Virginia's Top Tourist and Wine Destinations

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With award-winning wineries scattered throughout the state, visiting Virginia wineries can make for a wonderful  vacation. There are times, though, when even the most die-hard wine tourist needs to take a break and enjoy non-wine attractions. We've identified four Virginia regions where tourists can experience Virginia's top tourist destinations AND Virginia's best wineries!

Waves & Wine

Richmond and its surrounding areas are filled with fun activities. If you have a taste for the American gothic, step into the Edgar Allen Poe Museum. For those more interested in Victorian gardens and Asian species, the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is sure to awaken your senses. Further explore American history at Jamestown and Yorktown, and become fully immersed in history at Colonial Williamsburg, possibly America's best historical reenactment site.

For a more conventional theme park experience, Busch Gardens is in this area as well. If water park rides and slides float your boat, it's also worth heading to Water Country USA. If you want your forays into the water to happen at the seaside, visit Virginia Beach--the Atlantic Ocean will greet you in the summer, and you can also enjoy shops, arcades, and a haunted house or two along the boardwalk.

Southeast Virginia isn't typically considered "wine country" but, but the Richmond/Virginia Beach area provides several great winery options for Virginia tourists. The Williamsburg Winery, founded in 1985 on the historic Wessex Hundred Farm and Virginia's largest winery, is a cornerstone of the Virginia wine industry. In addition to sampling some of Virginia's best Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and red Bordeaux blends, visitors have several exceptional dining and lodging options available at the Café Provencal, Gabriel Archer Tavern and Wedmore Place.

Located on Virginia's Delmarva Peninsula is the historic Chatham Vineyards. Visitors can enjoy the region's best Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux blends while enjoying the breeze from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. For "Anything but Chardonnay (ABC)" wine drinkers, don't pass on Chatham's Church Creek Steel Chardonnay. This bright, stainless steel-aged, unoaked Chardonnay is a wonderful expression of the Eastern Shore and was voted Eastern Virginia's best white in the Virginia Wine Lover's Second Annual Best Of Readers' Choice Awards.

James River Cellars is located in the Richmond suburb of Glen Allen. Visitors can enjoy the hilltop views and award winning Petit Verdot from the winery's balcony or relax on the beautiful and spacious patio.

History & Wine South

The Charlottesville area in south-central Virginia contains some of the state's best attractions and most-acclaimed wineries. Charlottesville, a city frequented by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe, is rich with activities, from shopping and antiquing, to exploring the outdoors through trails like the Rivanna Trail, to taking in a nightlife filled with local beer, wine, and a plethora of cuisine. Charlottesville is also home to the University of Virginia whose original grounds were designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Located less than a mile southeast of Charlottesville is Thomas Jefferson's preserved home at Monticello. The estate presents a fascinating look at an American life: From drafting the Declaration of Independence, to his presidency, to his daily reality and controversial relationship to slavery, the many faces of Jefferson are here for a modern audience to experience and explore.

Three miles south of Monticello is Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe. Following Jefferson's encouragement to move to the area to create a "society to our taste," President Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, moved to the Charlottesville area and resided in the property from 1799 to 1823. The College of William and Mary operates the property which provides visitors an educational glimpse of nineteenth-century life.

Four of Virginia's most acclaimed wineries are located east of Charlottesville. Blenheim Vineyards, which counts music star Dave Matthews as an owner, is known for its exceptional Viognier. The Blenheim facility consists of a beautiful timber-framed structure with large exterior windows and a paneled glass floor providing views of the winery below the tasting room. Visitors can also enjoy winemaker Kirsty Harmon's full range of wines on the patio overlooking the vineyards.

Next door to Blenheim is Trump Vineyards. Formerly known as Kluge Vineyards, the winery and extensive vineyards were purchased by Donald Trump in 2011. Visitors can experience Trump's specialty foods and wines, including their highly-acclaimed Sparkling wines and Red Bordeaux blends, during the winery's first-class tasting experience.

Jefferson Vineyards, within walking distance to Monticello, sits on land sold by Thomas Jefferson to Filipo Mazzei in a failed attempt to realize Jefferson's dream of producing quality wine in Virginia. The winery's beautiful wood interior is an excellent setting for tasting award-winning examples of Virginia Chardonnay, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc.

A few miles northeast of Monticello sits Keswick Vineyards. The winery, known for producing some of Virginia's best red Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Franc, and Viognier, is located at the historic 400-acre Edgewood Estate in Keswick at the base of the Southwest Mountains. Keswick Vineyards was selected as central Virginia's Best Winery in the 2012 Virginia Wine Lover's Second Annual Best Of Readers' Choice Awards.

