Virginia Wine Staycations

By Posted on Oct 20 2010 | By

Wineries, B&Bs and Fine Hotels Offer Nearby Fulfilled Getaways

With over 170 wineries, more than 200 bed and breakfasts and numerous charming hotels, the opportunity for planning an overnight or extended vacation in the Old Dominion, without forcing the house into foreclosure, is almost limitless.

Beyond a doubt, a trip to Napa Valley or France to tour vineyards and dine at famous restaurants is an attractive adventure.  It also comes with a multiple-thousand dollar price tag.  How can you enjoy a similar holiday at a fraction of the cost?  Simply think Virginia.

This past August, my wife Jean and I challenged our good friends Fred and Betsy to join us for a day of winery hopping followed by an evening stay at the historic Mimslyn Inn in Luray.  Not surprisingly, they accepted.

Our companions had not visited many of our area vineyards so I crafted an itinerary that included six unique wineries.  As the designated driver, I sipped lightly at each stop since I had been to all of them on more than one occasion.

The fascinating part of the tour for me was chatting with the proprietors.  One of the delightful aspects of Virginia wine country is the opportunity to meet and talk with the owners, winemakers or vineyard managers.  Up close and personal comes to life in the world of Virginia wine.  This is not GalloWorld.

Barrel Oak Winery

Our first destination was Barrel Oak Winery—or BOW–in Delaplane.  We arrived around noon, well before the busy mid-afternoon guest traffic.  The winery’s growing reputation centers on dogs and kids.  It is an eclectic atmosphere where “fun” is the password to a good time.  As anticipated, upon our arrival owner Brian Roeder was surveying the tasting room and greeting visitors with smiles and pooches with patted heads.  He smiled at us.

BOW is one of the fastest growing wineries in VA and challenges the concept that a quiet tasting room is de rigueur.  Here the atmosphere is more akin to a family reunion with parents, grandparents, kids, young adults and several of man’s best friends tail wagging away, all enjoying the spacious tasting room, patio or picnic-tabled grounds.  Before we departed, Fred purchased a bottle of Norton, a wine he’s not normally a fan of. The BOW creation, however, changed his mind.

Next we motored up Route 17 to Delaplane Vineyards.  Owner Jim Dolphin was in the cellar when we arrived, but within minutes he was standing behind the tasting bar discussing the upcoming harvest and sharing some insights on the wines we were sipping.  Dolphin chose a beautiful piece of property upon which to build his sleek looking winery.  The tasting room features a long series of picture windows providing vistas of nearby rolling ridges and points further west.  Typical of most wineries in our state, the views matched the quality of the wines.  I purchased a bottle of the Maggie’s Vineyard Viognier, a grape performing very well in Virginia.

Next on the agenda was Linden Vineyards.  Established in the early 1980s and situated on 76 high and rolling acres, the winery has acquired an almost cult-like following due to the passion for winegrowing of its owner, Jim Law. Law is one of the most respected winemakers in the mid-Atlantic region and writes extensively on the subject of grape cultivation and winemaking.  Shortly after our arrival, Jim emerged from the cellar and we discussed the exceptionally hot summer Virginia was experiencing. Temperatures hovered in the high nineties for the better part of the growing season and Law had harvested his Seyval Blanc a few days before on August 12, one of his earliest harvest dates in memory.  After our tasting the fine line up of wines, Betsy purchased a bottle of the Avenius Sauvignon Blanc and we departed, briefly stopping to snap some photos of the vineyard’s succulent Cabernet Franc vines heavy with fruit.

Descending back down the steep, winding and picturesque entrance to Linden, we drove a few miles north to Fox Meadow Vineyards.  Again, this establishment sits on highly elevated land with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  In fact, all six of the wineries that we were to visit on our tour possessed scenes worthy of an artist’s attention.  Sipping quality wines in such pastoral settings has been known to reduce blood pressure readings by as much as 25-points.  A winery a day keeps the doctor away.

