From avant-garde to historic

By Posted on Apr 14 2019 | By

Ultimate overnighter showcases premier Virginia winery and storied hotel

Anniversaries and birthdays are quintessential times to take the chariot on a quick tour of the Old Dominion. With endless job and family responsibilities, most of us are tied to the whipping post except for annual vacations.

Yet a special occasion getaway need not involve an extended trip. Like a brief afternoon nap, an overnighter is restorative. The Commonwealth is chockablock full of opportunities to refresh and recharge.

So, my wife Jean and I plotted with our good friends Fred and Betsy to make a deposit into our memory banks. The excuse? Our anniversary and Fred’s birthday. The purpose entitled us to bump up the caliber our destinations without the associated guilt of spending more money than we normally would.

It comes under the heading of, “Hey we’re entitled.”

And where to go? It was a joint decision. We had visited Upper Shirley Vineyards in rural Charles City once before and wanted to share its delights with our friends. Betsy wanted to spend a night at the historic Jefferson Hotel in Richmond.

With such attractive options, we sealed the deal and made our hotel reservations. Pull your vehicle in behind us and let’s experience this adventure together.

Upper Shirley Vineyards
We departed Warrenton around 10:30 a.m. on a spring-like Wednesday with temps in the 60s. The trip south took us down Route 17 and then south on I-95 for about 40 miles to I-295 which bypasses Richmond on the east. We exited at Route 5 and traveled south for 15 miles to the winery on the right.

There are over 300 wineries in the Old Dominion today. An impressive leap in numbers since the first one opened in 1978. Moreover, the quality of the wine has garnered Virginia vinous respect and catapulted it into the fifth largest wine producing state in the Nation.

But try locating a winery in the Commonwealth that has a restaurant. Much less one offering an exceptional dining experience.

The reason? Wineries and restaurants are two completely different businesses. Creating such a twofer takes smarts, skill and the rare trait of embracing risk. The owners of Upper Shirley Vineyards qualify on all three counts.

We arrived at the winery around 12:30 p.m. and were promptly seated in the dining room. For guests simply interested in sampling wines the tasting bar is located at the back of the dining area.

The interior of the large winery is beautiful all white themed rooms with rich dark wood flooring that coordinates with the tables. Spacious windows looked out onto a plantation-style setting of broad lawns.

The James River flows past the back of the winery a few hundred yards from its large, covered deck.

Our wine order was promptly taken. A quick perusal of a late winter menu included truffle frites, crispy fried oysters, warm brie, caramelized mushroom flatbread, San Marzanto tomato bisque, house-cured salmon, eastern shore crab bisque, and a host of salads with or without protein.

Focusing on a bit heavier fare revealed specialties such as chargrilled chicken wraps, high- end burgers, cast iron quiche, southern fried chicken and more.

Since a large dinner awaited us that evening, Jean and I selected salads and our companions’ lunch size portions of fried chicken and shrimp and grits.

Susy and Tayloe Dameron are the proprietors. They built the winery in 2013 on their 100-acre property that also showcases their historic private home and equestrian operation. It is located on rural Shirley Plantation Road, or Route 5, situated between Richmond and Williamsburg.

After our order was taken, Tayloe Dameron stopped by our table and explained the food is prepared by two chefs with burnished reputations: Partner & Executive Chef Carlisle Bannister and Chef de Cuisine, Ernie LaBrecque.

“We are all about sourcing food locally, rooted in a Southern-style using fresh ingredients”, he said. “Carlisle has a great twist on our menu items and he’s not going to let anybody go hungry. His burger is the best on the East Coast and his shrimp and grits are to die for,” he said.

Our meals and a glass of wine ran about $50 per couple with tip and tax.

Learning of our interest in Virginia wine Dameron offered to pour his selection of wines at the tasting bar; all the bottlings are made by Michael Shaps, one of the most respected vintners in Virginia. An intriguing discussion ensued on the Virginia wine industry led by a man well-versed on the subject.

As we left the winery, we slowly drove down a gravel road to Shirley Plantation literally the next home to the south. Its construction began in 1723. Tours are available year-round and if your visit to the winery is a first-time experience, be sure to carve out time to see the mansion, or “Great House”.

Jefferson Hotel
Pulling back out onto Route 5 we headed north for the forty-five-minute drive to the Jefferson Hotel located at 101 West Franklin Street in the heart of historic Richmond. In driving into the expansive front plaza, I inquired if I could park there while we unloaded and registered. The immediate response was, “Absolutely!”

By the time we checked out in the morning virtually all of the staff had laced their conversations with, “Absolutely!” If the word is embedded in staff training classes, it was executed flawlessly coming off as sincere and original each time we heard it.

The service from check-in to check-out was understated and friendly. “Pampered” came to mind.

The Jefferson was built in 1895. It’s estimated up to $10 million was spent on its planning, building, and furnishing; that’s $299 million in today’s dollars. When it opened it was proclaimed to be the finest hotel in the country.

The hotel’s history encompasses a major fire and a series of restorations over the last century. In 2013 the latest multi-million reconstruction project was undertaken. The 262 guest rooms were transformed into 181 spacious rooms featuring entry foyers, dressing areas, and luxurious marble baths.

No less than thirteen presidents and an endless number of famous guests have rested easy at the hotel, including Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Charlie Chaplin, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley just to mention a few of the dozens of American and international notables who have slept there.

It was certainly one of the finest hotel rooms we had stayed in. While not cheap at $300 a night, we struck a deal at Hotels.com and stayed for $245.

Drinks and dinner were in the Lemaire bar and dining room. It is named after Thomas Jefferson’s French chef. It is one of the city’s premier white-tablecloth dining rooms. The menu is American focused with entrees of Angus beef tenderloin, grilled pork chops, lamb shank gremolata crusted salmon, jumbo sea scallops and more.

Our tab came to $180 including wine, tax, and tip. An exceptionally fair price given the setting.

Our entrees were a nice cross-section of the menu. We were attended by Sean, our humorous and personal waiter who enhanced the dinner with his winning personality.

In the morning we breakfasted at TJ’s, named affectionately after the hotel’s namesake. It’s a lower level bistro that features both breakfast and lunch. We were struck that several tables were occupied by men in dark suits obviously starting their business day off with a morning meeting.

Our waitress broke the staff record during her service, telling us no less than six times we “Absolutely!” could have a second cup of coffee, more cream or Tabasco sauce.

We departed the hotel at 10:30 a.m. and headed north up I-95. We were home by noon. It was a twenty-six-hour escape so packed with good wines, food, conversation, and beautiful sights we all felt like we’d been on an extended getaway.

Consider creating your own personally crafted one day escape. Virginia awaits to make it happen.

For the full story with accompanying photography on the two featured venues visit http://www.uppershirley.com/ and https://www.jeffersonhotel.com/


Published in the April 10, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES