Editors Note: In the course of the last four years, we have visited over 50 vineyards in Virginia and California. With each visit, our wine ‘hobby’ has grown, and with it our knowledge (so we like to think). This blog just came to us on a whim, and is in its very early stages. Thus in all of the reviews below, we are relying on memory….and in some cases, of over a year.
We are presenting this top ten list as a way to establish our blog, and we are sure this list will change over time. Our reviews will be a mix of the experience at each vineyard (written primarily by Minnie) and then wines…(courtesy of Mickey, especially any snarky comments, who ‘fancies’ himself as the Anthony Bourdain of Virginia wines!).
We place value on both aspects: we value good wines, but we also cherish the experience of being at a vineyard. In looking at our list objectively, I see that we probably weigh the ‘experience’ factor a bit more than the wines for the overall vineyard rating….often because we see our wine trips as a break from reality, a time to savor together as a couple, or in the company of good friends. And enjoying our time there is of utmost importance to us.
We have a few wine trips planned for this fall, and look forward to reporting timely reviews going forward. Please give us feedback on our favorites and/or your tips on vineyards to visit. We are always looking for ideas for future trips!
Cheers! ❤ Mickey and Minnie
10) Barren Ridge Vineyards: Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Bluestone Vineyards, Cross Key Vineyards
The experience: This is one of the closest vineyards to our home in Harrisonburg, and we have been so happy for all of their success. They host a number of events on their beautiful grounds….weddings, live music, sunsets at the vineyard (which are stunning over the back of their tasting room)…and our favorite: Vine to Wine 5K in the spring, and the Autumn Toast 5K in the fall. After a grueling 3.1 miles on the roads around the vineyard, we reward ourselves with a picnic dinner, good times with friends, and a bottle of Barren Ridge Tinkling Springs.
Enjoying the sunset and the ambiance of Barren Ridge with good friends after the 2012 Vine to Wine 5K.
The Wines: I tend to favor big whites and reds in the “California” style over the Bordeaux style, which seems to be more prevalent in the Valley and Central Virginia areas of Virginia. With that being said, none of the wines at Barren Ridge stand out as overly great. However, they are all solid and are good values. You won’t be “wowed” by most of the wine at Barren Ridge, but
you also won’t be disappointed. All in all…solid.
9) Veritas Winery: Monticello Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ King Family Vineyards, Afton Mountain Vineyard
The Experience: Veritas Vineyard is one of the ‘it’ vineyards in Central Virginia, and for good reason. It is beautiful, set at the base of Afton Mountain, and with an amazing tasting room and event facility. Although we have done three tastings here over the years, and enjoyed a few nice cheese plates on their grounds; what keeps bringing us back is their monthly summer event, Starry Nights. We love heading over there with good friends for a night of dancing and fun under the stars.
The only downfall of Veritas really comes at the cost of them being so popular. They are always packed, which makes it hard to have a distinctive tasting experience here. The staff often seems overwhelmed and stressed out. And, over the years, even Starry Nights seem to be reaching their capacity. It is sometimes hard to even walk through the crowds….not to mention the line buying wine (and at the bathroom!) But, the crowds go for a reason, and that is that Veritas is a good time, and a great place to see, and be seen!
The Wine: It’s been a while since we’ve done a tasting, so take my comments with a grain of salt. I seem to remember that the winemaker is a VA Tech graduate, which is a great thing (unless you like decent offenses in football).
None of the reds are great, but none are horrible. They all are OK, but WAY overpriced. The whites are all good, but not great. The Viognier is the best. Their desert wines are very good if you like that kind of thing. Personally, I thought they tasted like Robitussin cough syrup (anyone have memories of their moms shoving that stuff down their throat as a kid whey they were sick), but my wife thought they were the best thing in the world (probably because she enjoys dumping Robitussin down our kids’ throats every time they sneeze twice in 24 hours). The bottom line is the wines are decent if you are there for Starry Nights or to enjoy the view on a beautiful afternoon. However, they are WAY, WAY, WAY overpriced if you want to purchase a bottle for home. You can buy a bottle at Martin’s or Costco that is three times better for half the price!!!!
8)Fabbioli Cellars: Loudon County Wine Trail – Potomac Wing. Good to ‘pair with’ Tarara Winery, Lost Creek Winery, Hidden Brook Winery.
The Experience: This is one of the best tasting experiences we have had at a Virginia vineyard. They have multiple tasting areas and utilize a individualized approach. We lucked out into getting a pourer all to ourselves, who was extremely knowledgeable. He imparted much knowledge to us, not only about Fabbioli wines, but the wine industry in general. Having a strong background in farming as well, he handled all the questions we peppered him with, giving us good insight in what it really takes to run a vineyard (a one day dream of ours!).
As part of their standard tastings, Fabbioli includes bite-sized food parings to taste alongside the wine. Apparently this is a standard practice at French vineyards, but it was our first experience with the process. The addition of food takes the tasting to a new level, both of knowledge of food/wine parings, but also with understanding many of the terms used in tastings that might be foreign (or even sound ‘snooty’) to some. Fabbioli is big on the ‘buy local’ movement, so all the cheese and meats and chocolates were from Loudon County farmers and merchants. That adds a nice touch.
The story behind Fabbioli Cellars is inspiring: the owner (Doug Fabbioli) has worked a number of years in the industry for others, and is very established in his craft. He then decided to make a go for it himself, and has transformed the basement of his house into the tasting room, and is finding much critical success. We get the sense that some vineyards focus more on the events that a vineyard can host and some focus more on the craft of making fine wine. Fabbioli Cellars is strongly in the later camp. While the grounds are tastefully done, it lacks any kind of view and is quite small in area. So while the tasting experience is #1 on our list, it is not a vineyard we would frequent regularly for the atmosphere and to sip a glass (or two) on the premises. However, any budding oenophile should check Fabbioli Cellars out….for sure!
Fabioli Cellars in located in the basement of the owners house. The tasting experience pairs food with the wine for a top notch experience.
The Wines: The wine that I specifically recall is the Paco Rojo. It is a fruity red with enough body to hold up to a grilled hamburger, but light enough to enjoy by itself on the back porch. It is a great value! One of the best Virginia reds. It very much reminds me of an Italian table wine. None of the rest of the wines standout, but they were all good. They were all wines you would gladly drink again, but you would not HAVE to buy on the spot. I thought the overall quality approached what you would find in California. However, as with all Virginia wines,the price point was a little high for the quality. With that being said, supporting your local business is worth additional dollars, so buy Fabioli!
Doukenie Winery has a family farm setting, with a gorgeous tasting room, and a very attentive staff.
7) Doukenie Winery- Loudon County Wine Trail – Loudon Heights Cluster. Good to ‘pair with’ Breaux Vineyards
The Experience: Our visit to this vineyard is a prime example of how an attentive staff can impact their visitors in a positive way, and in turn their views on the entire vineyard. Upon hearing my favorite varietal was Chardonnay, our pourer went to the back and brought out two separate vintages our their reserve Chardonnays not usually offered with the tasting. She provided information on how weather had impacted each of the years, and how it translated into the differences in the bottles. Extending beyond the talk of wine, she was so personable and attentive, that she elevated our overall impression of Doukeine. (which were pretty high to begin with!)
Their facilities are gorgeous, boasting a tasting rooms with expansive windows to take in the surrounding view. There is a ‘sweet little lake’ with ducks that would be a nice place to spend a few hours. And all of this is on a well-maintained family farm. Doukeine Winery hosts the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon: http://www.run4virginiawine.com/ This is on our future ‘to do’ lists. There is a very popular Bed and Breakfast, Stone Manor, just a few miles up the road in Lovettesville, VA. This B&B which would make a great home base to visit Doukeine Winery, and discover other Loundon County vineyards. We have never had the opportunity to stay there ourselves, as it books up far in advance. So it is also on our future ‘to do’ lists. One way or the other, we want to head back to Doukeine Winery real soon.
The Wines: As you may have gathered by my comments on Veritas, I’m typically not a huge fan of desert or fruit wines (i.e. raspberry wine, blueberry wine, etc.). However, that is definitely not the case at Doukenie. The Hope’s Legacy Raspberry is a great desert wine and, believe it or not, pairs well with Smores! The Elderberry Fruit wine is also good, but I found it to be a bit to “syrupy” for my tastes.
The remainder of the wines, both reds and whites, were sound, but with no real standouts. With the possible exception of the Chardonnay which had hints of cream and butter with a healthy dose of fruit.
7) Gray Ghost Vineyards- Blue Ridge Wine Way Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Narmada Winery
The Experience: Of all of the visits on this initial list, Gray Ghost is our most recent. The tastings are free, and the wine superb. I typically leave the wine remarks to Mickey, but I have to say…top to bottom, I think Gray Ghost has the best wines in Virginia….at least on the white side. Because I often value the little nuisances of vineyards, I must mention here Gray Ghost’s glasses (available at a charge). They are very unique, with a a black stem and great logo. In fact, they have two glasses….an additional one for their delicious dessert wine, a smaller one with gold plated lettering, a real beauty. Needless to say, we brought home both glasses for our wine glass collection, and they occupy a prominent position.
After our tasting, we headed up to the wonderfully decorated (and cozy) second floor to enjoy a bottle of their Chardonnay and a cheese plate with our GTWC friends. The men engaged a discussion about Colonel Mosby, the Confederate General from whom this vineyard was named, giving us an impromptu Civil War history lesson. The entire afternoon passed far too quickly, and it felt as if we had spent the day in a good friend’s living room. A strong thunderstorm hit while we were at the vineyard which prevented us from enjoying (or even exploring) the outside grounds of Gray Ghost. So, a return trip is definitely in order. A nice add-on if you are in the area would be to drive through the town of Little Washington. This small town boasts a world class restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington. Being the ‘foodies’ that we are, we enjoyed just driving by this legend and gawking at it from the outside.
Gray Ghost is named after Colnoel Mosby from the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
The Wines: The best all around tasting we have had in Virginia. All of the wines were above average, but the Whites really stood out from the competition. I specifically enjoyed the Gewurztraminer, which I believe would be great with any spicy food dish or by itself, and the Chardonnay. I enjoy a good Chardonnay, whether it is aged in Stainless Steel or Oak. However, my favorites are big, bold, and buttery and aged in Oak. Both of their Chardonnay’s are aged in Oak and are excellent! Great on their own or especially good with a cheesy and/or creamy dish.
Chateau Morissete’s large tasting room facility
5) Chateau Morrisette Winery - Blue Ridge Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Villa Appalachia Vineyards
The Experience: If Virginia has a destination winery, this one is it! Chateau Morrisette is located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, miles from most of the population centers of the state. But, this winery is prospering because visiting there is an experience. Their wines are also the most readily available of the Virginia wines in local grocery stores and restaurants which makes Chateau Morrisette one of the most recognized Virginia vineyards. We made the trip down as part to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary last summer. Our experience was very reminiscent of many of the large vineyards we had visited in California the year before.
We got the sense that Chateau Morrisette is always busy, yet they handle their crowds well. They have a great system for getting people through a tasting in a professional and almost personal way. And, they have a very large retail section selling wine related items, and merchandise promoting ‘the dogs’. Many of their wines are named after the owners dogs, and they often have dog events at the winery, and even have set up a large charity dedicated to dog interests. They brand their love for dogs very well, and I think it is an appealing theme for many (of course, I am a crazy dog lady!) After the tasting, there are numerous places to enjoy a glass of wine and a cheese plate on the premiss. There are covered porches, an indoor section, and then a large lawn outside with lots of Adirondack Chairs overlooking beautiful views the Blue Ridge Mountains. We watched in awe as a large thunderstorm slowly rolled in during our visit. The winery runs a wonderful restaurant onsite, in which we had the pleasure to dine. They pair their food…with of course, Chateau Morrisette wines. There is not, however, a hotel onsite…..but one can find accommodations in the funky mountain town of Floyd…..or through rental cabins all along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
An amazing site…watching a thunderstorm roll into the vineyard.
The Wines: I’m sad to say that the wines at this vineyard are mostly below average. This is especially depressing when you realize that the owners are huge Virginia Tech fans. I believe it is very possible that Tech’s football coaches all moonlight as the winemakers at Chateau Morrisette.
With that being said, I really enjoy their Sweet Mountain Laurel. I know this is odd coming from someone who professes to love big, bold wines. However, every now and again it is fun to have a nice, light, sweet wine before dinner. This wine is a great value.
