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Virginia Wines on Our Mind!

There’s more to discover in Virginia than stunning mountain scenery, historic landmarks, expansive horse farms and miles of coastal Atlantic beaches. This beautiful state also has an impressive diversity of wines; many wineries are family owned. We recommend putting Virginia on your U.S.A. wine itinerary

A Little Virginia Wine History

Virginia’s wine history dates to the Jamestown Settlement in 1607. The Virginia Company of London made it mandatory for each male settler to plant at least ten grapevines as an economic venture. In the 1700s Thomas Jefferson, an oenophile after serving as Ambassador to France, tried without success to cultivate European grape varietals at his home, Monticello in Virginia’s central Piedmont region.

Good wine is a necessity of life for me. - Thomas Jefferson

In the nineteenth century, Virginia’s native Norton grape, the oldest American varietal, was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World Fair. In the twentieth century, Virginia’s wine industry stalled thanks to Prohibition, two World Wars, and the Great Depression. However, modern farmers and visionary entrepreneurs from the late twentieth century to current times have remained committed to making quality wine in the region and have made the necessary investments to make it happen. A turning point was 1976 when Italy’s Zonin wine family invested in Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.

Virginia Wines Today

Today, Virginia has over 300 wine producers in eight designated AVAs. The most concentrated areas are Central Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia. While Bordeaux varietals dominate, notably Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, one can also find Tannat, and some Rhone varietals (red and white). Notable whites include Chardonnay, Viognier and Petite Manseng, a grape better known in the southwest of France, and Vidal Blanc, a white hybrid. To be called a “Virginia wine,” the grapes must be primarily sourced from within the commonwealth.

Virginia wine country is an easy getaway for east coasters or visitors to Washington DC. Here are three regions to get you started based on our visits:

Monticello AVA

While Thomas Jefferson never managed to make quality wines at his home, Monticello, the AVA is a center for production, thanks to the region’s fertile, clay and granite-based soils. Base yourself in  Charlottesville to explore the dining scene as well as numerous historical sites.

Bottle of Octogan
Octagon is Barboursville’s iconic Bordeaux Blend

Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville. Established in 1976, by Italy’s Zonin family, Italian varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano and Nebbiolo flourish under the watchful eye of Luca Paschina, the respected estate general manager/winemaker.  Barboursville’s Paxxito took top honors at Virginia’s 2021 Governor’s Cup Awards. Its signature wine is the sublime Bordeaux blend, Octagon.

Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison. Owned by former AOL executives, Steve and Jean Case, this winery features a large tasting room and small café where visitors can sample a curated selection of Virginia’s “best of the best” wines as well as Early Mountain’s selections made under the guidance of winemaker Ben Jordan. Try: Eluvium 2016, a Merlot-dominant (56%) blend with Petit Verdot (44%).  Here is a link to our interview with Ben Jordan (link to podcast)

Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville. (Pictured at top of article. Photo: Megan L. Coppage). The late founder, Dennis Horton was inspired by Rhone varietals he discovered while traveling in France, and this winery plants several as well as ancient varietals such as Georgian Rkatsiteli and the native Norton red.  We tasted nearly 20 wines when we visited! Try: Horton Petite Manseng, a fragrant white with a tad (5 %) Viognier and Rkatsiteli, named “Best in Show” at the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards in February. the estate is now run by Horton’s wife, Sharon, and daughter, Shannon, whom we interviewed on The Connected Table in November 2020 (link to podcast)

Shenandoah AVA

The Shenandoah Valley stretches from Winchester to Roanoke. Driving the rural roads, one can’t help but pull over to take Instagram-worthy photos of historic farmhouses and pastures of grazing cows and sheep. In the distance, the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch to the east and the Appalachians and Allegheny Plateau to the west.

Bluestone Vineyards. The Hartman family makes small-batch wines from estate-grown grapes Try: Bluestone Chardonnay (100%), aged on lees and in French oak and Acacia barrels for perfect balance and texture and Bluestone Petite Manseng. We visited with family winemaker, Lee Hartman, in this edition of The Connected Table Live (link to podcast)

We recommend Bluestone’s 2019 Petit Manseng which is among the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case top 12 highest ranking red and white wines. Petite Manseng does well in Virginia, and this is one of our favorites.  Fermented in oak and aged on the lees for 10 months, this wine’s is a more citrusy versus creamy style of Petit Manseng with a nice, long finish and great minerality. SRP: $24.50.

Bluestone Vineuard
Bluestone Vineyards Manor House and Vineyards: Bessie Black Photography

CrossKeys Vineyard, Mt. Crawford. The Bakhtiar family named this palatial winery with an on-site café after the historic Cross Keys Tavern which served as a community gathering place in the 1800s and housed wounded soldiers during the infamous Battle of Cross Keys. Try: Fiore, a refreshing rosé made from Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc- a Silver Finalist for Virginia’s 2019 Governor’s Cup.

Middleburg AVA

Dotted with palatial estates and horse farms, it’s hard to believe the bustle of Washington DC is only an hour’s drive away.  Middleburg is truly a country retreat for the city weary and country squires.

Linden Vineyards, Linden. Owner Jim Law is one of the most respected vintners in the state. Located in the Blue Ride Mountains 60 miles west of Washington, D.C., The off-the-beaten path drive is well worth it the destination! Law produces stunning, limited edition Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux blend reds. We chatted with Jim Law in this edition of The Connected Table Live (2nd guest). (link to podcast).

We recommend trying the Hardscrabble Chardonnay.  Produced from estate grown grapes from Linden’s signature vineyard, this wine offers aromas of ripe pear and grilled peach with vanilla toast and nutmeg with a creamy texture combined with balanced acidity. SRP $48.

Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards
Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards

Boxwood Estate Winery, Middleburg. One of Virginia’s earliest horse farms, this eighteenth century estate focuses on premium estate-grown wines in the Bordeaux style.

Slater Run Vineyards, Upperville. This 300-year-old family-run farm along Goose Creek focuses on making classic wines using French varietals under the guidance of French winemaker Katell Griaud.

Places to stay:

The Berkley Hotel, Richmond An upscale hotel centrally located.

The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, Middleburg. This luxury inn dates to 1728 and is in the heart of Hunt Country. Try the Virginia peanut soup!

Inn at Little Washington, Washington. This is a tiny town with a big reputation thanks to Chef/Owner Patrick O’Connell, who runs this luxury inn with a Michelin three-star restaurant.

The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards: The historic inn located on the expansive winery property is the perfect place to unwind after a day of tasting and sumptuous dinner at Palladio, Barboursville’s excellent Italian restaurant.

1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards
1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards

Planning a Trip The Virginia Wine Marketing Board has a helpful website listing wineries as well as producers of local ciders and mead. www.virginiawine.org

Learn more…..

In this episode of The Connected Table SIPS, Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat and Drink What You Like, discusses Virginia’s different appellations and a few standout grapes, including Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. We taste selections from three Virginia producers that we have visited: Bluestone Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards.

Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat
Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat

 

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Drink Eat Explore

Road Trip To Western NY – Buffalo and Niagara Falls

Greetings from “Roam.” That is our current state of being….wherever we roam on an indefinite road trip. In August we sold our house in the Hudson Valley, which we referred to as “Camp David.” That is one reason you have not heard from us in several weeks. Selling your home and most of your possessions and packing what is left into a 16 x 10 -foot storage Pod is a job unto itself. Watching the Pod leave our driveway August 11 to rest somewhere in upstate New York until we plot a permanent move was emotional. But seeing an “open road” ahead is exhilarating!

Camp David sets up at the Residence Inn located in downtown Buffalo. Western NY is known for its exceptional stone fruits, and these peaches were some of the juiciest we tasted. The Niagara region wines exceeded our expectations, especially the Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir we tasted. Here are a few selections we picked up at Schultze Vineyards, Chateau Niagara and Arrowhead Springs.

We kept a few key things for our #TheConnectedTableRoadTrip culinary survival kit: Riedel glassware, utensils, cooking knives, cookware and spices. Our handy VinGardeValise® wine suitcase is packed with select bottles. And we have our computers and radio equipment to write and broadcast from the road. What more do we need? Oh, right, the dog… Yes, @sazeracsays is with us and posting as we #roamNewYork.

Currently we have been spending time upstate in the beautiful Finger Lakes region having just returned from a visit to the Niagara region and Buffalo, where David’s family settled some two centuries ago. We visited Ransomville (named for the family) and David was able visit the town historical society which had a section dedicated to his ancestors.

