The second day of our Blue Ridge Whiskey and Wine Loop began at about 8:00 a.m., on an overcast gun-metal gray day. Mr. Os started the day off right with coffee (albeit mediocre). I took a 9:00 a.m. detour to Luray Caverns, while he took care of Crash and Sophie. Then it was off to Gadino Cellars, whose staff (and wines) set a high bar for the rest of the wineries we visited.
After literally driving over a winding mountain road and some beautiful scenery (strikingly reminiscent to the foot alps surrounding Vienna, Austria) we took a right off 211 onto School House Road. Driving down, we thought at first we’d made a wrong turn because it looked like we were driving into a school. Instead, we passed around behind it, down a small dirt road, looped to the right and drove into a parking area. Based on the service and quality of wine, I wonder how long it will be before they need more parking.
We were greeted by a lovely staff who immediately engaged us in conversation. When the owner heard our dogs were in the car, he generously offered to put his lab in the back room so ours could come into the tasting room. After Mr. Os got them settled, Emily took fantastic care of us. Of all the wineries we visited, she was the only individual who asked us about our taste preferences, and what we liked in a wine. More importantly, she worked all of this back into the tasting; great salesmanship as well as also just being a nice touch. As a side note, there were occasional tip jars—whenever we saw these, we made use of them. These are hardworking, knowledgeable people who shape the reality of your experience, so pay it forward, I say.
The tasting at Gadino is $6 and currently includes seven different wines. I’m not a Chardonnay person. I find the Chardonnay’s most people serve to be overly buttery. So *as a non-Chardonnay lover* this was the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. It had hints of citrus and apple but without that horrible, too buttery taste that I loathe (but Mr. Os likes).
We followed the Chardonnay with a 2012 Luminoso (Petit Mensang & Vidal Blanc), 2011 Sunset (Traminette & Seyval Blanc) that would go fabulously with a stinky cheese, before shifting to the reds. Starting with a 2011 Moonrise Rose, it was followed by a 2011 Cabernet Franc, probably the most popular of the red varietals among Virginia Wineries (Viognier among the whites), then the Nebbiolo, a bold red awarded the VA Governor’s Medal (Silver). It’s an Italian Piedmont, and was fantastic! That said, we opted for the Cabernet Franc. Although 2011 was abysmally bad weather for Cab Franc in Virginia, Gadino Cellars was one of the few wineries that made a successful (award winning) go with the grape. As one friend would say, this bottle is “imminently quaffable.” It could lay for a couple years, unlike most VA wines. Personally, I like that they’re ready to drink now, because we don’t have a wine cellar lifestyle. Oh, and Gadino let us keep our tasting glasses!
After packing the dogs back in the car, we headed to Rappahannock Cellars. Of all the vineyards we visited, this was most “corporate,” which is not to say it wasn’t charming, or welcoming. But it was the most organized…polished, with an eye to profit. Its wines were as well made as the large tasting room was well run. The casually uniformed (black top) staff was well informed and well trained. Upon entering and going to the right there were about twelve prepared tasting places awaiting new guests, each with a tasting menu, two glasses (the only one of the wineries with both red and white glassware) and water to rinse. As a side note: we were told not to rise with water, as it will water down your next wine. If you’re switching from a white to a red, take a wee bit of red, swish around and rise with that.
Aaron was our server (although I fear this is the wrong word—he’s a vintner in training, and also works on the vineyard). He was engaging, but also able to talk compellingly and in immense detail about the vineyard, grapes, the impact the weather was having on the vines. It was fascinating, and he is one of the rare folks able to not only explain, but translate the complex and convey the passion about what makes him love wine making. Ask for Aaron if you go!
The tasting at Rappahannock Cellars consists of eight wines. Of these, the Meritage was my favorite. A red blend (with me, that probably goes without saying) beauty with medium body. It could be pared with game or just enjoyed on its own. Tastings are $8 (TIP: if it’s your first time checking in on FourSquare, you get a free tasting!!). Pets aren’t allowed inside the tasting room but are welcome on the grounds. This one is not to be missed, and although the wines were generally all at the highest price point (about $25 average) these were also some of the most…accessible, or at least broadest taste appeal. They’ve got something for everyone.
Just down the street is Desert Rose Ranch & Winery, about a three-minute drive down a back road. Just a “of interesting note” aside, between Rappahannock and Desert Rose Ranch you’ll see the now defunct Oasis winery. Its owner is the infamous Tareq Salahi, one of the White House crashers of a couple of years ago—sadly, this was one of the preeminent wineries in the state. Now, it’s in a state of ruin.
But drive on, and you’ll come to the most fun winery on the loop. Desert Rose Ranch wins the “Congeniality” award. While the wines here are newer, in about two years they will grow into their own (so to speak). Interestingly, Desert Rose was the only vineyard on the loop that produced a pure Merlot and Cab Franc, others were blended. Well-behaved dogs are welcome inside the tasting room, which has a part-time mascot dachshund named Gigi. We decided on the Cabernet Franc, which was the only one we tried that wasn’t a blend, but in fairness, it was also a 2010—not the afore mentioned problematic 2011.
Our final stop of the day was Chester Gap Cellars. What a view—even if they had a mediocre wine (and they don’t), the view would make it all worth it. Instead, Chester Gap had two of Mr. Os’s favorite Viogner’s—and two of the best priced! Tastings are $7 and waived with a bottle purchase (again, one of the few that offers that great deal). My grandmother was a huge fan of Merlot and Chester Gap had one that we know she would absolutely have loved. In her honor, we purchased a bottle and I actually enjoyed a glass while writing. I should say neither Mr. Os or I are necessarily fans of the varietal, so I’m not sure if that says this is really terrific for Merlot lovers, or they’d be disappointed. All I can say is, it’s a very enjoyable and drinkable wine. And the people were super nice although by this time the dogs were getting stir crazy and so I unfortunately missed writing down their names.
This vineyard sits on top of a hill and has the most gorgeous and expansive views. Like DuCard, I would happily return here to sit on their porch, enjoy some wine and bring a picnic. They don’t serve food, four tables picnic tables to enjoy the views.