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Off the Beaten Path: Virginia – a road less travelled

June 8, 2023
This series is dedicated to emerging and exciting new wine regions, perhaps not as well known or explored by the mainstream consumer. Discover Virginia State wine country during your next road trip adventure.

When you study wine for 30 years it can be hard to find something new to try. I unwittingly stumbled across that something new while on a road trip last summer with my kids. On our way to visiting family in North Carolina, we ended up taking a very scenic route through the Blue Ridge Mountains and wanted to stop and learn about the history at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Virginia. This, of course, led to quaint towns nestled within hills and unique ‘terroir’ driven wines for me to try.

Read Also: Off the Beaten Path: New adventures along the Pacific coast

You may not have tried wines from Virginia or even known that this place has a thriving wine scene. I did not know much about it outside of it being the oldest wine State in America. The mountains are haunting, lush and quiet – it’s like no other region I have visited. The geology is old and diverse here and lends itself to grape growing. It can be very humid here in the summer, so plenty of work in the vineyard to push back threats of mold is a must, but this creates a wine growing focus, which in my opinion creates better wines.

We must start from the beginning because the history of Virginia’s wine region is fascinating. It all started back in 1619 when Virginia colonists were “required to plant vineyards”. Thomas Jefferson, who was a notable wine collector himself, planted two different vineyards at his Monticello estate back in 1877.


Virginia Wine

Photo courtesy of Virginia Wine.

Fast forward to today where there are eight distinct AVAs (American Viticulture Areas). Over the last 40 years there has been much research, investment and love poured into growing Virginia’s wine regions to over 300 wineries. Virginia is also a fascinating place to hike, study history, find local music, eat delicious food, and even drink locally crafted cider.

Far more accessible than California for most Canadians, Virginia is much more doable for a weekend getaway as it is only a few hours flight away. And this place is just so homey.

My personal recommendation is to fly into the very quaint city of Charlottesville and rent a car. You could book a hotel in the city or some wineries have accommodations on the property. I highly recommend starting with Monticello and absorbing the history of this special place. There is a Monticello wine trail you can follow to make it all easy.

Another must visit is the Shenandoah Valley AVA. This is the largest of the eight AVAs in Virginia, and it is exceptionally beautiful. There is also the Shenandoah Valley National Park, which is worth a visit and a hike. Make sure to book accommodation before travelling if you are planning to stay over in any of the wine regions as they can be a bit more remote with few options. And thankfully, the wineries have restaurants, making it super convenient for lunch or an early dinner. To cap off a stress-free day in wine country, you will no doubt find some great bands playing live music at the wineries.

Virginia Wine

Photo courtesy of Virginia Wine.

While the region excels at many grape varieties, my personal favourites are viognier, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet franc. I find there is an intensity and richness to the wines, yet they are still fresh with vibrant, natural acidity. The best reds will age and improve. I have to say I was thoroughly surprised with the density of flavours and ‘sense of place’ these wines present. They have 75 percent Vitis Vinifera vines planted, but experiment with plenty of hybrids too.

Here is a short list of some of the best wines I have tasted (so far):

  • Michael Shaps- 2017 Petit Manseng
  • Barboursville Vineyards- 2019 Vermentino Reserve
  • Keswick Vineyards- 2021 Viognier
  • Early Mountain- 2016 Eluvium (Meritage blend)
  • Linden Vineyards- 2016 Petit Verdot
  • Veritas Vineyards and Winery – 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve

The spring and summer are great times to visit and road trip, but the fall colours are spectacular! For more information head to


– Jennifer Huether, MS is a special contributor for VineRoutes


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