Charlottesville's wineries feature beautiful landscapes and diverse wine.
Thomas Jefferson dreamed of producing great American wine in Monticello. Unfortunately, due to environmental issues and political upheaval, Jefferson's vision for Monticello was never realized during his lifetime. Today, his dream is a reality thanks to the formation of the Monticello Wine Trail. The Monticello Wine Trail is a network of more than 30 wineries that are part of Virginia's American Viticultural Area. Several of these wineries, which sit within a 30-mile radius of Charlottesville, also offer luxury accommodations and excellent restaurants on-site. With the dramatic backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson's history at Monticello and top-notch wines and cuisine, central Virginia should be your next wine getaway.
Barboursville Vineyards: Barboursville
Barboursville Vineyards is situated on an 18th-century estate, approximately 16 miles northeast of Charlottesville. Italian winemaker Gianni Zonin purchased the property in 1976 to bring European viticulture to Virginia. Together with winemaker Luca Paschina, Barboursville consistently produces award-winning vintages recognized by the prestigious Virginia Governor's Cup. A $10 tasting fee allows visitors to sample 17 of the winery's current vintages. The $25 Library tasting of select wines, including octagon and paxxito, also features small plate pairings like homemade bread and local cheeses. Afterward, travelers can enjoy Italian-inspired cuisine at Palladio Restaurant followed by overnight accommodations at The 1804 Inn or in one of the cottages on the estate.
Gabriele Rausse Winery: Charlottesville
Gabriele Rausse is often referred to as the "father" of Virginia wines, since he was one of the first winemakers to arrive at Barboursville. Rausse's son, Tim, describes their winery and tasting room as distinctive thanks to its glass and concrete design. "It's the only one in Virginia with no view of a mountain or vineyard. We're in a forest, just like a treehouse," he says. Guests of the winery can enjoy six wines and food pairings for $18. Excellent vintages to sample are the cabernet franc, grüner veltliner, rosé and vin gris de pinot noir, a white wine made with pinot noir grapes.
Jefferson Vineyards: Charlottesville
Jefferson Vineyards is where Thomas Jefferson and Italian viticulturist Philip Mazzei first planted European vines for commercial use in 1773. As such, the vineyard has often been dubbed the "birthplace of American wine." Visit this winery to learn more about the vineyard's history, or just to enjoy the stunning setting surrounded by lush green forests and rolling hills. The tasting room is open most days for classic and private tastings. Classic tastings include eight wines for $12. The winery also offers premium tastings of select vintages throughout the year. While here, consider splurging on a stay at Colle, the property's family home, which can accommodate 10 guests.
Michael Shaps Wineworks: Charlottesville
Michael Shaps studied viticulture and oenology in Burgundy, France, before moving to Virginia in 1995. After spending some time at Jefferson Vineyards, where he created award-winning vintages, Shaps started his own label. Michael Shaps Wineworks has two tasting rooms that offer both Virginia and Burgundy wines. The location on Harris Creek Way is where you'll find a traditional tasting room with the full breadth of his wines. The second location houses his bottling facility. Shaps recommends sampling the viognier 2017, petit manseng 2016, petit verdot 2015 and tannant 2016, the wines he is best known for. Private tastings are also available for groups for $15 (reservations required).
Early Mountain Vineyards: Madison
Early Mountain Vineyards is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 30 miles north of Charlottesville. The winery's name pays tribute to the first owner of the property, Lt. Joseph Early, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Stop by the tasting room to sample six current releases for $12. The premium tasting features a selection of nine of Early Mountain's top vintages for $18. Afterward, have lunch with a view at the Virginia Table, where you can savor small plates, salads and sandwiches featuring locally grown ingredients with a glass of your favorite wine from the vineyard.
Veritas Vineyard & Winery: Afton
Andrew and Patricia Hodson began Veritas Vineyard with 5 acres of vines in 1999. The family-owned estate and farm now stretches across more than 50 acres. The $20 guided Showcase Cellar Tour and Tasting highlights the winemaking process and concludes with a wine tasting. For a special treat, request a picnic lunch paired with a bottle of wine. George Hodson, the Hodsons' son and CEO of Veritas Vineyard & Winery, recommends the cabernet franc 2017, petit verdot 2016 and viognier 2017. The property also offers accommodations at The Farmhouse at Veritas, a luxury eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast that hosts four-course Farmhouse Dinners paired with Veritas wines Tuesday through Saturday evenings.