Their Chardonnay is also passable. Definitely not something you would want to purchase unless it was on sale for a VERY cheap price, but not horrible.
4) Blenhiem Vineyards: Monticello Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Kluge Vineyards, Jefferson Vineyards
The Experience: Blenheim is a very trendy, and yet unpretentious vineyard. The owner, and as we understand, designer of the vineyard is Dave Matthews. Even though I am not a huge fan, I think that is cool distinction for this vineyard. Especially since we have been told that he is very involved with all aspects of Blenheim. The tasting room is very modern, and to my untrained eye….very ‘architecuraly savy’ (I might have just created a word here). Behind the bar is a large window and deck that looks out on the vineyard below. The entire space is very welcoming. The first time we visited Blenheim, we were both very partial to white wines…..and typically only drank red with steaks. However, this visit began to change that pattern. At first sip of their Painted Red wine, we loved it…..and even went so far as to take a $35 bottle home! I will leave the rest of the wine discussion to Mickey, but suffice it to say for me to share that story three years later, it was a memorable wine!
Our wonderful friends that we do tastings with as often as possible, The Good Time Wine Club at Blenheim Vineyards.
The Wines: The reds at Blenheim are awesome! All of them are smooth and full bodied. The best is the “Painted
Red” table wine. This wine would hold up to a steak, but could also be enjoyed with Pizza or by itself.
The whites are average at best. However, the reds are so good that the overall wine quality at this
vineyard is definitely way above average.
3) Chateau O’Brien Winery – Faquier County Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Naked Mountain Vineyards, Three Fox Vineyards
The Experience: We discovered this winery by accident, and we are so glad we did! This is a vineyard that takes their wines seriously, and offers three structured and tiered tasting options. Mickey and one of our good time wine friends did the Cellar Collection Tasting which concentrated more on big, bold reds , while the rest of our group did the Classic wine tasting because it offered more whites. We were all happy with our respective tastings. The Cellar group had the advantage of having the owner do their pouring which they enjoyed very much. We have read on reviews that he is rude and pretentious, but we just found him to be passionate about his product and proud of his wine. And, all in all, our entire group of six felt the wines at Chateau O’Brien are on the top tier of wines we have had in Virginia. There is a large social space at Chateau O’Brien with windows that open on a nice day, which all combine for an inviting atmosphere. After our tasting, we shared a few cheese plates and chocolate plates on the porch and enjoyed our visit immensely. Great wine, tasty treats and amazing friends made this a memorable afternoon indeed. In fact, it is at Chateau O’Brien where we our group got its name, The Good Time Wine Club (GTWC!).
Cheers to the G.T.W.C.!!!
We thought the colors of these wines were just so beautiful, so we snapped this picture in remembrance of a great visit to Chateau O’Brien.
The Wines: The best Virginia reds we have tasted! We stopped into this vineyard after a disappointing visit to
another local winery not expecting to be “wowed.” We were pleasantly surprised!
I enjoy BIG reds with lots of flavor and a high alcohol content. This is definitely the place for you if
strong reds with lots of jammy fruit is your thing. Unfortunately, the price point of the wine at Chateau
O’Brien is high, but I believe it is due to the strong demand. Their reds are great and they know it!
Pippen Hill is breathtakingly beautiful in every way!
2) Pippen Hill Farm and Vineyard: Monticello Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Lovingston Vineyard (however, once you get there, you might find you have no desire to leave!)
The Experience: Pippen Hill is all about the experience. They have an amazing facility, inside and out. It as if all the high end decorating magazine spreads have jumped off the pages and all over Pippen Hill Farm and Vineyard. From the breathtaking events barn, to the inviting porch, to the cozy tasting room; everything is tastefully done and beautifully presented, and in a word: Grand! (Our friend even took a picture of the bathroom for decorating inspiration). We have idled away a few afternoons here, and every second was time well spent.
