Mountain Getaway: Romance the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop
By Nancy Bauer
Mountain Getaway: Romance the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop
Like Pacific Coast Highway in California or Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, the “curvalicious” Skyline Drive ranks among the most scenic America has to offer, with stunning vistas and inspiring overlook pull-offs just made for necking.
On the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop, a popular trail for exploring Skyline Drive, you won’t see any corporate logos or drink any one-taste-fits-all wines, beers or spirits. The artisan makers along the Loop are passionate, skilled crafters, continuing the arcadian traditions of the generations that came before.
Shadow Mountain Escape in Shenandoah National Park is your base for our recommended weekend of wandering. The owners of this magical little adults-only retreat, Karen and Ralph Riddle, also created and actively manage the Blue Ridge Whisky Wine Loop (discovershenandoah.com), so they know all when it comes to crafting the perfect getaway.
Why wait until fall to head to the mountains? Go now and enjoy the open road.
Enroute to Shadow Mountain Escape, stop off at a winery for a kick-off-the-weekend tasting and pick up a bottle or two. Quievremont Vineyards is a good choice if you’re coming from D.C.; they’re open until 7 on Friday. Or, if coming north on I-81, cross the mountain at Thornton’s Gap and stop off at Wisteria Vineyards, which stays open until 6.
A winding drive through the mountains brings you to super-romantic Shadow Mountain Escape — four authentic timber frame cabins, which were hand-crafted by Ralph, the builder half of the Riddle duo. These cabins are a far cry from what you’re probably expecting: Think modern and stylish (Karen Riddle’s influence) with comfy king beds, high-end linens, gas fireplaces and home-baked goodies on arrival. Try out the property’s nature trail, or fire up a grill for barbeque. Most cabins have full kitchens, if you’d rather cook indoors (you can even have pizza delivered), and your only decision for the evening is choosing between the community fire pit or the cute little sauna in the woods.
Pack a picnic and take a hike in neighboring Shenandoah National Park. From the Park’s Skyland Resort, hike up to Stony Man Peak (about 1.5 hours total) for the cloud-high views. Enjoy lunch at the top of the world.
After all that vigor, it’s reward time: aka wine. Exit Skyline Drive through Thornton’s Gap and head to Quievremont Winery for their Bordeaux-style blends (if you missed it Friday), and then spend a relaxed afternoon playing (or watching) bocce on the pro courts at Gadino Cellars, where the tasting menu may include some estate-grown Nebbiolo and pinot grigio. Beer and spirits fans may want to consider a detour to Sperryville’s Copper Fox Whisky Distillery – very impressive and growing quickly – or Hopkins Ordinary Ale Works (open 3-7) – a tiny, local’s favorite with tasty brews.
Sperryville’s also a good dinner stop; across from Hopkins Ordinary is wood-fired pizza with locally-sourced ingredients at the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen. Try a Hog-in-the-Hive pie with soppressata, hot pepper flakes, sliced garlic, cheeses, honey, and fresh arugula.
Whip up a BYO breakfast in your cabin or drive 10 minutes to Gathering Grounds Patisserie & Café in Luray for fancy coffee and egg sammies in a wrap, croissant or bagel (until 11). Stretch your legs by doing some poking around downtown Luray’s shops or consider a side trip to tour the famous Luray Caverns, where your $28 ticket lets you hear the stalactites “sing.” Included in the Caverns admission fee are two other fun to-do’s: The Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, where you can ogle some vintage beauties, including a 1897 Mercedes-Benz, 1908 Baker Electric, and 1925 Rolls Royce owned by silent film star, Rudolph Valentino; and the small Luray Valley Museum, an interesting collection of local, restored historic buildings that together create a 19th century farming community with Shenandoah Valley artifacts from the 1750s to the 1920s.
Or, point your car toward home – there are more wineries on the way.
If you’re heading northeast, consider taking 522 North, which takes you into a cluster of three very different wineries: the very polished Rappahannock Cellars (which has what’s arguably the best Wine Club in the state), the warm and friendly ranch-style Desert Rose Winery, and Chester Gap Cellars, a tiny winery with huge, drop-away views. (Tip: There aren’t many restaurants near the cluster, so you might consider stopping ahead of time at Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill for a carry-out lunch; the 200-year old Tavern is fun to poke around while you wait.)
If heading southeast, exit through Thornton Gap and make your way to Sharp Rock Vineyards for an intimate tasting very likely hosted by the owner, and then to DuCard Vineyards, a lovely winery with panoramic glass walls in a jewel box of a glen, where you should definitely try the single varietal Petit Verdot if it’s available.
Serious culinary star power is within 30 minutes of Shadow Mountain Escape. Add one of these five-star foodie faves to your getaway for a little extra sparkle. (Tip: All require reservations well, well, well in advance.)
• Foster-Harris House, Little Washington
• Inn at Little Washington, Washington
• Three Blacksmiths, Sperryville
5 more Getaway Options near Shenandoah National Park
1. Take the Whisky Wine Shuttle – Let the pros do the driving as you trek to two wineries and a distillery. A guide shares stories about the park and region; picnic-style-lunch included. Mondays and Thursdays through the fall, departing from Skyland Lodge. (Reservations required.) More info: goshenandoah.com/excursion
2. Hike a Vineyard – Never thought of wine tasting as an active adventure? Think again! Chester Gap Cellars has a one-mile hiking trail that winds through the forest and vineyards leading to a spring fed waterfall. Wisteria Farm & Vineyard invites guests to wander their vineyard trails on a short stroll to a creek, and DuCard Vineyards welcomes exploration of their vineyard and stream (and they’re only a few minutes from two popular park trails – White Oak Canyon and Falls and Old Rag Mountain).
3. Star Gazing – Bring a blanket and a beverage and enjoy the peace and starry night skies in the grassy meadow at Mile 51 on Skyline Drive, just a mile from Big Meadows Lodge. Check the Shenandoah National Park’s calendar for monthly evening astronomy events.
4. Take a Walk – a true hidden gem, with convenient entry and footbridge locations off Luray’s Main Street, the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway is a designated Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail and Bird Sanctuary. The Greenway follows Hawksbill Creek along a two-mile paved walking and biking loop.
5. Get Wet – Lake Arrowhead Recreation Park is 34 beautiful acres of stocked, stream-fed water with paddle boat and canoe rentals, a sandy beach, summer swimming, and picnic spots.