Archive for June, 2020


Shenandoah Summer Escape

Posted on Jun 23 2020 | By

In a time long, long ago—pre-COVID-19—getaways were predicated on finding time to escape. Today, that’s not so much an issue. Here’s a suggested getaway penned in the pre-pandemic era.    

Valley Life Beckons with Beauty, History, Pleasure

Shenandoah. The word falls softly on the ear, possessing a rich aural tone and conveying a sense of peaceful allure. It’s renown comes in identifying the Shenandoah Valley. Native Americans called the region “Daughter of the Stars.”

It’s fitting such a beautiful word bespeaks such a beautiful Valley. Travel the world, and people will knowingly nod at the sound of its name. “Ahh, the Shenandoah Valley. ‘Tis lovely.”

Indeed. And it belongs most closely to the citizens of Virginia. It’s our gift and reward for living in the Old Dominion. Yet how often do we visit this jewel that entrances so many? Not often enough. Summer is the time to deepen the embrace.

The Shenandoah Valley extends southwestward from Harpers Valley, West Virginia, encompassing nine counties in the Commonwealth for 150 miles and terminating at the James River. It is about 25 miles wide and centered by the Shenandoah River.

The main arterial highways are Interstate 81 and U.S. Route 11. The former speeds you through the Valley to destinations elsewhere, the latter gently slows your pace so you can explore more deeply the valley’s culture and history.

The Valley’s human history dates to 9,000 years ago and was later central to the expansion of our Nation from the early 1700s. Known as the breadbasket of the Confederacy during the Civil War, the fertile farmlands of the Shenandoah Valley provided abundant food to Southern soldiers and civilians.

Let’s Get Started
Choices abound on were to engage the Valley for an overnight stay. We are going to start in New Market and drive north to Woodstock, a mere 20 miles.

The cornucopia of things to see and do in this short distance reflects the Valley as a whole.

One could spend weeks exploring the length and breadth of the region.

The first decision is how to reach our starting destination of New Market. Consider avoiding Interstate 81 and rather travel from the eastern and northern parts of the state west through the towns of Warrenton and Luray.

You’ll delight in unmatched scenery and pass through the Shenandoah National Park before arriving at your destination.

From the south, travel U.S. Route 11 north, formerly known as the Valley Pike. The objective is to ease off the pedal and embrace the journey.
Our first stop of the day is the Virginia Museum of the Civil War just west of the town of New Market.

The dramatic-looking museum explores the Battle of New Market fought on May 15, 1864. Students from the Virginia Military Institute, some as young as 15-years- old, fought an intense battle here defeating Union Major General Franz Sigel. The 247 cadets were a pivotal force in the Confederate victory.

Allow at least two hours to view a movie, tour the extensive museum, and walk the grounds. A particularly touching part of the tour is the field of lost shoes. Many of the cadets lost their footwear during the battle in the freshly plowed soil that had turned to mud after heavy rains. Ten cadets were killed in the engagement.

Admission is $10, seniors $9 and youth ages 6-12 $6; wee ones are free.

Next is the Edinburgh Mill Museum, located 15 miles north of New Market as you continue on U.S. Route 11. The museum is the largest in Shenandoah County and is open year-round. It was a large grist mill built in 1848 and one of the few such structures that survived a military action known as “The Burning”.

In July 1864, General Ulysses Grant ordered his Army Chief of Staff Henry Halleck “to eat out Virginia clear and clean…so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.”

For 13 days starting on September 26, 1864, General Philip Sheridan’s Union Army burned or destroyed over 2,000 barns and outbuildings and confiscated thousands of horses, cattle, and sheep. For generations, the Valley’s farmers would not forget nor forgive the destruction.

The mill was saved by a brave young woman who implored Union soldiers to spare it. Today it houses a collection of artifacts commemorating the role of Edinburg during the Civil War. Admission is $2.

By now, thoughts of history will begin to fade as your stomach becomes your docent, murmuring quietly, “Feed me.” Several eateries are awaiting five miles north in Woodstock. Two of particular interest are the Spring House Tavern and the Woodstock Brewhouse.

The tavern has been family-owned for 19 years and voted as having the best restaurant, bartender, steak, and burger in Woodstock. It has an impressive lineup of craft beers and is opened daily.

