Just a few decades ago, Virginia wine was an oxymoron but now you can take the Monticello Wine Trail. Today, with more than 200 wineries throughout the state, Virginia is one of the largest wine producers in America, and many of its finest vineyards are located in the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA), where Thomas Jefferson’s vision of producing wines in his native state has finally come to fruition.
Virginia’s signature wine is Viognier, a grape originally from France’s Rhône Valley, that does particularly well in this region. More than 20 of Virginia’s best wineries make up the Monticello Wine Trail near Charlottesville and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Many vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail are pet friendly, many are historic and some—like Dave Matthews’s Blenheim Vineyard and the eclectic Stinson Vineyards—offer a contemporary take on both wine production and wine tastings. Tastings are usually in the $5-8 range and many of the wineries are open seven days a week.
If you don’t have time to do the entire trail, here are a few highlights:
Located in Orange County, the award-winning Barboursville draws more visitors annually than the nearby home of President James Madison (Montpelier) and is known for its stellar Bordeaux-like red, Octagon, as well as for its Viognier. On the property you’ll find historic ruins of the Barbour estate house, designed by Thomas Jefferson, as well as another family villa that is now an inn. Enjoy lunch or dinner at the lovely Palladio Restaurant, specializing in Northern Italian cuisine or sign up for one of the cooking classes.
Blenheim’s owner Dave Matthews may be more well known for making music, but this vineyard has made great strides in just a decade. Try his rock-star red, the Petit Verdot. Another off-the-beaten-path choice, the quirky tasting room at Stinson Vineyards has spawned the term “garagista” since it’s literally built into what was a three-car garage. The father-and-daughter team of Scott and Rachael Stinson specialize in small batch premium French style wines; their 2012 Rosé was one of International Wine Review’s top picks.
Want to live in a vineyard? DelFosse—known for its Petit Verdot and Viognier— has a log cabin for overnight stays, where you have your own wine bar on the deck overlooking the vineyards. Local wine aficionados rave about the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Flying Fox, a friendly, low-key boutique vineyard. Horton is all about the whites: its Viognier is recommended by the head of the American Sommelier Association and its Petit Manseng is a must-try.
Dogs are always welcome at Keswick Vineyards, both on the grounds and in the tasting room, but if your pal likes to socialize, catch Yappy Hour on Sunday afternoons in the picnic area. Keswick is also popular for destination weddings, as is Prince Michel, where you can get your own custom label wine for weddings and special events.
Don’t want to drink and drive? Several regional transportation companies offer custom half-day and full day wine country tours for groups, individuals or special occasions like bachelorette parties.