If you love the idea of wandering through vineyards with a glass of the local wine in hand while surrounded by tranquil rolling hills, then the Virginia wine country will make a fantastic weekend trip from Washington, D.C.
After many failed early attempts — famously including those of the Monticello estate’s original resident, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States — Virginia has grown tremendously in the past few decades as a producer of fine wine. The wines produced here typically have more in common with European wines than their New World cousins from California or the Southern Hemisphere. Bordeaux varietals, particularly cabernet franc, have proven most successful for red wines, so far, though some unusual grapes such as tannat and toriga are showing promise. The Rhône varietal viognier makes the most famous white wine from Virginia, and Horton Vineyard’s version is justly renowned.
You’ll want to give yourself several days to experience the full array of wines and wineries that surround the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia, the anchor of the state’s Monticello wine region. You could drive there from Washington, D.C., in about two and a half hours, but then you would rob yourself of the opportunity to experience the beautiful mountain views of Shenandoah National Park. So instead, take a detour to the Thornton Gap entrance of the park and head south on Skyline Drive.
One of the classic scenic motor routes on the USA’s East Coast, Skyline Drive offers many opportunities to pull over, stretch your legs and take in the dramatic views from the 170-kilometer mountain ridge road that runs through the park. The park is a gorgeous setting for all sorts of outdoor recreation including hiking, rock climbing, fishing, camping and even horseback riding.
Skyline Drive is not en route from Washington, D.C., to Charlottesville, but those who take this detour are rewarded with spectacular views of Shenandoah National Park.
The Monticello Wine Region
The Monticello wine region hugs the eastern border of the Shenandoah National Park — as soon as you exit the park, the vines beckon.
Charlottesville makes a great starting point for a tour of the Monticello Wine Trail, which will lead you to some of the area’s most renowned vineyards. All the wineries on the trail are open to visitors and have tasting rooms, and many also feature charming restaurants where you can sample locally sourced cuisine.
Jefferson Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards — two pioneers that boast both excellent wine and historical roots going back to the first attempts at vine growing in the region — should be on anyone’s short list. Additionally, plan to pay a visit to Blenheim Vineyards, owned by rocker Dave Matthews, and the Trump Winery, owned by Donald Trump. And if you’d like to enjoy your glass of wine in comfort, plan on spending a few hours at the Veritas Vineyard about 40 kilometers west of Charlottesville, which offers sit-down tastings and gorgeous grounds.
Before you begin your tour of the region’s wineries, download a Monticello Wine Trail brochure or pick one up from the Charlottesville Downtown Visitors Center. You can also reserve a variety of guided winery tours to allow you to sample the region’s wines without having to worry about driving.
Should you need a break from wine tasting, consider visiting some of the many orchards and farms surrounding Charlottesville. You can pick up a bottle of cider, some fresh cheese and fruit and enjoy a picnic, with the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains as your backdrop. Or schedule some time to wander the grounds of Monticello, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site to honor the symbolic and architectural significance of the home that President Jefferson so lovingly designed.
The Monticello estate, former home of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend a morning touring the beautiful mansion and gardens.