An alternative to lunch at the tavern is the Woodstock Brewhouse located one block off Main Street at 123 E. Court Street. The building is the former Casey Jones work clothes factory dating to the 1920s. It subsequently saw multiple uses over the decades.

A few years ago, it was updated to capture its storied past while serving as an upscale brewery. Painstaking efforts were made to bring the structure back to its original glory, keeping it as authentic to the original structure as possible.

The owners were devoted homebrewers before deciding to go commercial. Using favorite recipes developed over the years, their creative list of beers is among the best in the Valley.

If you are a Hop Head, consider ordering a pint of the Crow’s Provender IPA. Remember the story? It’s a delicious brew named in memory of the harsh Civil War legacy.

Excellent pub food serves as an accompaniment to the beer. Platters like Burgers—both meat and meatless—bratwurst, fish tacos, jerk chicken, the sexi-mexi pizza, and more grace its menu.

It is opened seven days a week with afternoon hours Monday through Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday service from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.

After lunch, enjoy a short but beautiful drive to the banks of the Shenandoah River to sit either inside or out at Muse Vineyards. The winery is located on a former 200-year-old Mennonite farm with an additional 30 acres of vineyards added to the property.

The boutique winery is owned by two overachievers, Robert Muse and Sally Cowal. Muse is an international lawyer and Cowal, a former United States ambassador. The husband and wife team reinforce the point that the Valley attracts successful people from all walks of life who settle in and work side-by-side local residents.

The talent brought to bear at Muse is reflected in its numerous award-winning wines, including a gold medal scored at the 2020 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition for its cabernet franc bottling called Thalia.

At the End of the Day
Linger at the winery as long as you want because your next destination is just two miles down the road. The Inn at Narrow Passage is situated on five private acres along the Shenandoah River. For 30 years it provided hospitality and a history that dates to the earliest pioneers of the Valley.

Part of the property includes an original log cabin built in 1740 that offered shelter from Indian attacks for travelers on the Great Wagon Road at a dangerous section known as “narrow passage”. During the Civil War, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson made the cabin his headquarters in the Valley Campaign of 1862.

The Inn offers 12 guestrooms, including the log cottage, which accommodates six guests and has a swimming pool. A full breakfast is served daily between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

With the dinner hour looming, the proprietors of the Inn suggest heading back to the Edinburg Mill. The museum that you may have visited earlier in the day also has a restaurant serving American cuisine using seasonally available local ingredients.

The dining room speaks to the mill’s history, with low, wooden beams and old mill machinery decorating the walls and ceiling.

A shorter drive offers the opportunity to dine at one of the previously suggested lunch spots in Woodstock that you might have missed earlier in the day.

Heading home
After being fortified with a full breakfast the next morning, one could consider a leisurely drive home. But there is so much to see that additional recommendations spring to mind.

If you head north out of Woodstock, you may want to drop by the Filibuster Distillery in Maurertown. It opens at noon Thursday through Sunday, so a tight schedule may preclude a visit.

But if you slept in, consider stopping by the women and minority-owned business to sample their bourbon and rye whiskeys and gin. The company was started near Capitol Hill, thus its whimsical name.

If time permits, perhaps the perfect way to end your getaway is to head north for 32 miles to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.
The museum is dedicated to preserving and enriching the cultural life and heritage of the Valley.

It includes a house dating to the eighteenth century, six acres of impressive gardens, and a 50,000-square-foot museum featuring numerous exhibitions.

A permanent display of miniature houses and an expansive gallery exploring the history and decorative arts of the Shenandoah Valley is also included in the visit. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children. You will not be disappointed.

As you finally head home, bear in mind your brief excursion to the Shenandoah Valley just lightly brushed the seemingly limitless things to see and do here.

Start planning your return today.

Touring from Home
If family or work commitments preclude an overnight stay in the Shenandoah Valley, here are some ideas for enjoying the Valley hearthside:

Shenandoah National Park. A beautifully filmed video sharing the history and activities within the park. Free.

Touring the Shenandoah Valley Backroads. A compilation of 13 driving tours in the Valley with the focus on historic homes. Armchair visitors will encounter numerous small towns and villages that bring the Valley’s past to life with detailed, fascinating auto tours showcasing the richness of the region’s history. $19.35.

