The long-time slogan, "Virginia Is for Lovers," could easily be amended to "Virginia Is for WINE Lovers."
A trip to Virginia this past fall entailed visits to several wineries - you'd need days and days and days, as well as a hearty constitution, to visit the more than 200 wineries located in the state.
We made a couple of quick stops at wineries on the way to our inn in Middleburg, Va. But for our main winery day - when we visited five spots and a distillery - we had made prior arrangements to have a driver.
Photos by Phyllis R. Sigal
A delightful spread on the grounds of La Grange winery is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Russell Green, whose business is called "Green Driver for You," drives a Toyota Prius, hence the play on the word "green." A limo driver by trade, he uses his Prius for private excursions. Green was quite helpful in that after we decided on his services, he sent us an envelope full of helpful brochures and maps of the Northern Virginia wine region.
I'd recommend having a driver for a day at the wineries ... that way, every person in your party can enjoy the tastings in a safe way.
Second piece of advice - eat throughout the day. Most wineries offer snacks, or you can pack a picnic. It will make for a much happier and healthier winery tour!
Pick a region; there are several from which to chose. Then, decide which of the wineries you want to visit within the region, to map your day. You don't want the wineries too far apart, or you'll spend the day in the car and not at the wineries. Four to five is plenty for a day's tasting; most are open from around 11 a.m. until around 5 or 6 p.m.
We chose all of the wineries we visited based on the fact they received silver, gold or platinum awards for their wines. My husband Bruce painstakingly perused the Virginia wine tour book to decide where to go; he was on a mission to taste the platinum and gold winners.
Count on spending around $5-$10 for a tasting. Most wineries have tasting glasses for sale, as well. We came home with two glasses from each of the wineries we visited.
Amy Peyette, daughter of the winery owners, Al and Cheryl Kellert, offered the tasting here. Peyette also takes care of the marketing, and makes jewelry - some with a wine theme. She was a lot of fun, and of course, very knowledgeable about the family's wines.
According to Peyette, the winery is situated on 13 acres, and "we make everything here."
She taught us some interesting facts. For example, the leaves on green grapes stay green longer than the leaves on red grapes. In the fall, they turn yellow. If you see red leaves, that means red grapes.
Her mom does all the pruning in the vineyards, she said.
The winery is named after Col. John Singleton Mosby, whose nickname was "Gray Ghost." Apparently, this Confederate cavalry battalion commander was noted for eluding the Union Army. Mosby's name is seen quite often in the area, as he is quite a hero in these parts. (You'll see his name quite often in these stories, as well.)
- We also made a quick stop at Pearmund Cellars and at one of its sister wineries, The Winery at La Grange, where we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, some cheese, and tapenade we spread on flatbread crackers on the grounds outside of the 1790s manor house that served as the tasting room. I could have stayed here all day long.
On Saturday, we had four or five wineries mapped out, as well as a whiskey distillery.
- Our first stop Saturday was at Casanel Vineyards. Similar to Friday's stop at Gray Ghost, it was the daughter of the winery owners who explained the wines and gave us a little history.
Katie DeSouza explained that her dad, Nelson DeSouza, retired from the construction business and decided to buy a farm to surprise their mom, Casey.
"Dad's kinda crazy," Katie said. "He did everything from scratch" at the winery, she pointed out.
The farm, and the winery "Casanel" - is a combination of the names Casey and Nelson, she said.
While at Casanel, we ran into a couple from the Ohio Valley - Bob and Janice Withers, along with Dan and Donna Strauss from Mason, Ohio. Dan grew up in Bridgeport and attended St. John's School. We continued to run into them throughout the day on our winery trail.
- Next stop: Cotoctin Creek, an organic distillery located in Purcellville, Va.
Owners Scott and Becky Harris do practically everything themselves, although they do offer volunteers an opportunity to help with the bottling operation. Becky has a chemistry degree, which comes in handy, while Scott was in the computer software business for many years before they founded the distillery in 2009.
They make Roundstone rye; Watershed gin; Mosby's Spirit - a white whiskey, and yes, it's named after the same Mosby mentioned in the Gray Ghost winery; 1757 Virginia Brandy, made from Virginia grapes, and aged in oak barrels; and Pearousia, a pear brandy distilled from a pear wine made by Fabbioli Cellars in Virginia.
We tasted the rye, gin and Mosby's Spirit, after our tour of the distillery.
According to Greg Moore, who led our tour, the Mosby's Spirit is a "white whiskey," and doesn't see a barrel. "It's a brilliant substitute for vodka," he said. "Great in a Bloody Mary." And he called it a "gentlemen's moonshine."
The Roundstone rye he described as "a nice glass of oak," with hints of vanilla and banana. It spends more time in the barrel making it more mellow than the white whiskey, he noted.
The Watershed gin "is not traditional" because it's made from rye, he said. "If we can get non-gin lovers to try it, we can get them to like it," he said. There are flavors of 10 herbs, he said, including juniper, coriander, anise and cinnamon.
The Withers and Strausses showed up at the distillery, and also at our next stop, Sunset Hills.
- The Sunset Hills Vineyard's catch phrase is "turning sunshine into wine."
The winery is topped with 154 solar panels on the south-facing roofs and storage buildings that supply 100 percent of its electric needs. It is the largest producer of solar energy in Loudoun County, according to the winery website. They also practice "dry farming," to reduce water waste. Dry farming means they do not irrigate, but they "let Mother Nature water our vines."
They avoid using plastic and paper; recycle everything; and use minimal chemical pesticides.
An 1870s-era barn, restored with the help by Amish craftsmen, is used as the tasting room. Walnut shells and corncobs were used to clean the beams, our tasting guide told us, instead of using the sandblasting process.
We tried a few wines here, including the Sunset Rose, an off-dry wine, which was one of my favorites of the day.
Next up was Doukenie winery, which was named for Doukenie Bacos who came to the U.S. from Greece in 1919. She encouraged her granddaughters, Nicki and Hope, to follow in the family tradition from their homeland. Bacos brought her mandolin to Ellis Island with her. That mandolin is in a case in the winery's tasting room, and every bottle bears the symbol.
- Last on our tour was Breaux Vineyards, named Virginia's favorite winery for the fourth consecutive year. It was a hopping Saturday at Breaux with a live band playing in the courtyard.
Besides the daily tastings, many wineries offer wine-related items for purchase, wine dinners, cooking classes and more.
For much, much, more information, visit www.virginiawine.org for maps, directions, events, etc.