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Virginia wine festivals toast history

Many folks may not know of the region's extensive wineries, but fall festivals and special tastings blend history and great grapes.

Published September 26, 2006

Wine and history are a natural pairing, and the Commonwealth of Virginia is a great place to sample both. Virginia's countryside practically oozes with history and there are more than 110 wineries.

Ranked fifth in the nation in wine production, Virginia has six designated grape-growing regions:

* Monticello (named for Thomas Jefferson's home).

* Northern Neck (George Washington's birthplace).

* Rocky Knob (the Blue Ridge Mountains).

* Shenandoah Valley (dotted with Civil War battlefields).

* Eastern Shore (with Colonial settlements).

* North Fork of the Roanoke River (and Skyline Drive).

Wine was one of Jefferson's indulgences. The third president longed for his native Virginia to lead Colonial America in its production. In 1774, he cultivated vines he had brought from Europe on the hills near his home in Charlottesville.

Although that experiment failed due to root disease, it was the inspiration for Virginia's later viticulture. Today's wine lovers can sample Virginia's satisfying results plus spectacular scenery and the concentrated history that surrounds the wineries.

Consider starting your own wine experiment in and around Charlottesville. The Monticello Wine Trail is the guide to one of the birthplaces of American wine cultivation and winds through the countryside connecting 21 wineries. Most have tours open to the public.

Barboursville Vineyards is a must. It covers land once owned by James Barbour, who was at various times Virginia governor and U.S. senator and ambassador to Great Britain under John Quincy Adams. Barboursville Vineyards was established in 1976, but the land here has been producing wine since 1821.

The brick ruins of Barbour's elegant home that Jefferson designed for his friend decorate the grounds and are the venue for the annual summertime Shakespeare at the Ruins, perfect for picnics - including local wine.

Along with tours, tastings and its wine shop, Barboursville offers the stunning Palladio restaurant, named for Jefferson's favorite architect, and charming accommodations at the 1804 Inn. Fall events include this month's Opera in the Vineyard, October's annual Autumn Explosion and Barrel Tasting and November's Holiday Open House.

Just down the mountain from Monticello and not far from President James Monroe's Ash Lawn-Highland home, Jefferson Vineyards occupies Jefferson's original 1774 vineyard sites. Some of the vintages are in the winery's signature blue bottles and are sold in the modest shop. Tours and tasting are offered daily.

Continuing along the trail, Kluge Estate Winery Farm Shop promises local cuisine and wine tastings in an almost-elegant deli setting inside or at tables under the trees. Begun in 1999, the winery is a relative newcomer and daily tours are not available, but there are choice labels for sale.

Keswick Vineyards is a 20-year-old winery just outside Charlottesville, and samplings are poured at the inviting bar overlooking the swimming pool at the stately Keswick Hall. This upscale country inn has its own golf course, serves a proper afternoon tea and caters to romantics.

Established in 1983, Horton Vineyards boasts more than 30 wines, including its sparkling viognier as well as the only vintage port produced in Virginia. Visitors may taste and purchase them at the Tudor-style winery in Orange, which is not far from Charlottesville. Tours are offered daily.

The Charlottesville area has strong historic attractions beyond its wine. A don't-miss is lunch at Michie Tavern, built in 1784 near Monticello. Worth a few hours' time are its authentic general store and collection of other shops.

High on the list of Jefferson's many accomplishments is the University of Virginia, which he designed and viewed through a telescope from his perch at famed Monticello. The university's Rotunda was Jefferson's design for the library and the Lawn is still bordered by the colonial homes he planned for students and faculty.

Chateau Morrisette is just off the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia's Floyd County. Mountain panoramas are part of the tastings held under historic beams that support this grand building.

The owner's beloved Labrador retrievers are featured on wine labels and even have their own "Black Dog" and "Our Dog Blues Concert Series and Getaway Packages" through mid October.

Freelance writer Carol Carey Godwin lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Tips for the Trip

Expect a small tasting fee at Virginia's wineries. If you plan to visit a number of them in one day, consider a designated driver or nearby lodging.

Order a free Virginia Wine Guide with map, amenities and distance calculator from

Get a free state travel guide at, or by calling toll-free 1-800-847-4882.

Fall wine festivals

Saturday-Sunday: Virginia Wine Festival, Leesburg. A premier wine and food event in the Mid-Atlantic region, it's autumn days filled with wine, upscale cafes full of local culinary delights, craft artisans and music, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 703 823-1868.

Oct. 6-8: Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour. Sip wines from 16 Virginia wineries overlooking spectacular fall vistas of the Potomac River from the lawn of George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. Tour the mansion by candlelight. Tickets on sale at Mount Vernon's main gate or via Ticketmaster at (813) 287-8844 or (727) 898-2100; (search "Mount Vernon"). For information, go to

Oct. 14-15: Monticello Wine Trail Festival, Charlottesville. Premier wines from the Monticello Viticultural Area Wineries, plus food, music, artisan exhibits, in a beautiful location. 11 a.m. to 5.p.m. each day. (434) 296-4188, ext. 21. On the Web, go to or send e-mail to

Oct. 21-22: 18th annual Town Point Virginia Wine Festival, Norfolk. More than 30 wineries will be pouring at Town Point Park, along the downtown waterfront. Gourmet foods, crafts and entertainment on the Elizabeth River are part of the experience. Admission prices vary. Reserved tables are available. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (757) 441-2345;


[Last modified September 26, 2006, 09:46:14]

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