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Wine making in Virginia is older than the nation itself. Settlers in Jamestown were planting and tending grape vines by 1619 in an attempt to supply the British Empire with wine. Thomas Jefferson cultivated European grapes at Monticello for 30 years, and George Washington tried at Mount Vernon for 11 years – though neither men ever got anything drinkable.
By the 1800s, however, good wines were coming from the state – one was named the world’s best red at the Vienna World Fair in 1873. But it was not until the 1970s that the state truly had a successful wine industry.
Today the state counts more than 250 wineries – only California, New York, Oregon, and Washington have more. Traditional European varietals are the most successful bottlings – you can easily find cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay, though if you hunt around you can also find native varietals such as norton.
While you can find wineries and vineyards in every part of the state, Virginia’s best tends to come from one of seven formally designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) – think Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, with a Southern twist. Virginia’s AVAs are Middleburg, Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley, and Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Bottles labelled with one of these AVAs means that at least 75 percent of the grapes come from that area, which imparts the “terroir” that many wine fans crave.
Some will say that the state’s most famous winery is Barboursville, near Charlottesville. The estate dates to the 18th century and wines have been made here since 1976. The highest acclaimed wine is the Octagon, a red Bordeaux blend, though there are also fans of the viognier and chardonnay.
Ankida Ridge occupies a remote mountain top location near Amherst – visitors get great views and recognized bottlings of pinot noir and chardonnay.
Blenheim Vineyards is owned by rock star Dave Matthews, and the tasting room and main winery building were designed by him, though other structures on the property are more historic. This spot near Charlottesville is noted for its red Bordeaux-style blend and a white, which blends chardonnay, viognier, and sauvignon blanc.
Boxwood Estate is nestled among Middleburg’s horse country, and the 28-acre winery is known for its Bordeaux-style red blends and the dry rose.
More Bordeaux-style blends are on offer at Breaux Vineyards in Loudon County. These premium-priced wines include a meritage blend and a cabernet franc, though the winery in total grows 18 grape varieties.
Fans of Floyd can stay in town to buy their wine – Chateau Morrisette is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Dogs are welcome at this scenic spot and you can find competitively priced bottles of fruit wines and local favorites like petite manseng and viognier. The views here are great and the site is popular for its music festivals.
Early Mountain Winery is an elegant spot which makes Bordeaux-style blends and is also popular for its great restaurants and busy events calendar.
In Leesburg, Fabbioli Cellars produces unusual wines like a raspberry merlot, though the winery also makes an award-winning tannat as well as cabernet franc and chardonnay. Tastings are more formal than what you may be used to and are served with gourmet snacks.
Just off Skyline Drive, Glen Manor is part of a century-old 212-acre family farm; a red blend here pushes the $50 per bottle mark, though tastings start at just $4.
King Hill Family Vineyards is headed by a French winemaker who produces Bordeaux-style reds and a flagship meritage. Stop by on Sundays in the summer and early fall to watch polo matches.
Perhaps the best spot in the state for a chardonnay is at Linden Vineyards. Plantings here date to 1985 and grapes come from three distinct altitudes. The chardonnays are occasionally held back for additional maturation, and reserve cellar tastings are offered on the weekends for $25.
Michael Shaps Wineworks uses vines planted on hillsides and there are several lines, ranging from value to premium. Petit verdot and viognier are the popular pours here, though the tannat is described as an up-and-comer.
Potomac Point Winery is just 45 minutes south of Washington, D.C. – it has a beautiful tasting room, a great gift shop, and artisan and local foods for sale. Grab a glass of the norton and kick back in the lounge, which has leather sofas, a fireplace, and board games for the kids. The on-site bistro has an ambitious menu.
While most of the state’s wines come from the major AVAs, even the beach has local bottlings. Virginia Beach Winery offers free tastings and specializes in wines like spiced apple. Not far away is Pungo Ridge Winery, which also has fruit wines like honey, pear, and apple – come in the summer and fall, as the winery tends to completely sell out by winter!
So whether you have a taste for merlot, chardonnay, or spiced apple, Virginia has a wine and a winery for you. Come give us a taste.
Hartwood Winery is a popular and well regarded winery in Fredericksburg. Visit central Virginia soon and explore the flavors of Hartwood Winery.