A lake reflects the sky and nearby trees while a moderate climate and 330 acres of rolling foothills nurture the rows of grapevines growing there. Curled up against the Blue Ridge Mountains, this is the picturesque scene that DelFosse Vineyards and Winery calls home. It's there that a team of viticulturists and winemakers tames the green, terraced landscape to draw out 11 wines, including a 100% merlot and hybrids such as the 2009 Reserve d'Oriane—an amalgam of chardonnay, petit manseng, and viognier grapes. With trails and walkways cut throughout the grounds, the DelFosse family makes the vineyards accessible for tours, hiking, biking, and picnicking with Bigfoot sommeliers. And with lofty, sprawling views to be enjoyed, their estate is also available for special occasions such as weddings at the pavilion on the lakeside lawn and family reunions on the vineyard deck. Their onsite chestnut log cabin also provides a rustic escape with overnight or weeklong stays and packages that include VIP wine tastings and private gourmet dinners.
Nestled into the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, CrossKeys Vineyards' flourishing grapevines and Tuscan-style winery lie surrounded by panoramic views of the Blue Mountains. The staff painstakingly tends to these fields, harvesting grapes at the peak of ripeness and stowing away their nectars in oak or stainless steel barrels to coax out the varietals' vibrant flavors. CrossKey’s experts use new and used French or American oak barrels to add extra depth and richness to their wines, mellowing the chardonnay's pear-tinged acidity with hints of vanilla, and softening the petit verdot's tannins for a silken, yet robust mouthfeel. In the tasting room, visitors can sample an array of wines while noshing on a menu of sandwiches and local cheeses, or head out onto the outdoor patio to enjoy sips amid cool breezes and birds chirping “Red, Red Wine.”
First Colony Winery celebrates the history and heritage of local viniculture by crafting a cellar’s worth of European-style wines. After sampling from their selection of eight ambrosias—including a tropical seyval blanc and full-bodied tannat—amid the exposed wood beams and checkerboard floors of the elegant tasting room, corral a full glass of your favorite varietal and venture onto the covered patio to savor views of sun-soaked hills while gargling the intricate melodies from Dvorak's New World symphony. Guests then go home with a pair of branded souvenir wine glasses with which they can use as drink vessels at home or as miniature hot tubs for over-indulged troll dolls.
Autumn Hill Vineyards owners Ed and Avra Schwab have made a lot of wine in the past 30 years, from their gold medal blend of petit verdot and merlot to their vintner’s reserve chardonnay that takes on the flavors of the French oak barrel it ferments in. The one thing you won’t find in their cellars, however, is a sweet wine. That’s because the pair strives to craft Virginia wines with a European influence, resulting in dry, full-bodied vintages brimming with character. This specialization has led them to cultivate seven types of wine grapes, including some of the oldest cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay vines in Virginia.
Though the duo spends most of the year tending to their vines in private, they invite guests in four times a year to see in the inner workings of their operation. Visitors to the vineyard are privy to tours through the barrel-aging cellar, helpful advice on how to pair wines with food, and vertical tastings of the same vintage to highlight the flavor differences among the grape crop every year. For guests who can’t make it out, the vineyard offers a wine club that delivers select vintages to clients' doorsteps or sommeliers' giant beanstalks in the spring, fall, and holiday season.
Recently opened in 2009, the tasting and hospitality center at Sweely Estate Winery boasts scenic vineyard views from the attached open-air terrace. As guests take in the sights of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, Sweely’s winesperts pour a medley of fine French-style wines, including reds aged in French oak barrels and whites enhanced by premium grapes in gravity flow. Compare and contrast the fermented flavors with the accompanying cheeses, then apply the included $10 credit toward a bottle of memories such as the refreshing Sweely Estate pinot gris ($16), graced with palate-tickling notes of green apple and citrus, or the Sweely Estate merlot ($20.95), swirled with mixed berry and minty overtones.
DuCard Vineyard expertly converts its grapes into a delicious selection of wines, hosting regular tastings and tours in the shadows of the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. In the tasting room visitors can sample recent releases such as the Signature viognier 2010 and Gibson Hollow white 2010 while viewing the mountains through the window wall, then venture out onto the side patio to gawk at the vineyards and inhale the aged aroma of the C'est Trop 2008, a port-style red dessert wine crafted with norton grapes and fortified with brandy. The guided tour educates aspiring viticulturists about the complexities of cultivation and provides an opportunity to observe grapes frolicking in the fields and a cheese plate joins the sips of wine to bring balance to palates. Each guest also receives a souvenir wine glass to commemorate the trip and the $10 credit can be applied toward the purchase of a bottle of a favorite spirited sample, such as the Sweet Virginia vidal blanc 2008 ($18) or petit verdot 2009 ($30).
Found right on the cusp of the scenic Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Vineyard opens up its family farm during the warm weather months for musical and social gatherings. Melody mavens can park on the plush lawn or in the cozy barn, where they'll swim in the eighth notes of a lineup of lively acoustic bands, with styles ranging from the blues, country, and classic-rock tunes of Exit 162 (April 2, September 4, and October 15) to the rousing fiddles of the Blinky Moon Boys (May 21 and October 22).