Travel: Virginia is for [Wine] Lovers

Serious wine and serious views make these five vineyards worth a quick one-hour drive.

RdV Vineyards. Photo by Catherine Trifiletti

Virginia winemaking dates back four centuries to Jamestown settlers hoping to produce bottles for export to the British empire. Then there was Thomas Jefferson, who was said to have failed at the craft repeatedly. Fast forward to today and the Old Dominion state has rebounded in impressive form. With over 250 vineyards and counting, the state’s wineries have varietals for every palate, and more importantly, environments to suit all visitor’s tastes. Whatever you’re seeking, Virginia’s wine country has it. The true beauty is in the dedicated winemakers who continue to experiment and familiarize themselves with Virginia’s terroir. For our criteria, we focused on five vineyards with well-balanced wines, all within an hour’s reach of the District. Now that fall is here, there is no better time to get past city limits, breathe in the mountain air and sip the fruit of the vine.

RdV Vineyards 

2550 Delaplane Grade Rd, Delaplane, Va.

MUST SIP: Lost Mountain 

Rutger de Vink is a marine-turned-winemaker who, after a stint in business, answered the calling to work with his hands. He founded RdV Vineyards not to make the best wine in Virginia, but rather some of the best wine in the country. He spent three years tracking down the perfect plot of land to realize his lofty goals and happened across a 100-acre gem in Delaplane, previously an Angus beef farm, where he planted vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. RdV’s two Bordeaux-style wines spend 20-22 months in French oak, then a year in bottle. The land is buttressed by granite, which tricks the plants to put energy into ripening fruit instead of laying down roots. A slab of granite hangs outside of the production room as a reminder that “It ain’t about us, it’s about the land,” says master sommelier Jarad Slipp.

VISIT: Tasting appointments required. $65 includes cellar tour, welcome champagne and a cheese and charcuterie board. Call (540) 364-0221, rdv@rdvvineyards.com.

Linden Vineyards

3708 Harrels Corner Rd, Linden, Va.

MUST SIP: Claret ($27) and Hardscrabble Chardonnay ($40) 

It is nearly impossible to read about Virginia’s winemaking world without stumbling across Jim Law, who some refer to as the “father of Virginia wine.” He crafted Linden’s first vintage in 1987. Law’s wines are entirely estate grown, using fruit hand-picked and hand-sorted from three vineyards – Hardscrabble, Boisseau and Avenius. He is best known for his single vineyard varietals from Hardscrabble, which holds the vines viewable from the tasting room and Law’s home. One member of his knowledgeable and friendly staff tells us that the oenophile can often be seen pacing through the vines in his wine boots and a T-shirt covered in holes, further confirming the passion already evident in Law’s well-balanced wines. “My heart is always in the vineyard,” he tells us.

VISIT: Normal tastings offer five pours for $8; cellar tastings are $25 and offer six tastings of Linden’s single vineyard bottles. Visit lindenvineyards.com.

Arterra Wines 

1808 Leeds Manor Rd, Delaplane, Va.

MUST SIP: Tannat ($49)

From the moment you turn up a hidden driveway to Arterra’s cabin-like tasting room, there is an immediate sense of calm and the smell of car exhaust succumbs to the sweet smell of wood chips and oak. The quaint quarters at Arterra (“art of the land”) are the life’s work of husband-and-wife-team Jason Murray and Sandy Gray-Murray, who set out to capture the essence of Virginia’s terroir (land) in an honest way. As many other Virginia vineyards have adapted French winemaking styles, Arterra has stayed true to its roots, quite literally. Jason operates a Native Yeast Fermentation process derived naturally from the fruit’s skin, and opts for aging in older neutral wood barrels that don’t define the wine’s character. Working under the premise of authenticity, Murray forgoes additives to wholly “embrace the character of the fruits.” The tasting room also houses Sandy’s artwork (Hawkmoth Arts) which gives nod to the winemaking process. “We’re making what Virginia is,” Jason says.

VISIT: Family friendly, tastings are four pours for $10 or six for $15. Visit arterrawines.com.

Photo by Catherine Trifiletti

Greenhill Vineyards

23595 Winery Lane Middleburg, Va.

MUST SIP: Blanc de Blancs ($39)

Owner David Greenhill, who purchased the property in 2013, works with Burgundy native Sébastien Marquet using Old World techniques to produce a wide selection of grape varietals (Bordeaux and Burgundy style, French American hybrid, and other European grapes like Riesling). Their wine made a splash in 2016 when bottles of the Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay-based sparkling wine) appeared in Oscar swag bags alongside $200,000 in other goods and gifts. In addition to a sleek, newly revamped tasting room, Wine Club Members have access to a private upper-level lounge and a historic clubhouse on the estate. Be sure to check Greenhill’s calendar for offbeat wine activities like Vineyasa Yoga.

VISIT: Visit greenhillvineyards.com

Slater Run Vineyards

1500 Crenshaw Rd, Upperville, Va.

MUST SIP: Roots ($50) and Monbazillac ($22)
Family comes first at Slater Run, where farm, land and community are the core principles upon which the vineyard was established. After years of urban living, owner Kiernan Slater Patusky returned to a plot of land in Upperville that her family has owned for over 300 years. With the intention of maintaining their agricultural tradition, she and her husband Christopher began harvesting grapes in 2010, enlisting vineyard consultant Lucie Morton and French winemaker Katell Griaud ahead of their first vintage in 2014. Griaud brought with her an exquisite family recipe for Monbazillac, a balanced dessert wine that undergoes extensive freezing and pressing. They plan to expand their current 12 acres of vines, which include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and two Bordeaux style blends, so that bottles are eventually 100 percent estate grown.

VISIT: Private tours, tastings and events by appointment. Contact (540)-592-3042. Slater Run also has a tasting room in downtown Upperville in addition to its on-site tasting room.

Let’s not Forget D.C.:

District Winery 

385 Water St. SE

MUST SIP: Pinot Noir Reserve ($45)

Look no further than the Navy Yard to get your bespoke wine fix. The team behind the urban winery movement recently set up their third outpost (the first outside of New York) in a custom 17,000-square-foot space that includes the winery itself, a restaurant (Ana), a tasting bar and event space overlooking the Anacostia River. Grape shipments from California, Oregon, New York and soon Virginia, give winemaker Conor McCormack ultimate flexibility when blending. There are 15 wines currently being poured ranging from skin contact Riesling to Old Vine Zinfandel. D.C.- specific varietals will start releasing in spring. The goal behind the concept is to make wine more approachable to the average person. “The cool thing about this setting is that we can showcase the winemaking process,” McCormack says. He also emphasizes that there are no stupid questions – novices welcome.

VISIT: Tastings are five pours for $10. Visit districtwinery.com.

This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of Washington Life Magazine.

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