Shenandoah Valley-style Barbeque Chicken. The Valley is legendary for its productive farms. Here’s a recipe that will let you “taste” the best the Valley has to offer.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

BOOK REVIEW: Beyond Jefferson’s Vines

Posted on Jun 17 2020 | By

The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia
Third edition
By Richard G. Leahy

(300 pages, $19.99)

Just as the COVID-19 lockdown eases up, along comes an updated book guiding wine lovers to the best wineries in Virginia. Timing is, indeed, everything.

The Old Dominion’s vinous industry has been in economic freefall for the last two months. Tasting rooms have been shuttered across the state in the interest of public health. It’s unclear how many of the over 300 wineries will ultimately survive, but don’t bet against vintners whose passion for their art is renowned.

Richard Leahy is a knowledgeable wine maven who brings three decades of experience in observing the state’s wine scene. Whether a reader enjoys his treatise hearthside or on the road, it’s an informative and enjoyable book.

Wines and wine personalities come alive under Leahy’s keen eye for detail.

The book is divided mainly into three parts: The historical roots of the fermented grape in the Commonwealth, tours of numerous wineries, and a view of the industry’s expansion and future.

While Virginia lays claim to a 400-year history of winemaking, the reality is that much of that storied past was not very storied. Even Thomas Jefferson, the Nation’s first wine connoisseur, failed to grow and make palatable wine at Monticello.

Not until the 1970s did science and viniculture join forces to create what is today the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the country. Writing a book devoted mostly to the state’s modern era was a task of considerable effort.

“I’ve worked harder on this third edition than I did on the first one,” said Leahy. “It’s been five years since the last book. One hundred new wineries have appeared on the scene since 2015.”

To be sure he showcased the best performers, Leahy used the metric of wineries scoring only silver or gold medals in the Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. The competition is the premier annual wine judging event in the state. Silver medals must have been earned in the last three years and golds the previous four.

Readers will learn about 11 new artisanal wineries who have garnered solid reputations in the recent past, along with advice on how to tour our wine country. Any publication luring residents out of their living rooms and backyards is most welcome.

As they reopen, the wineries are working hard to provide safe venues with ample social distancing. A glass of quality wine enjoyed in either a limited seating tasting room or outside with expansive views of fields, lakes, and mountains is a proven vaccine against boredom.

Fauquier County
When Leahy discusses Fauquier County, he focuses on several well-known wineries, including Pearmund Cellars, Granite Heights, Delaplane Cellars, Boxwood Estate Winery, Linden Vineyards, and RdV Vineyards.

The county can make a legitimate claim as being the birthplace of the modern era of the state’s wine culture. The first commercial winery was Farfelu (now closed), whose vineyard was planted in 1967. It opened as a winery in 1975.

The former Piedmont Vineyards in northern Fauquier was the third winery established and is remembered as the first to plant the Chardonnay grape in Virginia. Until the early 1970s, only native and hybrid grapes were grown here.

The ability to successfully grow the beloved but temperamental Vitis vinifera species launched the state’s success. The species makes 99 percent of the world’s best wines; think Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and many more.

“Fauquier County was clearly at the center of the resurgence of Virginia wine in the modern era,” said Leahy.

The author notes with pride the forward of his third edition is written by the legendary Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who organized the Judgement of Paris, a blind wine tasting competition held in 1976.

The tasting pitted the United States against the best the French had to offer. Both a California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon won first place, catapulting American wine onto the international stage. The movie Bottle Shock was based on the pivotal event.

Spurrier has stated that “My favorite North American wine region today is Virginia.” High praise from a worldwide expert.

The book also discusses the impact of climate change on the state’s industry. Bringing the point home was our recent spring freezes. Because of a warmer than normal winter, the vines experienced early bud break.

That scenario set the stage for cold snaps that can decimate vineyards in one chilling night. And that’s exactly what happened on two occasions to several unfortunate state wineries. If the trend continues, vineyard site selection and evaluating growing different types of grape varieties will assume greater importance.

Leahy notes that during the pandemic online sales of Virginia wine have increased. This trend is expected to continue even with the reopening of tasting rooms. Such sales often include discounts and free shipping.

But there’s no substitute for visiting small enterprises selling one of the most popular of social lubricants. Beyond Jefferson’s Vines will be a faithful companion for oenophiles as they return to both their favorite and soon-to-be-discovered new wineries.

Available at

Published June 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES