One of my favorite things about living here in Charlottesville is the local wine industry. Virginia is one of the top wine producers in the country, far behind California, but it’s still roughly a $750 million industry. Not too shabby. The nearby Monticello Wine Trail accounts of over half the state’s total acres planted in vines and is the largest AVA in the state. There are 29 wineries listed on their website. I’ve read you can do the entire trail in a weekend, but I don’t see how that’s possible. You might be able to visit all of them, but no way can you possibly enjoy all of them squeezed into a few days.
Over the last week, I’ve had a number of invites to go visit some of these wineries with various girlfriends. I’m declaring it the new mommy playdate trend. We must all be getting nervous about the hiatus in the big yellow angel coming by in the morning, whisking the children away to a better place for the day. Clearly the best way to prep yourself for that is to head out to some of the local wineries for the afternoon. Visiting a number of them in such a short time period allows one to appreciate how different each winery along the trail is.
Kate invited me to come along on a visit to Glass House Winery one day last week. We grabbed some sandwiches on the way out at the Hunt Country Store and made a picnic out of it.
Glass House is by far the most eclectic winery I’ve visited. It’s contemporary architecture, with a large glass conservatory that I imagine would be a wonderful place to visit when the grey days of winter start getting to be a bit too much. Planted in front of the building are a number of tropical looking plants as well as some interesting metal sculptures, some of which are depicted on the labels of their wine.
The retaining wall in the parking lot included glass tile mosaics. Everywhere you looked, there was a treat for the eye, whether it be the natural landscape or the uniqueness of the man made structures.
We didn’t spend time in the conservatory, I just stepped in for a few quick shots. It was way too nice of a day outside for me to be inside, even if it was a tropical paradise.
I think this was my favorite detail in the whole building. The entire hall to the restrooms and beyond was made to look like a large wine barrel. The winery hosts regular music events in the glass house. It has a funky, fun vibe that I haven’t seen in any other winery in the area. The tasting room is full of natural light that showcases the beautiful scenery surrounding the winery.
All their bottles use a glass cork, which is a closure I had not seen before. It’s an elegant alternative to screwcaps and plastic corks.
We tasted three white wines, a Pinot Gris, a Viognier, the Vito Signora (made from Traminette grapes), a rose, a red, “The Twenty First” (named in honor of the 21st amendment which repealed prohibition) and their signature dessert wine, the Meglio del Sesso. It’s made of Norton, Chambourcin, Cab Franc grapes and real chocolate. After the wine is filtered, the cocoa is then used to create the winery’s hand made line of chocolates. When you taste the dessert wine, you are given a bite of chocolate to go with it. I can only use one word in describing what that was like – YUM. I may need a few bottles of the Meglio del Sesso to go with my next chocolate cake.
As for the other wines, the red wine I tasted, “The Twenty First” is the one that stood out the most. It’s a blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Merlot that had a nice depth. It’s the type of wine that while highly drinkable now, could be aged for a few years and then I think it would be even more spectacular. The rose was made of cab franc grapes and was my choice to sip on while we sat on the patio overlooking the pond, with the vines and mountains in the background. It was a beautiful day in which I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some new ladies. Thanks Kate, Jane & Val for having me along!
A few days later, my friend Kelly and I went out to celebrate her latest degree, a milestone on her path to her next two (another BS and an MS). Toasting her accomplishment with a glass of wine became a ‘let’s go visit some wineries’. We headed out to Barboursville Winery. It is one of the best known and most respected wineries in the area. They can boast they make the house wine for The Inn at Little Washington, that little 5 star restaurant you may have heard of that’s widely considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world. Barboursville has one countless awards over the years and for good reason.
It was the first Virginia winery since Thomas Jefferson’s failed attempts to plant Vitis Vinifera, a species of grapes native to the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe and Asia.
Of the twenty three varieties they offer for sale, we were offered tastes of twenty two of them, including ones listed that generally aren’t available for tasting. My perennial favorite Barboursville Wine is their Brut, a sparkling wine. Other standouts were their Sauvingnon Blanc, with crisp citrus notes that I’m a complete sucker for. Their Riesling is also delightful, more dry than sweet, just the way I like them.
As for their reds, I liked the Sangiovese, an Italian grape that is traditionally the backbone of Chianti. Although it was listed on the tasting sheet that the Petit Verdot Reserve was not being poured, we lucked out and managed to get a taste. I’m glad we did, as it was hands down, my favorite of their reds.
Other wines that stood out were the Cabernet Blanc, a blush wine that was a little sweeter than I like my roses, but light enough that it would be a bottle for a nice afternoon with friends. The Malvaxia Reserve stood out as well – it’s rich, luscious and while it’s listed as a dessert wine, I could easily see pairing it with a nice cheese plate.
No visit to Barboursville is complete without checking out the Ruins. I shot some pretty cool black and white photos of it as well.
Just down the road from Barboursville Vineyards is Horton Vineyards. With over forty wines in production, their tasting sheet was two pages.
At Horton, we were told up to twelve tastings are free, so we kept our tasting to that number. You don’t get a souvenir glass, but as I’m running out of room for them in my closet, I chose to just snap a quick shot of them. Take a picture it lasts longer is definitely true when it comes to me and wine glasses.
Although now that I look at them again, I may need to go back for some. They were commemorative for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Horton is in Orange County, not too far from some of the historic battlefields of the Civil War, the closest being Wilderness Battlefield.
Horton is the winery that first experimented with Viognier here in Virginia, a grape that has taken well to growing in Virginia, so well that it was named the official grape of the state in 2011. Of all the viogniers I tasted at all of the wineries, Horton’s hands down is the best. Not too sweet, not too dry, it’s a wonderful wine that pairs beautifully with food. Horton’s Late Harvest Viognier dessert wine is also worth mentioning. It’s rich without being overly sweet. Horton was also the first winery in Virginia to make Norton, a varietal that is a native Virginia grape. I am quite fond of Norton, it’s fruity without alot of tannin and Horton makes a good one. The Cab Franc, another grape that does well in Virginia as well as the Nebbiolo, a native Italian grape, were the other two red standouts.
Three different wineries, three very different experiences. While the tastings at both Glass House & Barboursville were the same price and came with a souvenir glass, I got far more wine for my money at Barboursville. The most personable, knowledgeable pourer was at Barboursville – he was far better skilled at juggling the different parties along the bar than any of the other pourers I came across. Glass House is a boutique winery while Barboursville and Horton are producers on a much larger scale. Horton appears to experiment far more than any other winery, with several fruit wines on their list. Curious as to how they would taste, I chose the Peach, which is blended with a small amount of viognier. It wasn’t overly sweet, but it didn’t taste like peaches either. I might try another one or two of their fruit wines in the future, just to see how they taste. The pourers at Horton didn’t offer much information as far as the wines or the winery were concerned. I realized how important the personality of the pourer is in experiencing a winery. Wine tasting should be fun. You can tell when a pourer has a pat speech they offer with each pour and you can tell when your pourer has a knowledge, not just of the wine they are pouring, but of the process involved in getting that wine to your glass.