Offbeat Adventures in Virginia Wine Country
By Matthew Fitzsimmons
Offbeat Adventures in Virginia Wine Country
2020 was filled with cancelled day trips in the name of social distancing, but now the world is transitioning to a healthier place. It’s time for wine lovers to dust off those plans and get back to traveling.
Virginia wine country is the perfect place to escape – and not just for wine. Many wineries host recreational activities which range from truly adventurous to laid-back and relaxing. Other are located in scenic or historical areas, making it easy to spice your trip with something extra.
Pairing wine with hiking & kayaking – DuCard and Chatham
DuCard is only 15 minutes away from the trailheads of both Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon. Old Rag is likely the most popular hike in Virginia – and one of the toughest. The 9 mile loop starts off easy, but soon takes you through a series of steep switchbacks through the forest. But the real challenge starts near the 3 mile mark where you start a series of rock scrambles right before the summit.
If waterfalls are more your thing, then visit White Oak Canyon. This 8.2 mile hike doesn’t have the 360° summit view Old Rag offers, but rewards you with a series of waterfalls and a watering hole with a natural slide.
After you’re done, DuCard awaits. This place takes the word ‘authenticity’ seriously. It’s not just the estate-grown wine; the staff is very friendly, and often owner Scott Elliff will greet you himself. Finding a favorite wine will be tough. Make sure to try out their Petit Verdot, but their bottle of “Decade One White” is a steal.
For something on the water, visit Chatham Vineyards on the Eastern Shore and participate in a “Paddle your glass off” kayaking trip. This 45 minute excursion takes you along the banks of nearby Church Creek, followed by a visit to the winery.
Chatham is famous for their distinctive terroir-driven wines and is the only winery located in the Eastern Shore American Viticultural Area (AVA). The vineyard’s location on a well-drained sandy peninsula between the Atlantic and Chesapeake allows for moderate temperatures and a long ripening season, perfect for producing grapes that balance acid with bright, fresh flavors.
The result is a terroir friendly to European-style grapes. While the soft reds are wonderful, Chatham is famous for its seafood-friendly white wines, especially their minerality, steel-fermented Chardonnay.
Wine and family fun – Hampton Roads and White Oak Lavender Farm
Owner David Sheldon of Hampton Roads Vineyard had one of the best marketing ideas in the Virginia wine industry. After a long search, David and his wife Dianne found their future home in a rural area halfway between Richmond and Norfolk. The property had a lot of history, but was missing one important ingredient: a goat tower.
Say again? A WHAT?
That’s right – David got the idea from the book “The Greatest Wineries in the World,” which included a picture of a goat tower at a South African winery. That planted an idea how he could distinguish Hampton Roads from all other wineries in the state. The 34-foot goat tower is his own design, and is the largest such structure in the world.
Visitors can’t go inside the structure, but they can watch the goats run up and down the steps. Watching the goats play while drinking Merlot is far easier than chasing goats anyway.
If you’re looking for wine with a unique twist, White Oak Lavender Farm in the Shenandoah Valley is for you. It’s also a two-for-one deal, since you can pick your own lavender (when in season) as well as sample their vino, some of which is flavored with lavender.
The farm goes all-out in incorporating lavender themes into everything. You can sample lavender-flavored ice cream, try some lavender oils, drink lavender-infused wine, or just lounge around their lavender-colored tasting room.
Visits here are as much about relaxation as it is about wine. Their discovery area has interactive gardens and tours to meet the farm animals are also available. Photographers can arrange for a special visit to get an Instagram shot with a bright lavender background.
Wine and spectator events – Tarara and King Family Vineyard
Tarara winery is bringing back their concert series in July. Their schedule is full of tribute bands and local favorites, with tunes ranging from 80’s music, blues, and classic rock from bands including The Reflex, Gonzo’s Nose, and The Darby Brothers.
Many wineries have music, but this is the only one that has its own full-blown music venue. While the winery is transitioning away from operating a tasting room, Tarara will still sell its wine at the concert series and may serve beer periodically (bringing your own food is allowed, outside alcoholic beverages are not). Break out the lawn chairs and their Long Bomb red blend, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Last but not least are the polo fields at King Family Vineyard. Matches are held each Sunday at noon, starting Memorial Day weekend and going through mid-October.
It was David King’s love of polo which led to the founding of the winery. When David and his wife Ellen moved to Virginia in 1995, David gave his realtor strict guidelines that their future home needed enough flat land to pursue his hobby.
Little did the Kings know their farm was also suited for viticulture. They turned down the first suitor who randomly appeared at their doorstep asking to plant vines, but the idea stuck. King Family opened the tasting room in 2002 and hired winemaker Matthieu Finot in 2007. Since then, Matthieu’s wines have been part of the Virginia’s Governor’s Case designating the state’s top 12 scoring wines eight times since 2012.
With their manicured polo grounds set against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the location is STUNNING. Drinking their Crosé Rosé while watching a match is a great way of spending any Sunday afternoon.
Author Matthew Fitzsimmons is a wine blogger who has visited almost every one of Virginia’s nearly 300 wineries. Track his progress on https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/