We're often asked to recommend wineries in Virginia wine country, a place that I wrote last year "is one of the world's most under appreciated yet truly delightful wine regions". Virginia wine country is our home turf, so to speak. The closest of its delightful wineries are about thirty minutes from our front door. In fact, there are few cities from which hundreds of thriving wineries are as accessible as Virginia wine is from Washington, DC and Arlington, VA just across the river. These are our recommendations for the wine excursion you should be planning as the weather warms into spring this year.
We find Cabernet Franc and Viognier to be the best overall red and white (respectively) varietals, though we've had some very compelling Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and even some Chardonnay and red blends that we'd go back to. In general, the ticket to Virginia's recent success has been an acknowledgement among its best winemakers that it isn't the American west coast. In many ways the best wine coming out of Virginia shares more in common with old world France than with new world California.
Virginia's best wine is made in and around Delaplane, about an hour's drive on Interstate 66 into the mountains from Washington. The countryside here is spectacularly beautiful, worth spending some real time in. Consider lunch or an overnight at the Ashby Inn, or brunch at Hunter's Head Tavern.
Without question our favorite overall winery experience in Virginia, we think that Delaplane Cellars has really nailed the blend of great wine with inviting winery atmosphere. We love their blend of variety and consistently high quality, a combination that many winemakers find difficult to achieve. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Petite Manseng, and Sauvignon Blanc are estate grown, and 100% of their grapes are grown in Virginia. The winery itself seems almost cut into the hillside, its big windows towering above the vineyard and the road below to boast spectacular mountain views from its patio and tasting room. The setting is anything but snooty, with live music often wafting through the open floor plan and the most friendly people pouring glasses at the bar. Reservations are not required, but guests younger than twenty-one years, parties larger than six people, buses and limousines are not allowed. Read our complete review.
About ten minutes' drive away, RdV is in many ways Delaplane's stylistic opposite save for the penchant both have for producing phenomenal wines. This place makes absolutely phenomenal wines. Phenomenal. Wines. RdV eschews an extensive selection, instead focusing on producing two or three red wines that will blow you away. We prefer Rendezvous, their Merlot blend, to the also-very-good Lost Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon blend, but find that this comes down to personal preference. RdV presents itself meticulously, from the beautiful barrel cellar to the moderne furniture and decoration style of its tasting room to the stylized bags you'll take your wine home in; the folks behind the experience have obviously thought through every moment you'll spend here. It's impressive. Some words of caution are necessary, though: Reservations are required at $50 per person with a maximum group size of four, and bottles of Rendezvous and Lost Mountain will run $75 and $125 respectively. The wine is absolutely worth it, though.
The epicenter of Northern Virginia winemaking, Leesburg is a charming town about an hour's drive from Washington (and about 45 minutes over country roads from the Delaplane area) around which a great number of wineries are concentrated. This is truly the place in Virginia where you can pull out of one winery and in seconds or minutes pull into another. Try the Wine Kitchen or Shoe's Cup and Cork for lunch downtown.
Zephaniah Farm Vineyard
We've never found a winery with more character and charm than Zephaniah. Our favorite when the weather grows cold, the truth is that we love this place all year round. You will feel at home from the moment you walk through the tasting room door in the old farm house, settle in next to the cozy wood fire, taste their great lineup of small production wine, and enjoy the hospitality that only a family winery can share. Now under the care of Bill Hatch and Bonnie Archer, the farm has been in the family for generations. There's a lot of history here, from the grass fed beef that they still raise, to the old pictures of Zephaniah himself -- a Navy Captain -- to Bill's and Bonnie's grown children who are very much a part of the winemaking operation today. They've grown the vineyard to ten acres that yield about 1200 cases per year in the ten years they've spent producing wine here. Small production, in this case, is an easy euphemism for "every bottle made with great passion and care". Read our complete review.
Stone Tower Winery
The newest of the wineries on this list, Stone Tower also happens to feel the biggest. In truth, Virginia needs more wineries like Stone Tower that are both striving for a big footprint that can absorb hundreds of visitors every day while still making really good wine. Visit here when you're in a larger group or are feeling celebratory. Where Zephaniah welcomes you into a living room, Stone Tower welcomes you into a large tasting hall or the cozier -- but still substantial -- members only club room. The grounds are expansive enough to offer ample countryside strolling and separate areas for guests with children or pets, and guests with neither. We reviewed their latest Viognier (Viogner is Virginia's signature white varietal) in our recent Top five wines for March, writing that "...this bottle is a lovely example of the Viognier varietal that performs so well in the Commonwealth (as the state is known). Crisp refreshing fruit dominates the experience, with marked banana and pear on the palate. This is a super versatile white, with a little acidity and viscosity that pairs well with food. Some texture of a sweeter white without the sugar, we also think it will be a crowd pleaser that can appeal to a range of drinkers' preferences."
There are wineries all over Virginia, but there are two that we specifically want to share with you despite their being nowhere near any of the others I've discussed here.
The oldest winery on the list, it also happens that the idea for Wine:Thirty Flight was born in their exquisite Library 1821 high-end tasting room, which became the basis for our first-ever winery review in early 2016. Located outside of Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, Barboursville Vineyards is also distinct as the winery in this lineup that is furthest from Washington at about two hours. No matter, for Charlottesville is a delightful town in which to pass a weekend, there are other nearby wineries to compliment your visit, and the wine at Barboursville Vineyards is more than worth the time you'll spend getting there. Their main tasting is available in the $10 range, but Library 1821 is a true temple to great Virginia wine that manages to simultaneously be both elegant and cozy. They've maintained an extensive library of past vintages of their signature red Bordeaux-style, Octagon, (and others) which are not available in the initial tasting. We've not tried their restaurant or their inn on property, but imagine great things. Read our complete review.
Potomac Point Vineyard and Winery
Find Potomac Point after about a thirty minute drive south from Washington on Interstate 95. A long-time favorite of ours, Potomac Point has over the years produced some particularly good Viognier, Bordeaux style Heritage red blends, and Port style dessert wines aged in whisky barrels. They're aesthetically built to evoke an Italian villa, with a lively tasting room, absolutely delicious restaurant, and event facilities that have grown with the winery's overall success. The restaurant, in particular, makes this a place you can spend a truly blissful day. Eat your lunch on the patio where you can listen to the fountain when the weather is nice. They've gone to great lengths to pair meal options with their wine.
We're scratching the surface here, but we'll continue to find and share great wine from a state and region that begs to be further discovered. These are, in our estimation, the best on offer today.