia Viognier has also acquired quite a reputation.
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Start in the state capital of Richmond, with a stay at the Jefferson Hotel, “one of the finest examples of Beaux Arts style in existence,” according to our editor. This “palatial” hotel makes an ideal base for visiting important Civil War sites, such as the American Civil War Museum and the Petersburg National Battlefield Park. Other points of interest are the Virginia Holocaust Museum and Agecroft Hall and Gardens, a 500-year-old Tudor manor house from England that was dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic in the 1920s.
Rent a car and drive about 90 minutes to idyllic Albemarle County, perhaps the least-known great wine region in the United States. The Andrew Harper-recommended Keswick Hall, a Tuscan-style villa on a verdant golf course, is where we would normally suggest basing yourself. However, it is closed for renovations through spring 2019. Instead, The Clifton is a nice nearby alternative.
Just six minutes away by car is Monticello, Jefferson’s iconic Palladian-inspired mansion. Here, Jefferson attempted to forge an American wine industry, unfortunately without success in his lifetime. He would be thrilled to see what the surrounding estates now produce.
Thirty minutes northeast of Monticello is Barboursville Vineyards, which dazzles with its Viogniers, Cabernet Francs and Bordeaux-style blends. Virginia’s most famous winery is owned by the well-funded Zonin family from Italy, and their investment has paid off. Be sure to have lunch at the renowned Palladio Restaurant and go on a self-guided tour of the ruins of Gov. Barbour’s mansion.
In nearby Gordonsville, Horton Vineyards distinguishes itself with an unusual and delicious sparkling Viognier, and fascinating bottlings of Pinotage, Petit Manseng, Tannat and Rkatsiteli.
Another winery of note is the Dave Matthews-owned Blenheim Vineyards, open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and where you can taste Chardonnay, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. A visit to Castle Hill offers a fun change of pace; it’s devoted to producing artisanal hard ciders. Its tasting room is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In between tastings, architecture buffs will not want to miss historic sites such as Montpelier, the idyllic home of James Madison, and the Jefferson-designed University of Virginia, one of the country’s most beautiful campuses.
Head north into Loudoun County, another fine Virginia wine center. Based at The Goodstone Inn & Estate, an elegant hostelry famed for its equestrian events, it’s easy to visit fine wineries such as Chrysalis and Boxwood, known for delicious Nortons and fine Bordeaux-style blends, respectively. There are plenty of non-vinous diversions as well, such as shopping in historic Middleburg, canoeing the Potomac River and touring nearby historic estates.
Drive the short and scenic distance back to Washington’s Dulles Airport for your flight home.
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