Pippen Hill also has a full service kitchen which in and of itself is a big draw. The food is all inspired and unique cuisine (they have named it ‘vineyard to table’)….from charcuterie boards to mini sliders…..to amazing cupcakes, the food is very tasty….and meant to be shared. The ingredients are local and the presentation is artistic, and of course it is all paired to the wine. The setting and the wine and the food are then all elevated by the staff at Pippen Hill. The pourers and servers are all knowledgeable about their product. They are very attentive and very engaging. They are masters of entertaining: like everyone there is visiting their house for a party, and they are the ‘hostess with the most-est’. Pippen Hill is fairly new and perhaps a little under the radar yet in the Virginia Vineyard world. But, look for them to be one of the ‘it’ vineyards real soon…..and when they do, you read it here first!
An afternoon spent at Pippen Hill with good friends should be done more often. Let’s play hookey and go back real soon!
The Wines: The best way to describe the wines at this vineyard is “young.” None are really good, but none are bad. However, I get the feeling that this vineyard is putting real effort into developing good wine and each passing year will be an improvement. In my opinion, the whites are the best value with the Chardonnay as the best of the group. It is aged in 50% stainless steel barrels and 50% oak barrels and is crisp and refreshing. The Rose’ is also a sound wine that would hold up to most foods, but is crisp enough to drink on its own. You won’t be wowed by any of the wine at Pippin Hill, but you will enjoy sipping them on their porch.
1) Stone Mountain Vineyards: Monticello Wine Trail. Good to ‘pair with’ Autumn Hill Vineyard (formally Sweely Estates) (however, once you get there, you might find you have no desire to leave!)
The experience: Stone Mountain is the most unique vineyard we have ever had the pleasure of visiting. We actually discovered this vineyard on a hike. Looking down from Skyline Drive towards Bacon Hollar, we saw a large building which we took at the time for a hotel. Thinking it was a place we might like to visit and stay in sometime, Mickey did a little research and found out it was in fact a vineyard….so we visited it very shortly thereafter, and have been back many times.
According to a GPS, Stone Mountain is only 17 miles away from our house…’as the crow flies’! Drive time: more than an hour. In driving there, you think you must be lost, and that there is no way you are headed to a vineyard. To some, the drive up, around, through , up over and up again has been described as scarey. But, rest assured in this little tidbit, curtsey of Mickey: Firetrucks, construction trucks and concrete trucks have made it up this hill. So, you can too! The first time we made the trip, I distinctly remember thinking (after a particularly windy stretch of road…did I mention I get car sick?) “This better be worth it!” And you know what? It is…..you feel like you have been transported to a Swiss Chalet as you reach the tasting room and savor the view.
Inside the rustic building, there is a wide open room that magnifies the mountain view. A few sets of French doors open to a wrap-around porch and amazing view. Stone Mountain does offer a few light fare items, and you can call ahead and reserve a box lunch. But, we recommend packing a picnic, finding your spot, grabbing a bottle of the Revenuers Select and soaking in everything Stone Mountain has to offer! In closing, I want to share two of their slogans that will really make sense once you have visited Stone Mountain: ‘Climb the Mountain, see how a positive change in altitude, brings a positive change in attitude’ and ‘We are not the first in Bacon Hollow to bottle alcohol, but we are the first to do it legally!’
Yes, this view is worth the drive into Bacon Hollar!
The Wines: Three words describe the wines from Stone Mountain: Fun, Fun, and Fun! I doubt any of them would
meet with approval from “wine snobs”, but the majority of them are fun to drink and great for sipping
on the back porch or while hanging out with friends.
I haven’t done a full tasting in about a year, so I don’t remember the details of all of the wines
(however…we will be visiting and conducting a full tasting in a few weeks). I don’t remember any details
about their reds. Obviously, this would seem to indicate that none of them were great, but none were
Stone Mountain’s real strength is in their whites. The best is Bacon Hollow Revenuers’ Select which
is a sweet table wine. It is crisp with lots of fruit flavors and floral notes on the nose. I wouldn’t
recommend with any foods except for very spicy dishes. This wine is very easy to drink and is available in local grocery stores.
The Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Viognier are good. They are all crisp and fun to drink. The
Chardonnay Reserve (aged in Oak) is good as well, but is the weakest of the whites.
The wine at Stone Mountain is perfect for drinking on the porch and enjoying the view on a beautiful
Note: If you do plan on visiting Stone Mountain, use the written directions on the website. Taking a GPS led route might get you lost. Trust us, that would not be a good time!