February 29, 2016
Virginia’s forested Blue Ridge Mountains lie within the state’s verdant central region, where vineyards grow on its slopes and within the lush foothills. The abundant vines are a reminder of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson’s legacy in envisioning the region as the site of America’s first wines. And now, taking inspiration from this historical significance, the Monticello Wine Trail has been established to bring together and showcase over 30 of the region’s wineries. By travelling south from Richmond to Charlottesville, this trail can easily be embarked upon while stopping by each of the winery’s intimate tasting rooms. Take a look at our Monticello Wine Trail guide to seek out the best this region has to offer.
In the very setting that’s said to be the birthplace of American wine, many of the wineries that exist today reflect these winemaking origins, having been inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s vision to cultivate vines on the slopes surrounding his Monticello home in the 1770s. Along with Filippo Mazzei, Jefferson planted thousands of vines in the region, but these efforts were hampered, first with the arrival of the American Revolution, and in later years – while enlisting the help of Secretary of State Colonel Monroe – due to environmental disease. When his legacy was carried forward in the 1870s, the area became known as the Rhine of America, but this viticulture was once again brought to a close by the 1914 prohibition. It wasn’t until the 1970s that vines were planted again, but since then the wine region’s viticulture has gone from strength to strength.
This has since been taken a step further with the inauguration of the Monticello Wine Trail by the Jeffersonian Wine Grape Grower’s Society, a collaborative that now encompasses a collection of over 30 exceptional wineries, many of which are of international acclaim.
Still cultivating vines that were planted as far back as the “˜70s, Afton Mountain Vineyards is one of the region’s original wineries. And situated on the Blue Ridge Mountain’s southeastern slope, the vineyard offers sweeping views to look out on. Along with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the vintage winery produces Gewurztraminer, and a sparkling wine, which is produced using the Méthode Champenoise. Tastings – on offer Thursday through Monday – include a souvenir wine-tasting glass, and in the summer months the winery hosts a Summer Yoga Series.
Gianni Zohin, whose family has been producing wine in Italy since 1821, established the 900-acre estate Barboursville Vineyards in 1976. Visitors can taste the vineyard’s own vintages in the tasting room each weekend, with charcuterie, cheeses and a food pairing option. The onsite restaurant puts out Italian specialties like saffron risotto and grilled venison with polenta, antipasti like house-cured salmon, and a selection of cheeses that come with house-made jam, local honeys and brioche. A series of culinary feasts take place throughout the season, including an annual truffle dinner, and an evening with morels. The 1804 Inn is set within the estate’s classic Georgian villa.
Family-owned Blenheim Vineyards is a much more recent addition to the region, having been established in 2000. A modern timber-frame tasting room sits amidst fields of Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, with hosted tastings on offer each and every day of the week. DelFosse Vineyards & Winery is one of the most scenic to visit, taking pride in its setting amidst green hills, lush meadows and the Blue Ridge Mountains. But naturally, the wine is the real star here; DelFosse has won many awards for wines made from the 11 varietals cultivated. Visitors can stop by for a tasting Wednesday through Sunday each week.
The historic Early Mountain Vineyards welcomes guests in too, to sample their wine while tucking into local fare – both of which are encompassed within their Best of Virginia initiative – as well as to explore the lush surroundings. The vineyard’s Marketplace menu showcases seasonal produce, which can be eaten in the Tasting Room or out on The Terrace, before picking up a souvenir bottle and artisanal produce from The Market Place. Tours are by appointment and each week they host Fireside Fridays with live music performances.
First Colony Winery also hosts live music events, including their popular Sunday Sounds series, along with other events like barbecues and cooking classes. Tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the thatched winery of First colony is surrounded by lush vineyards and gardens. Wine tastings are on offer throughout the week, with winery tours on weekends. Grace Estate Winery sits on Mount Juliet Farm in Crozet, where the vines grow at altitudes of between 750 and 1,000 feet. Try the estate’s wines in the tasting room, join the Sunday Funday cheese and wine pairing, and perhaps coincide your visit with one of the gastronomic or live music events.
Taking the region’s history into account, a visit to Jefferson Vineyards should be on any wine tasting itinerary. Situated in the spot Thomas Jefferson and Philip Mazzei began their wine revolution, the winery now combines its history with modern viticulture. Try the vineyard’s own wines in the tasting room, sit out on the idyllic Tree Deck, and bring a picnic to enjoy with the wine in the surrounding gardens. Look out for upcoming outdoor concerts on Jefferson Vineyard’s events calendar.
Standing out for its high altitude wines, Stone Mountain Vineyards is located at 1,700 feet above sea level, on the forested mountainside with views across the valley. Sip the award-winning wines on the observation deck or in the winery’s tasting room, and perhaps bring along a picnic to savour the view for longer. On the 1,300-acre Albemarle Estate, meanwhile, the vineyards of Trump Winery are spread across 195 acres, making it Virginia’s largest. With sweeping landscape to enjoy, visitors to the estate can sign up for wine tastings and stay the night at the on-site luxury boutique hotel.
With so many wineries to discover, make sure to leave enough time to drink in both the vintages and valley views.
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Have you travelled along the Monticello Wine Trail? Which wineries did you go to in the Virginia Wine Country? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Lauren Hill