David at Ransomville Historical Society
David explores his family roots at the Ransomville Historical Society.

Dubbed the Queen City of the Great Lakes back at the turn of the last century, Buffalo’s stunning architecture and Frederick Law Olmstead-designed parks impressed. We also visited David’s grandparents’ (Ransom) home, now occupied by a law firm which has an appointed “house historian” named Amanda who was thrilled to meet an original Ransom!

Lobster Ramen
Lobster Ramen at Dobutsu Buffalo which focused on dishes from the American and Asian Pacific. Chef/Owner James Roberts is from New Orleans.

Buffalo restaurants are starting to serve inside – safely socially distanced- and continue to offer patio, takeout and delivery options. We visited Dobutsu, which serves an Asian-Pacific menu, and tried the lobster ramen and the spicy rice with pork. Owner/Chef James Roberts also owns Toutant, which focuses on specialties from Louisiana. Roberts resettled in Buffalo after Hurricane Katrina. www.dobutsubuffalo.com www.toutantbuffalo.com

Sea Scallops Ceviche at Marble & Rye, Buffalo www.marbleandrye.net
Sea Scallops Ceviche at Marble & Rye, Buffalo www.marbleandrye.net

The other was Marble & Rye, where the menu was gastropub with a twist. Standout dishes for us were the spinach ricotta dumplings with pan-fried smelts tossed in a spicy puttanesca sauce, Asian noodles in peanut butter sauce and sea scallops ceviche with rice crackers. The beverage program, overseen by bar manager Megan Lee, would rival any in the country, and as the establishment’s name suggests, there is a strong focus on Rye spirits.

Beef on Weck at Colter Bay Grill www.colterbaybuffalo.com
Beef on Weck at Colter Bay Grill www.colterbaybuffalo.com

Of course, David enjoyed the classic Buffalo sandwich, Beef on Weck (thinly sliced roast beef on a kummelweck roll (sometimes spelled kimmelweck) served with horseradish and beef jus) and Buffalo chicken wings. While The Anchor Bar can lay claim to inventing this spicy dish, good wings can be found all over the city, and there is considerable debate on who makes the best. Our pick? Let’s just say that those in the know head to Gabriel’s Gate in the Allentown neighborhood for theirs. www.gabrielsgate.page.tl

Mushrooms
Mushrooms from the Elmwood Village Farmers Market

Western New York is known for its stone fruits, and the bag of fresh peaches we bought were some of the juiciest we have tasted. We also purchased some gorgeous mushrooms and vegan burgers at the Elmwood Village Saturday farmer’s market. We also stopped in at several wineries (will report on that separately) and visited Niagara Falls.

at Niagara Falls
We were misted at Niagara Falls after taking the Maid of the Mist boat ride practically into Horseshoe Falls. Tip: Arrive at 8 or 8:30 to snag a first boat out and to avoid very long lines, especially now during COVID-19.

Taking the Maid of the Mist boat ride practically into Horseshoe Falls – and getting seriously misted in the process! – was a bucket list experience for both of us. We stayed on the New York side since Americans currently cannot travel to Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Also, not to miss is a visit the to Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This home, built in the early 1900s, belonged to Larkin Soap executive, Darwin D. Martin,  at the time one of Buffalo’s wealthiest citizens (he moved into the home in 1905). The design is Lloyd Wright’s “prairie style” with expansive. lean horizontal lines and open room layout. The Treesof Life glass windows are masterpieces in glass art design; we even saw one on display st the Corning Museum of Glass Design.

The Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces and a must-see when visiting Buffalo.
The Martin House interior once you walk in. Notice the open room format  horizontal lines.

We want to give a special shout out to Karen Fashana at Visit Buffalo Niagara for sharing tips on what to visit and where to dine www.visitbuffaloniagara.com and to Jennifer Redmond, General Manager at the Residence Inn by Marriott in downtown Buffalo, who arranged our spacious room, complete with a kitchen that offered real wine glasses and coffee mugs. Working on the roam, this hotel provided us what we needed both to relax and to work, and it is pet friendly! This hotel is located across the street from the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historical Site and is convenient to many attractions.

Buffalo (NY)’s food scene is more than its iconic chicken wings and Beef on Weck. Marble+Rye’s Christian Wilmott and team serve dishes focused on local, seasonal ingredients and craft cocktails on the episode of The Connected Table Live (second segment).