Living in Northern California spoils you when it comes to things like wine. I was in Napa and Sonoma so frequently during my four years in those parts—and subsequently consumed so much pinot and cab—that I don’t typically don’t make an effort to go wine-tasting when I’m passing through other wine regions. However, after nearly making that mistake on my first trip to South Africa—almost missing out on the beauty that is Stellenbosch before my sister needed a DD to bring her back to Cape Town—I wasn’t going to make that mistake again this time while we were in Virginia Wine Country.
It had been raining on and off all week, with some pretty forceful showers the previous evening, but we woke up on Saturday to sunny skies and a predicted 82 degrees. Our friends Layne, Brian and Andrew met us at Keswick Hall promptly at 9:45am where our driver from James River Transportation was already waiting. (No drinking and driving, kids; listen to your Aunt Kristin.)
If you didn’t know what a big deal Virginia’s Wine Country is, you’re not alone. While I was aware that there are plenty of wineries in the region, I was shocked to learn that it boasts more than 230. Napa who?
Our first stop of the day was at Michael Shaps Wineworks, and we all were convinced we were in the wrong place when our driver turned down a dusty road, which began to climb up and ended in a gravel drive surrounded by construction. But have no fear, we had indeed arrived at Michael Shaps; they’re just doing a whole lot of landscaping and a big build-out for the new-ish tasting room.
Michael himself was around to give us the lay of the land, and I was so thrilled we got to meet him after hearing his story and seeing his expansive winemaking facility that seemed to go on and on. In the tasting room, he also serves wine from growlers, something I’ve only ever seen in Europe before, and makes a premium boxed wine, as well. (Unfortunately it’s only for sale directly from the winery, so I can’t get it here in Tennessee, otherwise I would!)
From viognier to petit verdot to meritage, we tried it all. to We drank a lot of wine in Virginia, but Michael’s might very well have been my favorite. No real surprise, I suppose, given that he trained in Europe and does “custom crush”—which in Virginia you can’t say, so they call it “contract winemaking” instead—for a number of vineyards in the area, as well as consults for others. The guy definitely knows his stuff!
Next up, we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. Luckily, it was a scenic one, as it took 45 minutes to reach Stinson Vineyards, just enough time to take a little snooze after trying at least nine different varietals at Michael Shaps, but I couldn’t stop staring out the window.
Of all the ones that we stopped in or drove past, Stinson had the best view and a killer outdoor seating area from which to soak it all in. We met with the winemaker Rachel, who guided us as we tasted our way through the menu, one pour at a time.
I loved that Stinson was so dog friendly—in fact, most of the vineyards are—and the laid-back vibe of the place. If I lived in the Charlottesville area, I can definitely tell you this is a winery I would frequent.
From there, it was well past lunchtime, and SVV was hangry (not to mention, the rest of us were sleepy after so much wine). Layne and Brian, who live in the area, suggested we stop at Restoration in Crozet, and we ate lunch out on the back patio overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. It was the perfect refueling stop, much needed by us all.
Our last stop of the day was back near where we started at Keswick Vineyards. This would prove to be the most humor-filled tasting of all thanks to the resident winemaker, Stephen. A oenophile I am not, so let me just say that everything we sipped was delicious. Stephen didn’t steer us wrong!
Keswick Vineyards is situated in a gorgeous, well-shaded holler just 10 minutes past our resort—another stunning venue for a wedding (can you tell I’m in wedding-planning mode for my sister?)—and after we’d tasted everything Stephen had for us, we took a glass of chardonnay outside to the wooded yard, pet some puppies and played some cornhole.
I learned long ago that three to four vineyards was the maximum I could handle in one day—that was after a seven-winery tour with SVV in St. Helena, which wound up with both of us exhausted and cranky and passed out before dinner. Well, not this time. Our day of traversing Virginia Wine Country was the perfect pace for us all, our driver Russ couldn’t have been more flexible or more of a team player, and we returned to Keswick Hall at 5pm—just in time for happy hour!