Blue Ridge Wine & Whiskey Loop

I read once that the average American has something like two weeks paid vacation and 52 weekends to travel. The point being there is always time to travel, if that’s your priority. There is a lot of truth to the statement, but who really has that much time to travel? I mean, how many of us can really blow off family, or other “soft obligations” just because we want to travel? I know it would go over like a lead balloon in my house.

So, we need to meld proper motivation, with the opportunities afforded us. In my case, I am blessed to work for a company that offers summer Fridays. We get one a month and, assuming I have no client obligations, and my work is covered, I get to enjoy a long weekend.

This past weekend was my last summer Friday for 2013, and so I decided to do something inspired to celebrate it. In June, my summer Friday was part of cycling with my Dad, July we had to retake the house (there is only so much dog hair you can live with) so I was hell-bent on doing something fun in August.

It’s been a long time daydream to visit Virginia Wineries. I know the wines can’t (at this point) hold a candle to Italy, South Africa, or CA but who cares? I’ve always wanted to do this since I moved here. After a little research, Mr. Os and I settled on the Blue Ridge Whiskey and Wine Loop. The “loop” consists of eight wineries and one whiskey distillery. I figured, why just do one? Eight examples of the grape (avg. eight samples per winery) would give me a good perspective on the state of wine in Virginia, or, at least one region of the beautiful state. Why not take advantage of the summer Friday and do the entire loop over two days? Without a satisfactory answer for why not, we decided to pack up the husky, dachshund and an overnight bag, and hit the trail. Or, the loop.

We started at Glen Manor Vineyards, outside of Front Royal, VA. Door to door, it was less than two hours at a leisurely pace. The vineyard, established in 1995, initially specialized in Sauvignon Blanc and four red Bordeaux varieties of wine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Additional acres were added in 2006, and 2008, to accommodate more vines and varieties.

We were greeted by Jorge and told they would be happy to do our tasting outside so our two fur babies could get out of the car. They’ve got one of the more impressive/expansive views, and plenty of comfortable outdoor seating overlooking the vineyards. Our tasting menu consisted of a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Cabernet Franc, 2011 Vin Rouge and 2012 Petit Manseng. The Petit Manseng, although refreshing, was too sweet for me. Mr Os liked the Viognier the most here. The vintners were most proud of their 2010 Hodder Hill, and another friendly DC couple who made this an occasional weekend destination spoke highly of it. If you ask really, really nicely, you can get a full bottle now, although they prefer to sell the smaller half bottles. In September they will start selling full bottles and the couple we highly recommended we snap one up. We did, but won’t be able to taste it until September.

Our gorgeous view while enjoying a wine tasting at Glen Manor Vineyards
Our gorgeous view while enjoying a wine tasting at Glen Manor Vineyards

The tasting fee for Glen Manor was $5 (it varies depending on how many wines are offered). And folks, when you go on VA winery tours, be prepared to pay $5-$8 for a tasting per winery. Before you get bent out of shape, you need to know that these wineries were dealing with party vans of folks who were not interested in buying even a bottle. And, let’s face it, they’re in business to move grapes. Perhaps that’s one reason why many vineyards do not accommodate limos or groups larger than six. Glen Manor does not, for example, nor do they provide food. Regrettably, few places did offer food. There’s a huge biz opportunity here, for the right entrepreneur. That said, at many places you’re invited to bring your own picnic and enjoy the view—which I have to say (if properly prepared) could actually be an *even better experience!*

Our next stop was Sharp Rock Vineyards. Wow, it’s on our short list if we decide to return. Actually, we did this without dogs (they were dropped off at the hotel). That said, Sharp Rock was extremely friendly. The charming tasting room is nestled in the foot of Old Rag Mountain and is a really gorgeous property. In addition to being a vineyard, they also rent cottages (no pets, we asked).The tasting room is in a renovated old barn and was by far the most laid back vineyard we visited on our first day.

Yep, this old barn is home to an amazing Rose wine. Enter and enjoy!
Yep, this old barn is home to an amazing Rose wine. Enter and enjoy!

