You might not know about these low-profile vineyards. Here’s why you should.
Thomas Jefferson tried — and failed – to grow grapes at Monticello. Fortunately, Virginia has had plenty of winemaking success since then.
The state has nine major wine regions, but Middleburg, located about an hour outside Washington, D.C., is a great place to start. The area is home to six wineries, not to mention a charming horse-and-hunt culture.
Where to sip: Begin at the 21-acre Boxwood Estate, the grand dame of Middleburg vineyards, open Friday to Sunday. For $10 you can taste Boxwood’s four wines, including Topiary, a Decanter World Wine Award-winning Cab Franc and Merlot blend ($25 a bottle). An extra perk: Keep your glass as a souvenir.
This winery was designed by Jacobsen Architecture, a D.C.-based firm also known for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s home in Martha’s Vineyard. Boxwood is one of the most elegant vineyards in the region, so don’t miss the chance to explore. The circular cave, where wines age in a ring of French oak barrels, is especially striking.
At Chrysalis Vineyards, six miles away, you can sample wines made from native Norton grapes; the vineyard is the country’s largest grower of this American varietal. The owners of the sprawling 412-acre property invite visitors to stick around after their tasting to drink in views of the Bull Run Mountains and use the Chrysalis outdoor grills. If you like, wash down your BYO burgers or shish kebabs with one of the winery’s best value bottles, like the 2011 Mariposa rosé, $15.
Where to stay: While you could drive back to D.C., you’ll save by staying local. According to research firm STR, the average hotel in Middleburg’s Loudoun County is 66% cheaper than lodging in the capital.
The Middleburg Country Inn (from $105 weekdays and $120 weekends) has rooms decorated with period Southern charm and one of the best complimentary breakfasts in town, says Jackie Brown-Saunders with Visit Loudoun.
For a bit more, you could also opt for one of the eight Easter-egg-colored rooms (or the freestanding cottage) at the Briar Patch B&B, where fall rates start at $150.
Take a vineyard break: Stroll down Middleburg’s main drag, Washington Street. In shop David Ladd & Co., you’ll find handsome highball and gimlet glasses decorated with the town’s unofficial mascot, a very posh fox. Drive to Upperville, a few miles away, to the Hunter’s Head Tavern, suggests Loudoun Times-Mirror reporter Trevor Baratko. If it’s warm enough, snag a table in the stone courtyard (lunch, $20).
Any guesses as to America’s first federally certified wine region? Nope, it’s not in California. In fact, the honor goes to this Midwestern spot, located 45 miles west of downtown St. Louis. (Augusta beat Napa to the punch by eight months.)
The area can credit its vino bona fides to its German immigrants, who started producing wine more than 150 years ago. These days Augusta’s 11 wineries range from small mom-and-pop shops to sprawling vineyards, all spread across a compact 15 or so miles of lush, rolling hills.
Where to sip: Start your tour at Mount Pleasant Estates, a 10-acre winery that overlooks the Missouri River Valley. On April through October weekends, take the complimentary tour of the original 1881 limestone cellars, suggests Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, contributor to Missouri Life magazine. You’ll learn that Mount Pleasant was established in 1859, making it the oldest winery in Augusta.
Head to the tasting room for samples ($6 for five) of $20-$40 wines, many of which have won medals at the World Wine Championships Awards. Along with traditional Cabernets and Chardonnays, try the Tawny Port. The rich dessert wine, $28 for a half bottle, takes 15 years to produce and has attracted a cult following.
Sommelier Glenn Bardgett of St. Louis area restaurant Annie Gunn’s recommends the Chambourcin, a $12 dry red, at Augusta Winery. “A sip takes you to the South of France,” he says.
The winery, located in town, also has good $12 or less wines made with French varietals such as Seyval Blanc. With a flight of 2012 vintages in hand — these wines benefited from a particularly great growing year, notes manager Jessica Cahill — make your way to the property’s wine and beer garden. There, settle in to snack on homemade pizza and sip in the shade of the vines.
Where to stay: Among the local lodging options, the H.S. Clay House (from $150) stands out: The B&B has a pool, a hot tub, and breakfasts that go beyond the usual eggs and muffins — think custard French toast. Or go rustic by opting for one of the six basic cabins, starting at $65, in Augusta’s Klondike Park.
Need more creature comforts? Old Dutch Hotel & Tavern, located 20 minutes east of town in Washington, offers freshly renovated contemporary rooms for $85 a night.
Take a vineyard break: Start with a stop at Johann’s General Store, a former feed mill, to stock up on picnic provisions. Then drive about 15 minutes east to Katy Bike Rental, where wheels are priced at $5 an hour. Once you’ve picked your ride, Steve Henry, author of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: St. Louis, suggests an afternoon pedaling some of the 240-mile Katy Trail State Park, the country’s longest rail-to-trail conversion.
Too hot for grapes? That’s where New Mexico can fool you. In fact, some areas have altitudes of up to 6,000 feet, which produce cool nighttime temps that refresh heat-sensitive vines.
Gruet, in Albuquerque, is New Mexico’s best-known winery. For a unique, off-the-beaten-trail trip, though, try the Deming area, located about an hour west of Las Cruces, the state’s second-largest city.
Where to sip: Choose from 38 samples — more than half of which retail under $12 — at St. Clair Winery and tasting room, located on the edge of town. You can also play winemaker by blending the four wines on tap; fill a half-gallon growler for under $10. St. Clair’s tasting room is set on 15 grassy acres, with two shaded patios. (The 260-acre vineyard itself is located 50 minutes away.)
Across town, visit the 300-acre Luna Rossa, owned by Italian-born Paolo D’Andrea and his wife, Sylvia. The vineyard is known in part for its 2009 Shiraz, which took home a big award at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.
Tasting room sips are complimentary; try the Italian Nini table wine and sangria.