Alexandria, VA – October is Virginia Wine Month. What better time to explore the ever-growing number of wineries waiting to be discovered near and far? Harvest is a magical time for winemakers. After all, winemaking is an agricultural venture. Fall brings the end to the growing season, the beginning of the science of oenology. But there is nothing like the vista of autumnal splendor, the backdrop of Virginia’s harvested vines, cascading down the undulating foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One easy way to enjoy your foray into oenological adventures is to book a tour with the experts. Cork and Keg Tours, started in Loudoun County in 2016, is owned by Don and Renee Ventrice. They are both Navy veterans, parents/partners together, and avid dog lovers. Renee is also a WSET Level 2 certified wine educator, providing knowledgeable tasting experiences at each and every tour destination. WSET stands for the Wine and Spirit Education Trust which provides introductory to extensive instruction for wine industry professionals and dedicated enthusiasts.
In a 2020 USA Today Reader’s Poll of the Top Ten Winery Tours, Cork and Keg came in third behind two well-established California winery tour companies: Grapeline Wine Tours of Temecula and Perata Luxury Tours in Napa. As Renee explains it, that means they are not only number one in Virginia but number one in 49 states besides California.
Ecstatic that Cork and Keg took the bronze of wine tour kudos, Renee noted that they also cater to craft breweries, distilleries, and cideries as well as being partnered with the Loudoun County Bed and Breakfast Guild. Tour experiences range from bridal shower soirées and bachelor bashes to Winery and Bed and Breakfast getaways.
Renee is exceptionally creative and enthusiastic. Throughout COVID-19 Cork and Keg hosted regular virtual Karaoke tastings in the tour van, centered around a featured wine. As dynamic and vivacious as Renee is, the star of the Cork and Keg Tour Company is the touring van affectionately named FloJo after the champion 1988 track and field Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner. To this day, she’s the fastest woman in recorded history.
FloJo is tricked out with everything imaginable to get any party started: big screen, bar, state-of-the-art sound system, even a mirrored disco ball. The plush, lush purple, teal, dove gray, and royal blue WINEing wheels’ interior makes for an ultimate wine-lover fantasy, a rock ‘n roll VIP traveling tour de force.
COVID-19 has brought about business model changes. Tours are limited to smaller groups of no more than 12. Masks must be worn except during tastings. The van is scrupulously cleaned before, during, and afterwards. On the day The Zebra toured with Cork and Keg, the driver even admonished the masked photographers not to touch anything. FloJo shines inside and out.
The Zebra was able to join an Alexandria family celebrating a pop up boutique wedding at 50 West Vineyards in Middleburg. The wedding party, consisting only of the bride and groom, parents of the couple, and their maid of honor and best man, were treated to a private tasting upstairs in the elegantly converted stable, brimming with riding tack and hunting themes befitting the fabled horse country. Photo ops and selfies galore among the Cabernet Sauvignon vines capped their visit before FloJo whisked them off to an intimate dinner, wine TBD!
There are more notable winery touring companies to consider. Divine Wine Tours, also in Loudoun, and Alexandria’s own The Getaway Driver, to name just two. Former 50 West and Sunset Hills Vineyard manager Bridgette Smith has joined the Divine Wine team, bringing her expertise in Loudoun wineries and love of craft beer to the spirits trail. Divine Wine Tours found creative ways to cope with COVID curves, curating date-night wine baskets and Mother’s Day Rose and Rosé tasting packages.
The Getaway Driver’s Adam Stampfl, a former Fairfax County police officer, offers history- as well as libation-catered tours to wineries, distilleries, and breweries within an easy drive from Port City. Safer-at-home may be the guideline during the time of the coronavirus, but safer-with-them is always the motto for these winery tour companies.
October’s promise of cool air and billowy clouds in an ocean of azure resting above mountainscape scenery, colored by a gemstone kaleidoscope of land and sky, call to mind apple butter, pumpkin lattes, mulled wine, and hot, cinnamon-y cider. After seven months of sheltering in place, we all deserve a great fall adventure. Why not make it a Z~Oenology one? Find your wine. Raise a glass to Virginia Wine Month. You’ll thank us later.