Tapas orbit groups, drawing conversation out into long afternoons measured in slowly drained bottles of wine. Chatter drifts toward the ornate paneled ceiling at C’est Le Vin, where the small-plate style of dining leans heavily on those Spanish traditions. Chefs sear spiced-steak kebabs, roast tilapia on planks, and broil artichokes with goat cheese and thyme, which can be eaten at tables or on comfy couches. Soft lighting illuminates a rotating display of artwork and glimmers off ranks of bottles brimming with the rich earthiness of garnacha and tempranillo grapes. Most nights of the week, entertainment may include writers reading their poetry, musicians strumming their guitars, and artists unveiling their work. Tango lessons introduce the dance’s lilting moves and provide a place where people with roses super glued to their mouths can fit in.
By the time Blue Bee Cider's signature drink is ready in the spring, it's been three seasons in the making. The process begins in the fall and winter pressing season, when baskets upon baskets of Virginia apples, their ripe red skins shocked with gold, are crushed to loose their sweet juice. The juice lies dormant for the winter, undisturbed by the needless addition of sugar or water, slowly fermenting. Finally, come the break of spring, it takes on the fizzy character of carbonation and is bottled, ready to take its place on the shelves behind the tasting bar. Each of the three varieties takes on a different characteristic from its different blend of apples and ingredients, from the Charred Ordinary's dryness lent by heirloom apples, to the Harvest Ration's surprising kick supplied by fortification with brandy.
Barrel Thief satisfies taste buds with a menu dominated by upscale salads and sandwiches that also includes a few heartier entree suggestions. In the arugula salad ($8), salty prosciutto and pickled strawberries lie on a bed of spicy greens, and nine bruschetta options ($5–$10)—including roasted garlic and white bean—are great for distracting most of the destructive hands of the goddess Kali. Fare from the briny deep includes the crab sandwich ($12)—shellfish drizzled in pimento aioli escorted by grilled green tomatoes—and grilled yellowfin tuna ($18). For dessert, tempt teeth with a sweet sonata composed of mixed berries and fresh cream ($6) whipped by Beethoven's ghost.
James River Cellars' picturesque vineyard welcomes guests to seasonal events throughout the year and yields 15 varieties of wines, including the Winner of the Governor’s Cup for the best Virginia wine of 2005. The 6th annual Harvest Wine Festival turns wine keys on Saturday, September 3, from noon to 5 p.m., come rain, shine, or eclipses that make the sun look like a dilated trout eye. Imbibers can sip flights from four wineries, tour the grounds, or expand their knowledge of fermented grape potables during wine 101 seminars. Live music dances in the air, as oenophiles examine wares from local craftspeople and check out treats from food vendors. Alternatively, festival-goers can pack picnics for groups and discerning family pets ($2 admission fee) for an afternoon on the vineyard grounds. To maintain an open festival ambiance, there is no seating, but visitors can tote picnic blankets or sectional sofas.
With names like Voyager, Rendezvous, Trekker, and Sojourn, the wines at Grayhaven Winery evoke a sense of getting away from it all. But their small-batch vintages aren't the only escape route from the everyday Grayhaven opens up. Visitors on estate tours will find Virginia-made goat cheese and baguettes in the tasting room, a child-friendly playground and nature trail, four resident horses, and three dogs with noses for fine wines. The vineyard also hosts three large events every year: the South African Food & Wine Festival, Blues in the Vineyard, and the Harvest Bluegrass Festival.