By Kelly MacConomy
ALEXANDRIA,VA- Harvest happened early this year in Virginia Wine Country. Many vineyards began to pick grapes in late August, emptying the vines of most varietals in the first days of September. Abundant spring rains followed by a hot dry summer ended the 2019 growing season with jubilant anticipation of a great grape harvest, harbinger of the 2019 banner year Dionysian elixir to come.
October is Virginia Wine Month, celebrated near and far with countless festivals and farm/vineyard tours. George Washington’s Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour is always a three-day sellout. With nearby Paradise Springs Vineyards beckoning, urban wineries such as Woodlawn Press serving up their own blends, and Sonoma Cellar offering classic Sonoma County California bottles as well as a selection of Virginia’s own varietals, the accidental Z~oenophile doesn’t have to travel far.
And for more adventurous wine spectators, Alexandria’s own Getaway Driver will chauffeur you to beyond-the-Beltway locations for wine, craft brews, and artisanal distilled spirits. Should you prefer to take the wheel and explore the dirt road wineries of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah, there are diverting inns to be discovered along the country roads winding through Virginia wine country.
Stone Manor Boutique Inn was voted the best wine country B&B by Virginia Wine Lover in 2015. On a bucolic mountain road in Lovettsville, the Inn is a serene oasis. A five-minute trip up the road takes you to Doukenie Vineyards, set upon a pond amid working farmland with views of the mountain looming above the Hillsboro Gap. Sunset Hills in Purcellville and Breaux are nearby, two vineyards frequently voted Best Tasting Room, and whose wines win awards from Loudoun County to the Governor’s Cup and beyond.
Stone Manor is aptly named, not just for prominent stonework inside and out, but for the palatial dining room where three-course breakfasts (vegan menu available) are served. The room conjures up fantasies of a Clue-game murder mystery, a Harry Potter themed birthday, or a Game of Thrones finale soirée. The breakfast is inspired and plentiful, with locally roasted coffee kept on hand day and night alongside freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies and brownies kept warm by some unimaginable magic!
Virginia and other fine wines as well as craft beer are kept in the honor bar of the lounge. The suites are so luxurious that leaving the room is practically unthinkable. The expansive grounds with a lush garden, orchard, and woodland amphitheater are perfect for outdoor weddings
50 West Vineyards in Middleburg, sister winery of Sunset Hills, borders the Briar Patch B&B. A busy wedding and special occasion venue sharing the pastoral hillside property with 50 West (a favorite nuptial and special event spot itself) surprises first-time visitors. The quarter mile dirt road appears to go on endlessly, until suddenly revealing a breathtaking view of Bull Run Mountain and Chrysalis Vineyards nestled in the valley across Route 50 West.
Cana Winery is just a minute up the road, with Greenhill Vineyards even closer to the village, and Boxwood is just outside. The historic Red Fox Inn & Tavern, dating to 1728, has been a retreat for the well-heeled traveler since before George Washington. And for the ultimate in pampering, the resplendent Salamander Resort is in the center of town, yet seemingly an ocean away.
Farther along the wine roads less travelled, Skyline Vineyard Inn is in Rappahannock County. Formerly the Harmony House B&B, owners Carl and Donna Hendrickson took over the property two years ago. There are five luxury suites boasting panoramic views of the Blue Ridge mountain range. The Old Rag Room, named for that iconic peak, is a particular favorite.
Currently, Carl and Donna let only three of the five suites, pending a Special Use Permit appeal. But Skyline Vineyard Inn was named 2019 Best Boutique Hotel in the Washington Region, so it’s most likely that the Inn will be fully operational again soon. Meantime, book now for peak fall and holiday dates.
Carl and Donna are also owners and winemakers of Little Washington Winery on Christmas Tree Lane, conveniently located across the knoll from their inn. They offer varietals and blends with the Little Washington label (designed by Donna) and wine from all 50 states and around the world. Yes, even Arizona! Their bestselling Meritage blend George, named for the General and first bottled for the winery opening on 11/11/11, has won awards for the most outstanding Virginia red wine. George remains a widely acclaimed and routinely sold-out bottle from the little winery named for the town that our first president himself surveyed in July 1749.
Donna and Carl have shops in Little Washington and Charlottesville that pair hand-selected boxed chocolates, Little Washington wine, and other winery/artisan retail fare. Wine Loves Chocolate is a quaint space on Main Street within sight of the world-renowned Inn at Little Washington, founded by 5-star Chef Patrick O’Connell. The wine list at the Inn reads more like a phone book, but you will discover Virginia wines alongside the Petrus and Montrachet. Something for every taste and checkbook. Don’t be shy. Ask questions. The sommelier will gently steer you in the right direction.
But should the Inn be booked for your dinner date, there’s always the enchanting Gay Street Inn, a short stroll to the end of Gay Street. And for a more relaxed and private, home away from home, LeFay Cottage down the hill from the Little Washington Winery offers elegant French Provincial décor complemented by British country house shabby chic and the personal comforts of a private concierge. Forbes magazine spotlighted LeFay Cottage as one of seven Eastern U.S. country retreats to escape to this summer.
With over 250 registered wineries and counting in the Old Dominion, there’s no shortage of places to go. Founding Fathers and winemakers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be wide-eyed and tickled Madeira to discover there are now seven AVA (American Viticultural Area) wine regions in our state currently producing 62 varietals. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe proudly lays claim to opening more wineries, breweries, and distilleries during his tenure than any other Virginia governor. Hail and huzzah to the chief!
In this, the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign, Virginia is indisputably for wine lovers, north to south, east to west, from mountain to shore. While you are out on those wine country back roads finding your vine, stop and smell the rosés. Linger awhile. Find your stay. Virginia innkeepers are waiting to welcome you. The bottle is open. Oh, the wineries you will go!