Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop – It’s a Trip
By Bob Tagert
Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop – It’s a Trip
With the warm weather and summer upon us, we decided to retrace our steps over the years in the Blue Ridge and follow the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop. The “Loop” is the brain child of Karen Riddle, who along with her husband Ralph own Shadow Mountain Escape, an adults only getaway. More about that when we cross the mountain. The Loop actually runs along the east and west sides of the mountains and Skyline Drive. Coming from the D.C. area along Route 66, the jumping off point for the loop will be Front Royal. Taking Route 522 south the first stop will be Chester Gap Cellars.
The winery site is over 1,000 feet in elevation. The views are fantastic while you taste estate grown Viognier, Roussanne, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and other fine wines. The site provides high elevation with an eastern exposure and well-drained rocky soils. Perfect growing conditions.
The next stop on Route 522 is Dida’s Distillery and Rappahannock Cellars. This sprawling estate is one of Virginia’s most popular wineries and in the past four years, one of the most unique distilleries. Twenty five years ago John Delmare left his winery in the Santa Clara Valley and moved his family to the Blue Ridge and started his next life with Rappahannock Cellars. Four years ago John’s son Allan spearheaded the founding of Dida’s Distillery. Living the mantra “Pressed not Mashed” Allan took what they already had and started making small batches of Brandy, Vodka and Gin. With the necessary ingredients readily at hand, Allan began to use their award winning grapes to make his new product. After four years, This “Hidden Gem” has found a life of its own and attracts folks from all over the region.
Continuing on Route 522 you will come to the small town of Flint Hill. Here you can find a bite to eat at The Blue Door Kitchen and Inn. Currently only open for dinner, Chef Andrea has partnered with local farms and markets to fill their kitchen with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Speciality cocktails are offered at the bar where you can also enjoy the view of their patio and garden. Next to The Blue Door is Griffin Tavern, a family style restaurant in a renovated 1880’s house. Years ago, when we first started frequenting Rappahannock county, Griffin Tavern was the only place that had a bar. Times have changed, but still one of the best.
Continuing on 522 you will come to Route 211 where you will make a right toward Sperryville. On the way you will come to the town of Washington, Virginia. Here you will find the internationally renowned Inn at Little Washington, a world class Inn. Here you will also find Gay Street Inn.
A little farther down 211 you will find Gadino Cellars. In 1989 Bill and Aleta Gadino bought 15 acres and began planting vines and for the next 12 years they managed the vineyard from afar as “weekend warriors”, traveling from their home in Fairfax County. Today Gadino Cellars makes award-winning wines for the rest of us. If Bill happens to be at the winery when you are there, strike up a conversation and listen, and learn. He is a wealth of knowledge!
Continuing on 211 you will find Quievremont Vineyard & Winery, an artisanal vineyard crafting estate wines in the French style. Their focus is on classic, Bordeaux-style wines. Current grape varieties include Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng.
A little farther down 211 you come to the cool town of Sperryville, but first we will take a side trip to two excellent wineries. Taking 522 out of Sperryville and turning on the picturesque Route 231 you will come to Sharp Rock Vineyards. Owners, Jim and Kathy East take great pride in being a small, artisan winery that crafts 12 award-winning wines each year from fruit that they hand-select and pick from their own vineyards. All of their wine is sold at their renovated 100-year-old barn winery and tasting room.
Continuing on 231 you will come to the very small town of Etlan. Making a right on Etlan road will take you up the valley to Gibson Hollow Road and DuCard Winery. DuCard is a very popular and authentic farm winery. Their wines are handmade using traditional methods, at their on-site winery, from grapes grown at their three local Madison County vineyards. DuCard stresses the importance both of producing high quality wines that express a sense of ‘place’ or local terrior and also for providing customers with the memorable experience they look for in a country getaway wine tasting. Sales are exclusively at their tasting room except for a few lucky restaurants.
Working your way back to Sperryville you can find accommodations for the night at Hopkins Ordinary B&B and Ale Works. For a bite to eat is the Rappahannock Pizza Kitchen. There are also some nice shops to visit and a few other eateries.
Located on the Thornton River is one of my favorites…Copper Fox Distillery. We met the founders and owners of the distillery about 14 years ago and have become good friends. Owners Rick and Sean have grown from one single malt to a multitude of whiskeys and gin (check out the inside back cover for the selection). The distillery has their own signature cocktails that you may have served on the back lawn alongside the Thornton River. If you are into antiques, across the parking lot is Copper Fox Antiques.
Your second day can be to experience skyline drive. Leaving Sperryville west on 211 will take you across the mountain to the top and Thornton Gap. Here you can enter Skyline drive. Going north you can find Overall Run Falls and Little Devils Stairs for an adventure. South of Thornton Gap is Mary’s Rock, Stony Man and Hawksbill, the highest point. You will also see Old Rag Mountain and White Oak Canyon Falls but these two are accessible from Route 231. Also on this stretch of Skyline Drive you can find accommodations at either Skyland or Big Meadows Lodge.
From Thornton Gap and heading down the other side of the mountain toward Page County you will come to a turnoff for Shadow Mountain Escape, Jewell Hollow Road (it is good to google this destination). As mentioned earlier, this is the home of Karen and Ralph Riddle and their retreat cabins. This is a fantastic place to stay. All of the timber frame buildings were built by Ralph and a lot of help. Ask him about Timber Framing.
Continue on Route 211 to the town of Luray, home of the world famous Luray Caverns. Luray is a bustling mountain town with some upscale shops. Moonshadows Restaurant is the go-to place for a great meal. The Valley Cork, Gathering Grounds and Hawksbill Diner are other favorites for dining.
After all that activity you can grab a cold beer at Hawksbill Brewing Co. or a drink at River Hill Distillery (Saturdays only). For a good night’s rest check out the South Court Inn or Piney Hill B&B. If you are still in the mood for wine try Faithbrooke Vineyards located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.
One of our favorite places in Luray is the Mimslyn Inn. What I consider the Grand Hotel of the Shenandoah, the Mimslyn rises majestically from the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley. The Inn has been a welcoming respite for weary travelers since 1931. This place is like an aberration in this rugged country and always a treat. Not only does the Inn have 45 beautiful rooms and suites but also cottages on the bluff behind the Inn that works well for groups and especially weddings.
If you made it through the article, you can tell this is not a day trip, but broken up into a few days, it is a blast. It is something you can’t do in a hurry or you will miss the best part…the people. There are a lot of places to spend the night and dine. Some are very expensive and need reservations weeks ahead of time. Now is the time to go. It tends to be not so crowded in the dead of summer and it is cooler in the mountains. For more information on the “Loop”, check out DiscoverShenandoah.com.