Mountains and Merlots
The view from Shenandoah Vineyards. This vista is part of the wine-tasting experience at the winery.
Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry has reached the point of critical mass and critical acclaim. Toss in the Shenandoah Valley’s offerings in the realms of scenic beauty, antiquing, fine inns and B&Bs, and you begin to whet the palate for a wonderful getaway.
Warmer weather makes for a great time to undertake a weekend ramble through western Virginia’s wine country. A number of wineries in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia encourage visitors by offering tours and opportunities to sample their wines. Lodging, dining, antiquing and wining opportunities abound and the Blue Ridge Mountain views are an added bonus.
A three-day weekend jaunt is perfect for a leisurely visit to three wineries. This itinerary includes one winery a day, tours of each, chats with the wine staff, and perhaps lunch with the house wines. Additional stops of particular interest along the way are also listed.
All three wineries in this itinerary are small-scale, family-run operations that are little known outside of Virginia. But they are working hard to change that. Despite limited marketing budgets their wines are slowly gaining increased attention primarily by, well, word of mouth.
The itinerary begins in Berryville with one of the newest wineries in the Shenandoah Valley, follows a southerly route and ends with the valley’s oldest winery in Edinburg.
Day One – Veramar Vineyards
Veramar opened for business in May 2001. A 100-acre estate located near the Shenandoah River just east of Berryville boasts a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Veramar’s owners, James and Della Bogaty, were initially attracted to the property because of the view and only later started the winery.
“Jim’s family operates a winery in the ‘old country’ of Slovenia, so it seemed a natural,” says Della Bogaty.
The vineyard hosts a number of events throughout the year, including a wine and gourmet cheese tasting, summer dinner theaters with wine, get-togethers for singles and summer evening concerts. Veramar also hosts private functions, business seminars, weddings and receptions. Despite this active program, Della Bogaty emphasizes “this is a family run business and we want to stay small scale.” Their son, Justin, has recently joined them and assumed responsibility for day-to-day operations.
Veramar offers a full range of the estate’s wines in the small but pleasant tasting room in the Tuscan-style winery. Adjoining the tasting room is a large patio with a half-dozen umbrella-covered tables. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own picnic lunch and sit on the patio.
Directions: From Berryville, head east on Va. 7. After approximately one mile, turn right on Va. 612 (Quarry Road). The winery is a short distance on the left. Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday-Monday. 540/955-5510; www.veramar.com.
Leaving Berryville, take U.S. 340 (a.k.a. Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway) south for approximately 4 miles and then left onto Va. 255 toward the small, historic town of Millwood. The route is steeped in colonial and Revolutionary and Civil war history. Don’t miss:
• Old Chapel and cemetery. This limestone chapel dates from 1789 and its parishioners included some of the most famous names in Virginia’s history. Shrouded by graceful, old fir trees and enclosed within a high stone wall, the chapel’s picturesque cemetery contains a prominent gathering of graves. At the intersection of U.S. 340 and Va. 255.
• The Burwell-Morgan Mill. Millwood’s imposing water-powered mill was built in 1782 and features a wooden 20-foot-diameter interior water wheel that turns two pair of grindstones, one for corn and the other for wheat. Open Thursday to Sunday, May through October. 540/837-1799.
• Locke Modern Country Store. Across the street from the mill is an updated country store with wines, cheeses, sandwiches, pastries, and various hot and cold salads and soups. 540/837-1275.
• Malcolm Magruder American Antiques. This rustic building, located next door to the mill, is a treasure house of art, clocks, glass and china. A sign notes that it is “open by chance or appointment.” 540/837-2438.
• Long Branch. This historic mansion, constructed on classic principles proposed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, has been restored to its early grandeur and furnished with period pieces. Open for guided tours on weekends only, April through October. 540/837-1856; www.historiclongbranch.com.
From Millwood, head west on Va. 723, turn left (south) on U.S. 340 in Boyce toward White Post. Two miles past White Post, at the U.S. 522/340 intersection, take Va. 277 to Stephens City. In Stephens City, turn left (south) on U.S. 11. Along the way, don’t miss:
• The General Store Antiques of Boyce. If you only have time to stop at one antique shop, make it this one. The engaging proprietor, Emile Borel, imports antiques from the south of France as well as Spain and Italy. In Boyce. 540/837-9199.
• State Arboretum of Virginia at Blandy Farm. The 175-acre arboretum features native trees and shrubs and their exotic relatives. Self-guided walking tours are available as well as a self-directed 3-mile drive around the Blandy experimental farm that includes wetlands, meadows and woodlands. From U.S. 340, turn left (east) on U.S. 50. The arboretum entrance is approximately 2 miles on the right. 540/837-1758; www.virginia.edu/blandy.
• Dinosaur Land. While the three large fiberglass dinosaurs in front of the gas station are attention grabbers, behind the gas station are more than 40 additional dinosaur figures in a parkland setting. Sure, it’s kitschy but that’s part of its charm. At the intersection of U.S. 340 and Va. 277. 540/869-2222; www.dinosaurland.com.
Continue south on U.S. 11 to Middletown. Middletown draws many Civil War visitors each year, but there is much of interest here even if you’re not a Civil War buff.
• Wayside Inn. Originally established as a tavern in 1797, it evolved into a stagecoach stop and then an inn catering to travelers on the heavily traveled Old Valley Pike, which today is U.S. 11. The inn has been furnished with 18th-century pieces and its several restaurants serve regional cuisine. 540/869-1797.
