Virginia is home to seven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), which distinguish a group of wineries based on shared geography, geology, climate and soil:
- George Washington Birthplace AVA, located in the Northern Neck region
- Middleburg AVA, in and around the town of Middleburg
- Monticello AVA, the largest in terms of the number of wineries
- North Fork of Roanoke AVA
- Rocky Knob AVA, in the southwestern part of the state
- Shenandoah Valley AVA
- Eastern Shore AVA
To include an AVA name on a wine label (i.e. – Monticello AVA), at least 85% of the grapes must be from that particular AVA.
While there are benefits for wineries located in an AVA — communicating geographic pedigree to consumers and benefiting from joint marketing efforts — a number of Virginia’s notable wineries are not located in AVAs or on the busy wine trails.
Following are just a few Virginia wineries that reward wine travelers who venture off the main wine routes.
— RICHMOND AREA—
Blue Bee Cider—Richmond
Virginia’s first urban cidery, Blue Bee Cider, is located in the historic Scott’s Addition district in the northwest part of Richmond. Founded in 2012, and originally located in the Manchester neighborhood of the city, Blue Bee celebrated their relocation to the Scott’s Addition area and grand opening of the new cidery and tasting room in mid-October. Named after a native Virginia bee, Ostia lignaria (known as the Blue Orchard Bee), Blue Bee Cider is housed in what used to be the former city-owned stables. Founder and cidermaker Courtney Mailey offers a range of ciders made from heirloom and rare apple varieties including: the dry, traditional-style Charred Ordinary; a hop infused cider called Hopsap Shandy; to the Rocky Ridge Reserve aged in fruit brandy barrels; and the sweet Harvest Ration dessert cider. After enjoying some of the finest craft ciders in the state, visitors are within walking distance of several breweries, a meadery, and a distillery.
Upper Shirley Vineyards—Charles City
Just 20 minutes south of downtown Richmond, just off Route 5 in Charles City, sits one of the state’s newest wine and food destinations – Upper Shirley Vineyards. Noted Charlottesville-based winemaker and viticulture consultant, Michael Shaps, is a partner in the ambitious operation that officially opened earlier this year. Upper Shirley boasts a full-service restaurant, sixteen acres of vines planted to Merlot, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and Tannat, and views of the James River. Visitors can taste seven to eleven Upper Shirley wines at the tasting bar with views of the James River and Turkey Island in the distance, and then enjoy a lunch prepared by Executive Chef Carlisle Bannister. The menu includes chicken & waffles, oyster stew, charcuterie, shrimp & grits, and salads. The tasting room and restaurant offer cyclists a break on the Virginia Capital Trail, a bike and running trail that stretches 55-miles from Richmond down to Jamestown and Williamsburg (removing cycling clip-ins/cleats before entering is recommended).
Hampton Roads Winery—Surry
About 45 minutes southeast of Upper Shirley, in Surry County, the family-owned Hampton Roads Winery is another relative newcomer to the Virginia wine scene. The initial vineyards were planted in 2008 and the tasting room officially opened in April 2016. In addition to offering wines made from estate-grown Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, Hampton Roads Winery boasts the world’s largest ‘goat tower’ (at 35 feet in height).
— SOUTHERN VIRGINIA —
Rosemont Vineyards—La Crosse
Located between interstates 95 and 85 on the north side of Lake Gaston, in the small town of La Crosse, near the Virginia-North Carolina border, sits Rosemont Vineyards. The 450 acre Rosemont Estate has been in the Rose Family since 1858. The initial planting of 22 acres (to 12 varieties) was planted on the Rosemont farm in 2003. Winemaker Justin Rose crafts Rosemont wines from 100% estate-grown fruit, showcasing the potential of southern, Virginia as a serious grape growing region. The tasting room offers an art gallery featuring paintings from local artists and a welcoming fireplace to relax with a glass of wine. Ask for a tour of the four-level, gravity-flow winery. Don’t miss the Cabernet Franc, Traminette, Syrah (one of the best in the state and beyond) and their flagship wine, the Kilravock, a red Bordeaux-style blend named for a castle in Scotland that can be traced to the Rose family. Rosemont is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts visiting the Lake Gaston area or passing through Virginia’s north-south interstates.