Our host, Jim, was the vintner, owner and really into wine. And you got a real sense of pride about the awards Jim’s won, but more than any other winery we visited he exhibited the most enthusiasm about what he was producing. Clearly, Jim takes a lot of pride in creating award winning wines, and that’s why his vines are destined for greatness. Of those we tried, there was one that screamed out above the rest. The Rose was absolutely amazing and both Mr. Os and my head popped up immediately as we tasted his 2012, made of 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon. It was light, refreshing and approachable for my/the average palate. In American Bandstand terms, I’d say this was definitely something you could easily “dance to,” which is a primary way I’d rate wines.

The  great wines sampled at Sharp Rock Vineyards
The great wines sampled at Sharp Rock Vineyards

As you know, i’m no oenophile but I’m pretty sure this isn’t common terminology.Whatever. It was fan-tastic, with an extra syllable just thrown in for its yummy nature. In fact, it was so good that we took home two bottles and look forward to making them part of one of this year’s Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving feast. For the record, it’s Mr. Os’s favorite holiday, so we celebrate T-Day over any number of weeks, with sides and wines galore. Anyway, the tasting fee at Sharp Rock is $5; light food is available to enjoy with a bottle outside the tasting room. Sausage/cheese/baguettes were in a cooler, we didn’t take advantage of those…next time we would. He was one of the more talkative and interesting people who did our tasting, but any time you have the vintner doing the tasting, you’re dealing with a pro, and someone who will help you understand what and how to appreciate one of the most popular pastimes in humankind.

Our final stop for the day was DuCard Vineyards. Wow, this place is also stunning. This was our favorite of the day, although who knows if it was timing and the mellow of previous vineyards, or the beautiful time of day that made everything perfect and ideal—as everything always seems to be at most vineyards, or breweries for that matter! I’d say the views at DuCard are rivaled only by appeal of its fantastic staff.

The views from DuCard Vineyards are fantastic. We can't wait to go back and enjoy a late lunch.
The views from DuCard Vineyards are fantastic. We can’t wait to go back and enjoy a late lunch.

 

The wine tasting menu is extensive here and included 10 wines, by my count (again, average was eight). I’m partial to reds. DuCard did not disappoint. While the wines are only beginning to approach comparison to established areas (South Africa, Italy; not yet CA/France) many VA red’s are good enough to stand on their own. My personal favorite on this tour was DuCard’s Petit Verdot. It fit as well as a pair of Prada’s. That said, we decided on buying a few bottles of the “Virginia Native Norton,” which is a native varietal, as the name suggests. We decided to lay them down to pair with our upcoming Thanksgiving Turkey, which, if it isn’t another Popeye’s special order again…will be…a Christmas miracle. But, I digress.

The tasting menu at DuCard Vineyards was extensive (and quite good)!
The tasting menu at DuCard Vineyards was extensive (and quite good)!

The tasting fee at DuCard is $6, and is refunded if you purchase two or more bottles of wine. This was one of the few places that offered that incentive, which is easy enough to take advantage of, so do! The other bottle we purchased was the commemorative 2nd Corps., part of the 150th “sesquicentennial” anniversary of the start of the Civil War in Virginia. A Viognier-based blend, in old-style bottle and label, clearly I’m a sucker for packaging. Luckily, in this case what’s packaged is easy on the lips, tongue and taste buds.

Light food is available to enjoy on the premise. We saw three different groups of people having a picnic outside and can’t wait to do the same. DuCard is also pet friendly in its tasting room, if your dogs are well behaved! The little ones would have enjoyed it we just enjoyed the view (which matches the logo).

At the end of the day, we visited three wineries. Our personal favorite was DuCard. I loved the overall vibe and the knowledgeable staff. Although Sharp Rock a very close second, is unique and really defies comparison.

Author: Judi Kennedy

Wanderlust. A professional aunt, fitness enthusiast, dog owner and avid reader the rest of the time.

2 thoughts on “Blue Ridge Wine & Whiskey Loop”

  1. Thanks for your travelogue / review. Hope the Norton went well with the planned Thanksgiving turkey (and that it wasn’t Popeye’s instead – though that’s actually not a bad pairing on a picnic afternoon or whatever). We sold out of that 2011 vintage Norton (happens with most of our vines, as it’s all small lot, hand crafted etc, but have just bottled the new 2012, which will be released in about a month. Y’all come back by bike or car and we’ll be ready for you. Sincerely, Scott (owner of DuCard)

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