Preparing for Harvest

Fox Meadows owners, Bob and Cheryl Mortland were behind the tasting bar when we arrived, pouring their lineup of exceptionally clean and tasty wines.  Jean and I were particularly struck by the whites and purchased a bottle of the Le Renard Gris, a creative blend of Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio.  Bob and I chatted about our attending a tasting for a group of ten British wine writers to be held the following day at the Ashby Inn in Paris, VA.  Even the Brits are getting the message about the rising quality of our state’s wines.

Chester Gap Cellars was our next destination.  If it’s possible for the scenery to improve, the property that Bernd and Kristi Jung’s establishment resides on proves the point.  Nestled at the top of Chester Gap at 1,700 feet elevation, views from the winery deck gaze down on scenic Rappahannock County, home to the internationally known Inn at Little Washington and another six wineries. Our schedule precluded the temptation to visit some of those wineries so we took a virtual tour by soaking up the views.

At the tasting bar, the Jungs performed a tag team minuet as they poured and described their wines.  I’ve always enjoyed the style of wine produced by Bernd and again on this visit found the aromatic, full bodied offerings equal to the best in the state.  As we prepared to depart, a bottle of his Viognier goes into the wine box in the back of our 4Runner.  Will there be a fight at the end of our tour as to who gets whose wine?  Fred eyes me suspiciously as I place my bottle next to his Norton.  Memo to file:  Don’t mess with Fred’s wines.

As we headed for our final tasting of the day, Glen Manor Vineyards, Betsy again pulls out her traveling hors d’oeuvre tray and serves cheese and crackers to the pilot, co-pilot and her sweetie.  During wine tours you get to keep your trays in the permanent down position since all the landings are soft…and yummy.

Jeff  White, proprietor and winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards, located south of Front Royal, belongs to a long line of Virginia farmers whose origins date back to 1787 when the property encompassed 14,000 acres.  Today, the estate consists of 212 acres, about 15 of which are under vine.  Unlike all of the wineries we had previously visited, Glen Manor is tucked at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains and provides sweeping views upward of open pasture land, vineyards, and the faint trace of Skyline Drive at the top of the mountains. Beauty in reverse.

White, like Jim Law who he formerly worked for, considers himself a winegrower foremost, letting the quality of his fruit dictate his final wines.  His philosophy is apparent in the glass as we drifted through two Sauvignon Blancs and three deeply flavored reds. Building memory lane is fun.

Philip Carter Winery Vineyards

With our afternoon fading into evening, we drove south via Route 340 to the town of Luray.  I had reserved two suites at the historic Mimslyn Inn, built in 1931, and the recipient of a multi-million dollar restoration a few years back.  The suites are beautifully appointed and after checking in and enjoying an hour’s respite to reflect on the day’s adventures, our foursome met for dinner in the comfy Speakeasy restaurant.  My dinner of baby back ribs and fries were a perfect match for an accompanying glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

After dinner we sat out on the third floor patio, star gazing and chatting until our eyelids began to droop.  Time for dreamland.

Monday morning gifted us with typical Virginia August weather…hot and sunny.  We breakfasted in the elegant and cool Circa ’31 dining room.  Sliding away from the table an hour later we all realized there would be no need to eat till dinnertime.

As I pointed our winemobile east and drove up and over the lush Shenandoah National Park we fought the temptation to stop at few more wineries in route home.  Between the samplings of fermented grapes enjoyed the day before and the belt expanding breakfast we just consumed, we made a group decision the weekend had been properly seized.  Carpe Vino.

Planning your own wine getaway is as easy as consulting two web sites:  First go to http://www.virginiawine.org/ and find a listing and descriptions of all the wineries in VA.  Then Google http://www.innvirginia.com/ and choose a bed & breakfast to match your proposed itinerary.

Your own Virginia staycation awaits you.  Release the travel agent inside you and start planning your trip today.

Mimslyn Inn, Luray, VA

Published in the November 25, 2010 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES