October is Virginia Wine Month
Sip & See: Enjoy Fall foliage and Virginia’s best vintages during October.
Story by Ginger Warder
Photos courtesy Virginia Tourism
With Virginia Wine Month on the horizon in October—the peak month in the Old Dominion for fall foliage—we’ve got grape-sipping and leaf-peeping on the brain.
A couple of decades ago, Virginia wine was an oxymoron. Today, with more than 250 wineries and dozens of wine trails Virginia is now one of America’s top-producing wine states. Particularly known for its Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends, Virginia also produces excellent Viognier and Chardonnay white wines.
During wine month, most of Virginia’s wineries host special events from wine dinners and tastings to live music and multi-day festivals.
Trees & Trails
So many vineyards and vistas, so little time! While scenic routes and visit-worthy wineries abound throughout the state, two of the prime locations that combine noteworthy views and vines include the Blue Ridge Mountains running down the western spine of Virginia and the central Piedmont region near Charlottesville. In early October, you’ll want to head to the mountains where the foliage emerges earlier at the higher elevations. Expect Shenandoah National Park—the park posts weekly color reports— and the 105-mile Skyline Drive to be packed, and since the speed limit on the drive is 35 mph, it’s not for those who live life in the fast lane.
The Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina, beginning at Afton Mountain. If you’re traveling that route, stop in Afton at Veritas Vineyard and Winery to try the award-winning Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng. The winery also offers lovely accommodations at its 19th century Farmhouse, as well as farm-to-table dining in the evening.
Once you’re on the Blue Ridge Parkway, check out Blue Ridge Vineyard on the Botetourt Wine Trail for stunning scenery and an eclectic covered patio where you can sip and see at the same time. Don’t miss historic Mabry Mill along the way, one of the most photographed spots along the parkway. An easy drive from Roanoke or at milepost 171.5 on the parkway, Chateau Morrisette is one of the largest and most pet-centric wineries in the state. Featured on the Mountain Road Experience, this winery has a gorgeous pet-friendly tasting room, an excellent restaurant and a well-stocked gift shop.
While Thomas Jefferson was known as America’s “father of viticulture” for his early grape-growing experiments at Monticello, it is Italian winemaker, Gabriele Rausse, who is known as the “father of the Virginia wine industry.” Rausse helped start award-winning Barboursville Vineyards and more than 40 other early Virginia vineyards. The Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, Rausse also succeeded where Jefferson had failed with the Monticello vineyards, producing a lovely wine with the same Sangiovese grapes that Jefferson had once attempted to grow. For a sip of viticultural history, pick up a bottle at the Monticello gift shop.
Named for Jefferson’s hilltop home, the Monticello Wine Trail winds through the Piedmont region in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Monticello AVA is the largest wine growing area in the state, as well as the home of some of Virginia’s most prestigious wines. It’s home to über-cool vineyards, underrated small batch wineries and even a few famous rock stars.
Music lovers should head to Blenheim Vineyards to check out the rockin’ reds (try the Petit Verdot) and the eco-friendly architecture of musician Dave Matthews’ winery. The glass floors of the tasting room offer views of the production facility below.
Dave Matthews isn’t the only rock star winemaker in the Monticello region. The aforementioned father of Virginia wine, Gabriele Rausse, has his own winery on the trail, a must-visit for serious oenophiles.
Owned by Jean Case (wife of AOL owner Steve Case), Early Mountain sits on a Revolutionary War-era farm and offers not only its own award-winning wines (try the 2018 Gold Medal-winning Chardonnay), but also a selection of more than a dozen of Virginia’s top wines from vineyards throughout the state. If you only have time to visit one winery, Early Mountain will provide a great overview of the Old Dominion’s best vintages.
Those who like to take the road less traveled will enjoy the local “garagista” at Stinson Vineyards. Rachael Stinson and her father earned that nickname since their tasting room used to be a three-car garage. Don’t let that fool you: The father/daughter team makes serious small batch, French-style wines that have garnered critical acclaim.
Plan A Trip
Where To Stay…
Virginia has a bounty of beautiful accommodations in or near the mountains:
If you’re heading out from Northern Virginia, two small inns west of Washington, D.C. are prime and pricey foodie pilgrimage destinations: The Inn at Little Washington and L’Abuerge Provencale. More moderately priced but equally charming, The Inn at Narrow Passage in Edinburgh and The Inn at Vaucluse Spring are both just a few miles of Interstate 81.
Located near the Meadows of Dan, Primland is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and for those who prefer an urban environment, the historic Hotel Roanoke is an excellent location for exploring the southwestern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you’re headed to the central Virginia region to explore the Monticello Wine Trail, The Clifton Inn is a win-win: a charming boutique hotel in the countryside with an award-winning restaurant. If you want to eat, drink and sleep your wine experience, the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards and the guest cottage at Early Mountain are great choices.
More Month-Long Wine Celebrations
Virginia isn’t the only state that’s set aside a whole month to celebrate wine.