Let the Sun Shine! Summertime and the Sipping is EaZy!

With expansive choices to day-cay or vacay in Virginia’s nearby exceptional wine regions, deciding where to go can feel like planning a holiday mall shopping expedition.

You’re always welcomed warmly at the Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm on Lake Manassas in Gainesville. (Photo: Kelly MacConomy)

Alexandria, VA – Vineyarding in NOVA this summer has become an even greater embarrassment of riches. But let’s not whine about it. With expansive choices to day-cay or vacay in Virginia’s nearby exceptional wine regions, deciding where to go can feel like planning a holiday mall shopping expedition.

There’s the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail, the Loudoun Wine Trail, Rappahannock, Fauquier, and off-trail wineries such as Paradise Springs and the Winery at Bull Run, which are the two closest to Alexandria. Don’t let it overwhelm you! Winery staff are there to help. With many vineyards returning to curated wine tastings at the bar as well as self-guided to-go, it’s easier than ever to explore Virginia wine at your own pace.

Tastings traditionally begin with whites, then explore a rosé or two before plunging deeply into the reds, perhaps ending with a port-style wine, maybe a sparkling wine, a Blanc-de-Blanc, or even a sweet white dessert wine. A dessert wine took the coveted Virginia Governor’s Cup again this year. So be sure to explore the vast range of varietals and wine styles on your tasting tours.

With new wineries popping up every month, tasting them all proves to be a full-time avocation. If you don’t know exactly what type and style of wine you prefer, you can order a sample flight. Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg offers a wide variety of tastings – some with themed pairings and some a la carte, taster’s choice.

You can pick and choose from what’s listed and available. It’s a great, affordable way to determine what you may desire for a glass or before investing in a more expensive bottle. Gray Ghost Vineyards in Amissville does the same your-pick, a la carte tastings.

The new Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm has a rustic two-story tasting barn with picturesque views of Lake Manassas. (Photo: Kelly MacConomy)

Ask about elevated tastings and wine library options. Library tastings are often reserved for wine club members, but it never hurts to ask. It is a recommended way to determine if you want to join a vineyard’s wine club. Sunset Hills Vineyards and 50 West Vineyards offer these tastings. You can opt for an all-white or all-red, or the popular red, white, and pink. In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the premiere of Game of Thrones, 50 WESTeros has plans for a White Walker White tasting and a Red Wedding Red tasting paired with 50 WestOreos cookies. Look for it in the near future.

Newer wineries won’t necessarily have reserve wines or library wines available yet. However, they roll out the red carpet for guests. After the caliber of the wine itself, winning wine lovers over with top-flight hospitality and spectacular views are what attract z~oenologists the most. What newer wineries may lack in a wide variety of wine, they more than make up for with gracious enthusiasm. And sometimes great craft beer!

One of the newest NOVA wineries is The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm. Found in the woods on a backcountry road, yet conveniently located just off Lee Highway in Gainesville, this four-month-old winery has a lot to offer, including unobstructed views along the shore of Lake Manassas.

Z~Oenologist and Zebran Scott MacConomy enjoying the Bush Hog Blonde craft draft at The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm on Cinco de Mayo. (Photo: Kelly MacConomy)

Set on 20 mostly cleared acres, there is an expansive outdoor area with a sea of brand-spanking-newly milled lakeside picnic tables in addition to a rustic tasting barn with indoor seating. Upstairs has a private deck reserved for club members; downstairs is by reservation and opens up to a terrace with a view of the lake and grounds.

The wine list includes a selection of four whites and three reds, all a 2019 vintage. The whites are Pinot Gris, Riesling, Rosé, and a 50-percent French oak chardonnay described as “Pairing well to share a charcuterie board with friends like Ross and Rachel while debating whether or not they were actually on a break.” The perfect wine with which to revisit the question during the Friends Reunion.

During Z~Oenology’s first visit to Sunshine Ridge, we lingered over a bottle of the 2019 Riesling. Riesling is a white varietal of German origin that can present from bubbly, dessert-wine sweet to bone dry. Traditionally it is bottled in a particular long-necked unique shape. Due to its high acidity, unlike most whites, it can be cellared for decades, even a hundred years.

The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm bottles a 50% French oak Chard made to be shared by friends and “Friends” alike! (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

If you can master a good Riesling, the other wines are likely to be quite quaffable. The tasting menu description was far too tempting, so we had no fear: tropical mango, biting apricot, and light white peach. Pairs well with playing the bongo drums under a full moon with Matthew McConaughey.

Equally tempting is the 2019 Cabernet Franc, the most pervasively grown red grape in Virginia, along with the Norton grape. They are known, with the extremely popular Viognier representing the whites, as state varietals. Sunshine Ridge describes their Cab Franc as pleasantly aromatic with notes of red currant and licorice complemented by tangy cherry and red pepper on the palate. Perfect for “sharing an afternoon bottle with Carrie and Samantha discussing whether or not Mr. Big lives up to his name.”

Gas may have been in short supply last month but don’t panic! Virginia wine and beer won’t stop flowing anytime soon! (Courtesy photo)

The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm was created by Maria Rafferty and Tom Schrade, along with the familial labors of love going back three generations. Their sense of fun, good humor, and whimsy in brewing and winemaking is self-evident. Their warmth is as sincere, as Southern, and as passionately enthusiastic as Italian hospitality.

The wines are made “with the help” of their friends at The Winery at Bull Run, which explains the commendable Riesling. The Winery at Bull Run bottles a lovely Riesling. But Riesling is like Tiramisu. No one makes it the same.

Z~Oenology’s second visit to the Winery at Sunset Ridge Farm occurred on a blustery Cinco de Mayo. On the drive in on Vint Hill Road, horses were galloping across verdant fields like kings of the wind. This time craft beer was on our tasting menu. We were met with a hearty “Hola!” and presented with complimentary chips and salsa. The craft beer selection made from locally farm-grown hops was impressive.

Three private furnished tents may be reserved for an elevated tasting experience. Two-and-a-half hours for $200 includes wait service. (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

Ten brews are on the tasting menu: Lagers, Ales, IPAs, a Stout, even a “Hay Day” Hefeweizen. Names were full of puns, plays on words, and alliteration. Beer is available by the pint for $7.50 -$8 or $25 – $30 for the growler. There’s nothing like an icy cold glass of beer on a sultry summer day. Perfect for impromptu picnics and dodging cicadas.

The Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm is located at 15850 Sunshine Ridge Lane Gainesville, VA. They are open 11:00 am ~ 8 pm Wednesday through Saturday and 11:00 am ~ 6:00 Sunday. Now that COVID restrictions are being relaxed, policies are changing. It’s always best to call the winery in advance to inquire about table availability, capacity/group restrictions, and outside food prohibitions. (www.thewineryatsunshineridgefarms.com)

Despite COVID restrictions easing this month, policies vary among wineries, so check before heading out on your Z~Oenological foray. (Courtesy image)

Alexandria’s own singer/songwriter Jason Masi performs here. Check his tour schedule online (www.jasonmasi.com) and the winery events page for dates and times. There’s even a barrel stage for summer concerts in the vineyard. Come to the Winery at Sunshine Ridge Farm for the fun and fine wine and beer. Linger leisurely for the lakeside scenery. You’ll thank us later!

ICYMI: Summertime Treats to Savor in Alexandria

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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