By Nancy Bauer
Fall into Virginia Wine Month
This easy day-trip is packed with Blue Ridge wine and dine originals
October: the month we savor most. Weekends are reserved for long, meandering rides along Skyline Drive. We leaf peep and pumpkin pick. We inhale deeply, sip instead of gulp. We downshift.
Meanwhile, winemakers run around like their hair’s on fire. It’s crush time in the Valley.
Try this day trip out to the Blue Ridge, where you’ll discover wine country’s Ponderosa, sip some local spirits, eat like a king in Front Royal, and then dip into the Valley for some of the up-and-coming Shenandoah region’s most polished wines.
Start here: Desert Rose Winery
Your cowboy boots will fit right in at this Western-themed winery, where Cabs and Chards are poured around a horseshoe bar. Listen to the owner’s travel tales, then kick back on the shady front porch. Tasting: $5-$10. Desert Rose Winery, 13726 Hume Rd., Hume; (540) 635-3200, desertrosewinery.com
Sample a line-up of classic European varietals, rounded out with a rich, Oloroso Sherry-style wine that’s aged in the sun, called Solera. Then head to the new, on-site distillery, which crafts grape-based vodka and gin, along with brandy. Wine Tasting: $10. Rappahannock Cellars, 14437 Hume Rd, Huntly; (540) 635-9398, rappahannockcellars.com
Lunch Stop: Blue Wing Frog
Lunch is in downtown Front Royal, where you’ll order at the counter in this everything-from-scratch kitchen. The menu changes daily, depending on what’s fresh, and even the ketchup and mustard are made in house. Try the Shrimp Po’boy – choose either ¼ or ½ pound of shrimp – or a Grown Up Peanut Butter sandwich, which comes topped with nuts, seeds, fruit and honey vanilla yogurt for dipping. Blue Wing Frog, 219 Chester Street, Front Royal; 540-622-6175; bluewingfrog.com
Last Stop: Glen Manor Vineyards
Perched 1,000 feet up in the shadow of Skyline Drive, this ancestral farm has some of Virginia’s steepest vineyard slopes and, not coincidentally, some of the best wine. Insiders know to scoop up the Bordeaux-style reds and small-lot Sauvignon Blanc the minute they’re offered; they don’t last long. The winery’s newest release? The charcuterie-friendly Morales Rose’. Just don’t dawdle. Note: No groups larger than 6, including non-tasters and kids. Tastings: $10. Glen Manor Vineyards, 2244 Browntown Road, Front Royal; 540-635-6324; glenmanorvineyards.com
The Winery Lifestyle: Is it for You?
Four volunteer opportunities that will give you a taste of what it takes to be a vigneron.
Harvest – September and October are crunch time at area wineries, when tasting room traffic and grape ripening hit their peak simultaneously. Many wineries use only professional pickers for harvest, but others seize the opportunity to tap into customers’ “behind-the-scenes” interest and create loyalty. Check with your favorite winery to find out how you might be able to lend a hand. And here’s a bonus: most wineries “pay” their volunteer labor in wine.
Tina Marchione of Magnolia Vineyards, also in Amissville, says, “As a small winery, we need all the help we can get. We take volunteers during harvest and crush, and we still bottle manually (no truck or automated line for us) so this is one of the tasks we always call volunteers for and people love it!”
Sorting – Grape sorting and pressing (or “crush”) follow right on the heels of harvest. This job takes a keen eye, as you’ll be tasked with picking out unripe or damaged grapes as they travel along a conveyor belt, plus a good many leaves and bugs. Potomac Point Vineyards in Stafford uses volunteer help for sorting, in addition to Magnolia Vineyards.
Bottling – Bottling wine can happen any time of year. Equipment is expensive, so smaller wineries, like North Gate Vineyards in Purcellville, typically contract with a bottling truck that rumbles up outside at the appointed hour. Says Vicki Fedor of North Gate Vineyards, “We always appreciate help on bottling days. Our mobile bottling service provides the equipment, but we provide the hands and feet to make the day run smoothly. It always turns out to be a good bonding experience between the staff and the customers!”
A few other wineries that welcome bottling volunteers are Potomac Point Vineyards (Stafford), Bogati Winery (Round Hill), Veramar Vineyard (Berryville), James Charles Winery (Winchester), Magnolia Vineyards (Amissville), and Barrel Oak Winery (Delaplane).
Internships – Several area wineries offer more formal opportunities to get involved, including these:
Potomac Point Winery (Stafford) offers internships in Events, Marketing and Sales.
Stone Tower Winery (Leesburg) offers paid summer internships in Event Design, Marketing and Accounting.
The Winery at La Grange (Haymarket) brings on a harvest intern each year to assist with all harvest related activities.
Mead – With honey bee decline so much in the news, Stone House Meadery (Purcellville) is tapping into a renewed interest in bee keeping and mead making, with volunteer opportunities in hive building, honey harvest, tasting room operations, and mead making.
Love Local Wine?
Us, too! Drop us an email to Nancy@VAWineInMyPocket.com with your name and mailing address and we’ll send you this nifty Drink Local decal – free! From your wine-drinking friends at the Old Town Crier and Virginia Wine in My Pocket.
Are You a Virginia Wine Geek?
Take the Quiz to find out!
Virginia now has how many wineries?
a. Fewer than 150
b. Between 150 and 250
c. More than 250
Virginia is swimming in four of these grapes, with harvests of over 500 tons each. But one is tiny by comparison, with just over 60 tons. Which one?
a. Cabernet Franc
b. Cabernet Sauvignon
e. Pinot Noir
Grapes are grown in more than 30 counties in Virginia. Which one grows the most?
How many varieties of wine grapes (e.g., Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, etc.) are grown in Virginia?
a. Fewer than 10
b. Between 10 and 20
c. More than 20
Which type of grape does Virginia grow the most?
Which is the “signature” grape of Virginia?
a. Cabernet Franc
Source: Virginia 2016 Commercial Grape Report, Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office
1.C – Virginia has more than 285 wineries
2.E – In 2016, Virginia vineyards also produced more than 500 tons of Vidal Blanc
3.C – Loudoun County produced nearly 1,400 tons of grapes on just over 550 acres in 2016.
5.A – By far! Vinifera is grown on more than 2,000 acres, Hybrids on nearly 400 acres, and American grapes such as Norton and Niagara on fewer than 200 acres.
6.E – Viognier was named the “signature” grape of Virginia in 2011