Located in Amherst, VA, about an hour southwest of the Monticello AVA, Ankida Ridge is one of the most special places in Virginia wine country. Situated on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains at 1,450 in elevation, the Ankida Ridge property was purchased in 1999 by Dr. Dennis and Christine Vrooman as a future retirement retreat for their family with no intention of becoming one of the region’s most prominent vineyards. In 2005, the Vrooman’s decided to use extra land that was cleared to plant a vineyard. The initial vineyard was two acres, a half acre planted to Chardonnay and the rest planted to Pinot Noir. The Vroomans recently cleared a new vineyard site at 1,800 feet elevation, that will include another 3.5 acres of Pinot and half an acre of Chardonnay. A must visit for wine enthusiasts wandering off the main routes, especially those in search of a place to unplug and recharge.
— NORTHWESTERN VIRGINIA —
Glen Manor Vineyards—Front Royal
About 10 miles west of Chester Gap, across Skyline Drive, on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, sits one of Virginia’s most notable vineyards. Glen Manor Vineyards is on the northeast boundary of the Shenandoah Valley AVA, but is not located in a cluster of other wineries in the AVA. Winegrower Jeff White’s great-grandfather purchased the 212-acre property in 1901, which has been used to raise livestock and grow a variety of crops like apples and peaches. The original six-acre vineyard at Glen Manor was planted in 1995. Today, White farms 14.5 acres of grape vineyards to make world-class ‘wines with a sense of place.’ On any given day, visitors are likely to find White or his wife Kelly sharing their wines in the tasting room. Visitors should plan to spend some time tasting, talking with Jeff or Kelly, and enjoying a bottle of the award-winning Hodder Hill red blend while relaxing in the adirondack chairs on the lawn adjacent to the tasting room.
Chester Gap Cellars—Front Royal
Located on the Northern tip of Rappahannock County near the town of Front Royal, Chester Gap Cellars offers some of the most beautiful views and finest wines in the region. Here, visitors will find world-class Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot (and a couple blends) made from estate-grown grapes. The tasting room patio, at 1,000 feet elevation, offers a great place to relax with friends while taking in spectacular views. Be sure to try the Roussanne to pair with the views.
Nine miles east of Chester Gap Cellars, in the town of Linden sits one of the most renowned vineyards in the eastern U.S. – Linden Vineyards. Winegrower Jim Law purchased the Linden property, then an abandoned hardscrabble farm, in 1983. Law planted the first vineyard on the farm in 1985. Today, Law farms 18 acres at Linden’s estate-vineyard, Hardscrabble (he also sources grapes from the five acre Boisseau Vineyard and the five acres at the Avenius vineyard a few miles away) to make his world-class, thoughtful wines. Visitors interested in learning more about Law’s winegrowing philosophy should take the reserve tasting, which feature his single-vineyard wines and older vintages ($25). The reserve tasting is only available on weekends. A must-visit for any wine enthusiast any where near the town of Linden.
Like Chester Gap and Glen Manor, Linden is about the wine, not weddings or large group events. Here, wine enthusiasts will find a intimate wine-focused refuge from the large crowds of tasting rooms on the main routes.
— CENTRAL VIRGINIA—
Old House Vineyards Farm Winery and Craft Distillery—Culpeper
Located on the east side of the town of Culpeper, Old House Vineyards is situated on a 75-acre farm that was an abandoned alfalfa field when the Kearney family purchased the property in the late 90’s. The historic centerpiece of the property is a 19th century farmhouse that has been renovated and now serves as the winery tasting room. Today, noted winemaker Andy Reagan is crafting exceptional wines from 25 acres planted on the property (Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Vidal Blanc). Unique to Old House is a craft distillery offering vodka distilled from grapes, rum and their own version of tequila. Old House allows guests to bring their fishing poles to take advantage of the stocked lake on property (catch and release only). Be sure to enjoy a bottle of Bacchanalia, Old House’s flagship red blend, on the expansive back patio.
What are your favorite wineries or cideries off the main wine routes?
A Virginia native, Frank Morgan works in the Legal and Data Privacy group of a global company by day. He is the author of the DrinkWhatYouLike.com wine blog, started seven years ago to chronicle his wine travel experiences and to share stories of the wines, wineries, and winegrowers of Virginia. His site was recently named one of the top wine news blogs by Millesima. Morgan is also a contributor for edibleDC magazine, the wine site Snooth, founder of the monthly virtual wine tasting series Virginia Wine Chat (started in 2013), and is the associate editor of Virginia Wine Lover Magazine, the only print magazine dedicated to the state’s wine industry.
When not writing to raise awareness of the local wine industry or taking Wine & Spirit Education Trust classes, he can be found playing at the park with his daughter or reading his way through every published work of David Foster Wallace. He lives in the Tidewater area.