The home of America's fourth President, James Madison, is located twenty five miles northeast of Charlottesville. Montpelier provides a rich, historic experience and includes gardens, galleries and numerous hands-on activities.

Three highly-regarded Virginia wineries are located near Montpelier. The first is Barboursville Vineyards. Barboursville Vineyards, established in 1976, produces a wide variety of quality wines to include some of Virginia's best Italian varietals such as Nebbiolo and Barbera. Carve out a little extra time at Barboursville to take the winery tour, it's both fun and educational. Barboursville's exquisite Palladio Restaurant features northern Italian-inspired food paired with Barboursville wines, and guests can complete the package with a stay in Barboursville's romantic 1804 Inn & Cottages.

A short distance from Barboursville Vineyards is Horton Vineyards. Horton Vineyards was founded in 1983 by Dennis Horton and specializes in varieties particularly well-suited for Virginia's warm and humid climate to include Norton, Tannat, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and other premium varieties from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Russia.

Further north, near the town of Madison, is Early Mountain Vineyards. The winery, formerly Sweeley Estate Winery, was purchased by former AOL executives Steve and Jean Case in 2011 and reopened after an extensive remodeling in 2012. In addition to pouring their own highly-regarded wines, Early Mountain Vineyards pours wines from several other Virginia wineries as part of its "Best of Virginia" wine tasting.

Mountains & Wine

Visit the Shenandoah National Park to take in some of the region's most picturesque landscapes. Visitors can enjoy the views from atop the Blue Ridge Mountains while driving along the 105 mile Skyline Drive.

Several of Virginia's best wineries greet travelers as they drive from Charlottesville to Shenandoah National Park's southern entrance. King Family Vineyards provides stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from its expansive lawn and brick patio. The winery was founded in 1998 by Texas natives David and Ellen King and is renowned for its award-winning Chardonnay, Viognier and red Bordeaux blends.

North of King Family Vineyards is white wine specialist, White Hall Vineyards. Visitors can enjoy some of the state's highest rated Viognier, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer while soaking in beautiful views of the estate vineyards and Blue Ridge Mountains.

South of I-64 are Pollack Vineyards and Flying Fox Vineyard. Pollak Vineyards opened in 2003 and is a relative newcomer to the Virginia wine scene. Regardless, the winery has established itself as one of Virginia's leading wineries, and winemaker Benoit Pineau produces some of the state's highest rated Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier.

Another relative newcomer to the Virginia winemaking scene is Flying Fox Vineyard. Although Lynn Davis and Rich Evans had been growing grapes for years, they just recently started producing their own wines. Wine lovers and critics have taken notice, and the winery has quickly established itself as a Viognier and red Bordeaux blend specialist.

While traveling along Skyline Drive, make time for a stop at CrossKeys Vineyards and Shenandoah Vineyards. CrossKeys Vineyards, founded in 2008, is the newest winery on our list. The winery is located in Mount Crawford and features stunning architecture, amazing views and some of Virginia's best Chardonnay.

Farther north along the Skyline Drive is the Shenandoah Valley's oldest winery, Shenandoah Vineyards. The winery was founded in 1976 and makes a wide range of quality wines to include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Riesling from its fifteen acre vineyard.

History & Wine North

Washington, D.C. is unique among American cities, with a flavor all its own. It is a town rich with history, so don't miss out on:
The US Capitol
The White House
The Lincoln Memorial
The Washington Monument
The Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
The National Mall

It boasts some of the nation's most respected museums, such as: 
The United States Holocaust Museum
The Smithsonian Institution (as well as the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum)
The National Gallery of Art
The American Museum of Natural History

And that doesn't even scratch the surface of arts, outdoor activities, and fine dining in the District of Columbia.

Just across the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery is a military burial ground. It's a harrowing destination, but essential for any person trying to understand the American character.

In the same vein, the Manassas National Battlefield commemorates the two Civil war battles, the First and Second Battle of Bull Run, fought near the city of Manassas.

Just outside the DC metro area, Old Town Alexandria boasts a waterfront and other historical attractions. One of the charming features of this area is the pet-friendly atmosphere, including an abundance of dog parks. Dining in this area is great--be sure to stop for brunch at least once!

The history buff will not be able to resist touring George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. History will come alive as you tour Washington's mansion, grounds and gardens. Unfortunately, tours of Washington's wine cellar are only provided on special occasions.

Nearly one hundred wineries are located within a ninety minute drive of Washington D.C. and northern Virginia. Although wine lovers are sure to find something they like at nearly every Virginia winery they visit, there are two clusters of not-to-miss wineries. The first group is located north of Leesburg and consists of Fabbioli Cellars, Sunset Hills, Breaux Vineyards and North Gate Vineyards.