King Family Vineyards: Crozet
David and Ellen King planted the original grapes at King Estate in 1996. The winery, located approximately 18 miles west of Charlottesville, is managed by the Kings and their three sons. Visitors can schedule the Vineyard & Winery Tour, which includes a classic tasting of five seasonal wines for $20. You can also arrange for a private guided tasting in the Library Room for $15. A unique feature of the property is its polo field. Try to plan your trip around polo season (late spring through early fall), so you can sip your wine while watching a polo game. James King, the Kings' son and general manager, recommends the brut 2015, crosé 2018 and meritage 2017.
Trump Winery: Charlottesville
Trump Winery is Virginia's largest vineyard as well as the East Coast's largest French vinifera vineyard. The vineyard's 1,300 acres, 227 acres of which produce French vinifera varieties, have produced red, white and sparkling wines that have gained both national and international recognition. The property's tasting room is open most days for casual bar tastings, which cost $12 for four samples. The Reserve Tasting is available on weekends and features six limited vintages for $30. Seasonal menus are available here, offering small plates and other dishes to pair with your favorite wine. You can also stay on-site at Albemarle Estate, an elegant Georgian mansion.
Keswick Vineyards: Keswick
Keswick Vineyards is a 400-acre family-run estate. The Schornberg family established the vineyard in 2000 after scouring the country to find the perfect place to open up their dream winery. Wine tastings here include eight to 10 seasonal wines, with one or more featured being one of the estate's reserve vintages. Brian Schornberg, event coordinator at the winery, says his favorite vintages are the cabernet franc block 7 reserve 2017, made from the oldest vines on the property. He also recommends the cabernet sauvignon estate reserve 2016. If you get peckish, light snacks are available at the tasting room store.
Blenheim Vineyards: Charlottesville
Blenheim's wines are 100% sustainable and made from grapes grown in four different blocks across the winery's 32 acres of vineyards. Tastings are available daily for $10 while wine flights (also $10) are only served on the weekends. Another added benefit of visiting on the weekend is the likelihood that there will be a fun event (think live music, art showings and food trucks). Blenheim's winemaker's top picks are the cabernet franc 2017 and petit verdot 2017.
Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards: North Garden
Located approximately 15 miles southwest of Charlottesville, Pippin Hill stands out for its focus is on sustainable viticulture, craft winemaking and agritourism. The winery's limited boutique wine production allows it to maintain healthy vines and vineyards with the use of natural sprays rather than chemical repellents. While here, visitors can enjoy a wine flight or food and wine pairing. Many of the ingredients on the tasting room menu are harvested from local farms. For a special occasion, The Vintner's Table is a private experience you can book for a group for $95 per person that includes a four-course menu with wines. Vineyard Manager Brooks Hoover recommends trying two of his favorite wines, the petit verdot 2016 and chardonnay reserve 2017.
Stinson Vineyards: Crozet
Stinson Vineyards is known for its French-influenced small lot wines with limited production. The family-owned winery is located about 15 miles northwest of Charlottesville in an old, three car garage, similar to the "garagiste" wineries in France. (These small French wineries produced a unique style of Bordeaux wine in the 1990s called vins de garage or "garage wines.") Tastings cost $10 and are available Thursday to Sunday. Co-owner Rachel Stinson Vrooman suggests sampling the sauvignon blanc 2017, rosé of tannat 2018 and meritage 2015. Splurge on a stay at The Inn at Stinson Vineyards to wake up to unforgettable views of both the vineyards and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Horton Vineyards: Gordonsville
Located 17 miles north of Charlottesville, Horton Vineyards enjoys a stunning setting. The architectural features of the vineyard's headquarters make it look like an old-world castle. Couple that with its location among lush rolling hills and vineyards, and it resembles something you might stumble upon in European wine country. Daily tastings here are available for $6 and visitors are able to choose the 10 wines that will be part of their tasting. Founder Dennis Horton's granddaughter, Caitlin, suggests sampling the barrel select mourvedre 2016, pinotage rose 2017 and the flagship wine, a norton 2017.
Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.