I love wine. I owe much of my love for the special grape juice to my Italian upbringing and the fact that my parents are self-proclaimed experts at finding great wine for relatively cheap and then stockpiling it by the case in our pantry so that we always have a bottle to go with dinner.
It’s safe to say, then, that I’m a pretty good authority on vino, and since I am lucky enough to live within a 90-minute drive to a wealth of vineyards nestled in gorgeous hills, I visit as often as possible to brush up on my skills. I’m not going to bore you with what kind of musk a red has on the palate (I mean, seriously, some of those professional reviews… I don’t want to drink something described as “barnyard”) but I will provide some info on wine tasting in Northern Virginia and highlight my favorite vineyards.
I’ve visited the Loudoun County Wine Trail in Northern Virginia many times, from spring to fall. I have my favorite wineries that I usually start with, and then always ask the tasting hostess where we should try next to find new gems. So far, I’ve made good progress through the Purcellville, Hillsboro, and Leesburg areas.
The best part about the vineyards is how close they all are to one another. If you start your day around 11am, you’ll be able to hit 3 or 4 vineyards with plenty of time for a tasting and a glass or bottle at each before they start to close around 5pm! While it’s polite to purchase a bottle at each vineyard you visit, sometimes I just don’t care for any of the wines I’ve tried to want an entire bottle of it. There’s almost always one that I enjoyed during the tasting, so I’ll get a glass to enjoy on the grounds. Most vineyards offer indoor and outdoor seating and picnic space to lounge, relax, and enjoy wine and the great scenery.
Tastings at the NoVA vineyards are usually between $6 and $10, and offer anywhere from 4 to 10 wines to sample. A sommelier will pour each tasting and explain the wine, answering any questions you have. They’re generally really knowledgeable about each type, the wine making process, and how the grapes are grown. Not all of the NoVA vineyards grow their grapes on site, but they can often tell you where they grow their grapes locally.
Most of the wineries allow you to bring bottles of water and picnic food to enjoy on the premises, but alcohol must be purchased from the winery (wine only, obviously) and if a bottle is opened it must be consumed on the grounds. (Of course, you can purchase bottles to take home with you, as well). Most times I’ve gone, I stop at Whole Foods on the way and bring a bag of cheeses, breads, crackers, olives, and chocolate to enjoy with my wine.
Alright, so, without further ado, here’s a list of all of the NoVA wineries I’ve visited and my brief feelings on each:
- Crushed Cellars: I visited Crushed as the last stop on my birthday vineyard tour this past February. A tasting was $10 for four wines, and while at first I was disappointed by that, the wine maker poured our tasting and they were generous glasses. Each time we would comment that we liked a particular wine, we would be given a complimentary glass on the spot. The tasting room is small and fills up quickly, so it’s not good for groups, but they do provide snacky bites to nibble on.
- Stone Tower Winery: This is a relatively newer winery in the area, but the decor is some of my favorite. It’s very shabby-chic, indoor-outdoor, making it the perfect setting to enjoy a warm spring or cool fall day. They also host events, and I’ve attended Yoga on the Vineyard (a free yoga session) with girlfriends to start our wine tasting trip. This would be a great winery for groups.
- Breaux Vineyards: This was the first winery I visited (I took my parents on a trip on a Saturday afternoon) and while I loved it the first time I visited, I had mixed feelings the second time I went back. I loved the wine the first time (and brought bottles home with me), and then the next season, didn’t taste a single one I wanted to have again. The grounds are beautiful and spacious, though.
- 8 Chains North: This is one of my favorite wineries for groups. The inside is cozy yet spacious (girlfriends and I camped out in front of the fire place for a couple of hours with bottles of wine and lots of cheese) and the wine is delicious. The attendees were super knowledgeable about the entire wine-making process, right down to how much it costs to make a wine barrel (hint, it’s more than I could afford). My favorite wine is one of their partner bottles, called Guggenheim Red.
- North Gate Vineyard: This green-initiative vineyard is one of the smaller ones in the area. It has a less-cozy feel to it (actually reminded me more of a model home) so I didn’t end up staying for very long after my tasting… it just wasn’t a place I wanted to snuggle in and get tipsy.
- Hillsborough Vineyards: I didn’t spend a substantial amount of time at this vineyard when I visited since it was the end of the trip and they were closing up soon. The grounds were pet-friendly and had ample place to sit and relax, though, and the tasting bar inside is spacious.
- Sunset Hills: Another great vineyard for groups, I had a picnic lunch with girlfriends on their wrap-around deck. The inside area is multi-level and they sometimes have local jam and spread makers showcasing goodies for sample and purchase. Inside reminds me of a log cabin.
- Loudoun Valley Vineyards: This has become one of my favorite vineyards in the area. It’s smaller and the staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. It was one of the only vineyards that I’ve ever liked nearly every single wine on the tasting (and it was an 8-wine tasting, woohoo!).
- Doukenie Winery: One of the best-rated vineyards in the area on Yelp, I ended up walking right in and right out of this one. When I visited, it was extremely crowded and the attendees didn’t seem to pay new visitors any attention. It probably deserves a second chance on a slower day, but I always end up looking for the smaller, more relaxing vineyards on my trips instead.
And, as a bonus:
- Bloomery Plantation SweetShine: Open much later than the rest of the vineyards, and over the border into West Virginia, the Bloomery Plantation is my favorite post-winery stop. The shack-like tasting room and campsite-esque grounds offer free limoncello moonshine tastings! During warmer months, they offer live music, smore’s kits for purchase, and an outdoor bar serving up spiked hot chocolate and mixed cocktails using their SweetShine. It’s family owned and operated on an old plantation grounds, and the personalities make the small space engaging and fun. It’s a little different and a lot of fun, and totally worth the cross-border trip.
Remember, don’t drink and drive! For me, 90 minutes each way means day-trip status, but my group always makes sure to have someone ease off the tastings and be safe to drive home.