Fabbioli Cellars' owner, Doug Fabbioli, trained in the Finger Lakes and Sonoma County where he was assistant winemaker at Buena Vista Vineyards and worked under the legendary vintner Andre Tschelistcheff. Fabbioli's experience is evident in his wines; Fabbioli makes some of Virginia's best Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux blends using hand-harvested Loudoun County grapes.

Sunset Hills, housed in a remodeled Amish barn, provides mountain views, wine education and a well-balanced dose of history and modernity. Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Chardonnay are the star varietals produced by winemaker and vineyard manager Nate Walsh. The 2010 Sunset Hills Viognier and 2009 Reserve Cabernet Franc were selected as the state's best wines in the Virginia Wine Lover's Second Annual Best Of Readers' Choice Awards. The winery was also selected as Northern Virginia's Best Winery.

North Gate Vineyards' exceptional service and comfortable, LEED-certified tasting room with beautiful vineyard and mountain views, makes for a great place to taste award-winning Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux blends. Mark and Vicki Fedor are the husband and wife team behind this relatively new winery that has only been making wine since 2003.

Breaux Vineyards, one of Virginia's largest winegrowers, is a great last stop. The winery tour is first-class, and winemaker David Pagán Castaño makes some of Virginia's highest rated Viognier. Breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains complete the package.

The second grouping of not-to-miss wineries in the Washington, D.C. area is located west of the city along Highway 50 and I-66. Along Highyway 50, outside the charming town of Middleburg, is Chrysalis Vineyards and Boxwood Winery. Chrysalis Vineyards, owned by Jennifer McCloud, is one of the country's best producers of wines made from the native American grape Norton. As if that weren't enough to set Chrysalis apart, Chrysalis also makes Virginia's highest rated Albarino, a variety rarely found at Virginia wineries.

Boxwood Winery is owned by John Kent Cooke, son of former Washington Redskins owner, Jack Kent Cooke. The new, state-of-the-art winery is architecturally stunning, and Boxwood's three red Bordeaux blends, Boxwood, Topiary and Trellis, all priced at $25 or less, represent some of Virginia's best red Bordeaux blends.

Along I-66 is Pearmund Cellars, Barrel Oak Winery, Linden Vineyards, and Rappahannock Cellars. Pearmund Cellars was established in 1976, and even if the winery didn't produce some of the state's best red Bordeaux blends and Viognier – which it does – it would still be worth a visit to pay tribute to Chris Pearmund and the influence he has had on the Virginia wine scene.

Further west along I-66 is Barrel Oak Winery. Barrel Oak's first vines were planted in 2006, and the winery has already established itself as one of Virginia's top wineries. Barrel Oak produces a wide array of exceptional wines, with its Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc setting the standard. Barrel Oak's spacious tasting room and inviting, stone patio are perfect for both small and large gatherings. The winery was also voted the Best Winery in Northern Virginia in 2012 and 2013 by Northern Virginia Magazine and selected as Wine Enthusiast's #1 Family Friendly Winery!

Linden Vineyards was founded in 1983 on an abandoned farm atop the Blue Ridge Mountains by Virginia wine luminary Jim Law. The winery produces some of Virginia's best Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and red Bordeaux blends. Unlike at many other Virginia wineries, you're not likely to find a large, lively party transpiring at Linden. Linden focuses solely on the wine and strives for "simple, tranquil, and thoughtful."

Located on the historic Glenway Farm, Rappahannock Cellars was founded in 1999 by Santa Cruz expats John and Marialisa Delmare. The winery is a true family affair with nine of the Delmare's twelve children having tended the vineyard - the three youngest children will no doubt follow in their siblings' footsteps. The winery produces exceptional Viognier, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and red Bordeaux blends from its twenty-five acre Rappahannock County vineyard.

Located between Hwy 50 and I-66 is one of Virginia's newest and most intriguing wineries, RdV Vineyards. Rutger de Vink founded RdV in 2009 and spares no expense in pursuit of his goal to make Virginia's best wine. Although his wines are not cheap, $75 a bottle for the 2010 Rendezvous and $95 for the 2010 Lost Mountain, high ratings from critics such as Jancis Robinson attest to their quality. Tastings are available by appointment and include the option for a blind tasting pitting RdV wines against world-class wines from California and Bordeaux.

Although touring Virginia wineries makes for a great vacation, combining wine tasting with visits to Virginia's other top tourist destinations can result in a diverse "Best of Virginia" experience that will excite the entire family. With so many options, the challenge isn't finding a great combination of wine and non-wine activities, it's choosing which one!

Published: July 16, 2013

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