When most people think of great American wine regions, the West Coast usually tops the list. But one of the world’s loveliest wine countries hides in the East, in Virginia, where little-known vintners are crafting world-class wines. For those unfamiliar with Virginia wines, their uniformly high quality can come as quite a surprise.
It’s easy to get to historic Charlottesville, with nonstop flights from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Charlotte, among other cities. From there, it’s a short drive to romantic country resorts such as the Clifton Inn, built by Thomas Jefferson, and Keswick Hall, a Tuscan-style villa on a verdant golf course. Both properties feature memorable restaurants.
A long weekend in Virginia wine country might start with a visit to Monticello, Jefferson’s iconic Palladian-inspired mansion. Here, Jefferson attempted to forge an American wine industry, unfortunately without success. He would be thrilled to see what the surrounding estates now produce.
Barboursville Vineyards dazzles with its Viogniers, Cabernet Francs and Bordeaux-style blends (called “Octagon”). 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 their renowned Palladio Restaurant and tour the ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion.
Nearby Horton Vineyards distinguishes itself with an unusual and delicious sparkling Viognier, and fascinating bottlings of Pinotage, Petit Manseng, Tannat and Rkatsiteli. Other wineries of note include the Dave Matthews-owned Blenheim Vineyards, where it’s worthwhile to reserve the $25 private cellar tour (barrel tastings included), and Keswick Vineyards, near the resort. A visit to Castle Hill makes a fun change of pace; it’s devoted to producing artisanal hard ciders.
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.
If time permits, extend the trip with some time in Loudoun County, another Virginia wine center. From a base at the elegant Goodstone Inn & Estate, it’s easy to visit fine wineries such as Chrysalis and Boxwood, and Washington’s Dulles Airport is less than an hour away.