• Wayside Theatre. Live performances are held at this tiny theater from June through December. 7853 Main St. 540/869-1776.
• Route 11 Potato Chip Factory. This small factory produces an unusual variety of chips, including sweet potato, carrot, beet and other vegetable-based chips, which you can watch being made from 9 to 5, Monday through Saturday. On Main Street just south of Middletown’s only traffic light. 1-800-294-SPUD; www.rt11.com.
• Belle Grove. Once described as the most splendid building west of the Blue Ridge, this 1797 mansion is a National Historic Landmark. One mile south of Middletown on U.S. 11. For visiting hours as well as special events, call 540/869-2028; www.bellegrove.org.
• Cedar Creek Battlefield. The 158-acre Civil War site has a visitor center and book store on the heights overlooking the battlefield where Confederate General Jubal Early’s troops surprised Union forces on October 19, 1864. 540/869-2064.
From Middletown, continue south on U.S. 11 through Strasburg and Toms Brook where North Mountain Vineyard and Winery, the second winery on our weekend tour, is located.
Day Two – North Mountain Vineyard and Winery
Before visiting the winery you may want to visit Strasburg. Like other valley cities, Strasburg is rich in history. Once known primarily for its fine pottery, Strasburg today is known as the “antique capital of Virginia.” The Strasburg Emporium, a 60,000-square-foot emporium housing some 100 antique dealers with thousands of antiques, is probably the largest antiques facility in Virginia. Though this small town has only two traffic lights, it is home to four museums – the Stonewall Jackson Museum, the Museum of American Presidents, the Strasburg Museum and the Jeane Dixon Museum and Library.
The first view of North Mountain’s winery is articularly arresting. Modeled after a Scandinavian farmhouse, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background, first-time visitors can be excused for thinking that they have somehow been transported from the Shenandoah Valley to northern Europe.
John Jackson, North Mountain Vineyard’s owner, is a busy man. Not only does he manage the 12 acres of vines under production, he also works full-time as a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. Fortunately, Krista and Brad Foster, John’s mother and stepfather, have joined John to assist in the running of the wine enterprise. Brad oversees the vineyard, Krista the marketing and business side while John concentrates on the wine-making.
“My scientific background enabled me to get a foothold in the wine business,” says John Jackson. His objective now is to spend more time on the “artistic side” of making wines. When asked which wine he is most proud of, he allows that while North Mountain’s signature wine is the Chambourcin, the Mountain Sunset, a spicy blend of apple and grape wine, is a local area favorite.
The distinctive winery building has a tasting and sales room on the first floor. A nearby kitchen serves light fare such as cheese, sandwiches and pates. The tasting room opens onto a veranda with tables and chairs that overlook the vineyards with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Visitors can relax and enjoy the vineyard’s wines with the kitchen’s light fare or bring their own picnic lunch. Several picnic tables are also available on the grounds of the vineyard.
A second-floor gallery displays and sells paintings and crafts by local artists. The second floor also is a special events room for weddings, parties or other private gatherings. The production and barrel aging rooms are in the cellar of the building.
Directions: Two miles south of Toms Brook on U.S. 11, turn right (west) on Va. 655 (Harrisville Road) then left (south) onto Va. 652 (Swartz Road). The winery is on the left. Tours and tastings: 11-5, Wednesday-Sunday. 540/436-9463; www.northmountainvineyard.com.
Day Three – Shenandoah Vineyards
The final vineyard stop is Shenandoah Vineyards outside Edinburg, which is only 13 miles south of North Mountain Vineyards.
The Shenandoah Valley wine industry owes much to the efforts of Emma Randel and her late husband, Jim, who co-founded Shenandoah Vineyards in 1976, the first winery in the Shenandoah Valley.
In 1974, when they were scouting around for activities to keep them occupied during their semi-retirement, Emma’s mother gave them an article from a regional magazine on making wines in Virginia.
“And she was a teetotaler,” Emma notes dryly.
Their curiosity piqued, the Randels visited wineries in nearby states and undertook considerable research on the subject and eventually planted their first vines in 1976. Their first bottling was done in the fall of 1978 and they were in business.
Today Emma Randel oversees an operation with 35 acres of grapes producing approximately 12 different grape varieties. The winery is open for visits seven days a week from March through November.
The winery is a renovated two-story red arn dating from the Civil War. The original stone foundation is clearly visible in the first floor, which houses the production and barrel aging rooms. The rustically furnished second floor serves as a combination tasting and sales room. Wine books and other wine-related gifts and various crafts for sale by local artists are displayed in antique hutches and cabinets. After taking a tour and tasting the house wines, take a glass of wine to the small veranda off the tasting room, sit down and enjoy the view of the vineyards and mountains.
At an age when many might be content to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor, Randel can frequently be found on-site, managing operations as well as chatting with visitors. “The best thing about this business is the opportunity to talk to people from around the world,” she says.
Directions: South of Woodstock on U.S. 11, turn right (west) on Stoney Creek Road (Va. 675). Shortly after I-81, turn right on South Ox Road. The vineyard is 1.5 miles on the left. Tours and tasting: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 540/984-8699; www.shentel.net/shenvine.
(From May/June 2005 issue. Please call to verify information.)