Now that I’ve undoubtedly frustrated you by describing all sorts of wonderful Virginia wines that you can’t find in your local wine shop, I thought I had better come up with a way for you to try them at the source. Here is a great itinerary for a long weekend in Virginia wine country:
Thursday: Fly to Charlottesville. If you’re coming from Chicago, take advantage of the new non-stop flights from O’Hare with American Airlines (my tickets cost about $215). Pick up a rental car at the airport and drive to the Clifton Inn, a manor house built by Thomas Jefferson for his daughter, set on 100 rolling acres. Check in and relax at this elegant estate before driving to downtown Charlottesville.
Have dinner along the historic pedestrianized Main Street, perhaps at the noted wine bar Tastings of Charlottesville. Return to the Clifton Inn for the evening. (If the Clifton Inn looks pricey, there are numerous charming bed-and-breakfasts and reasonably priced hotels in Charlottesville itself.)
Friday: Spend this morning at Monticello, Jefferson’s Palladian-style mansion. Wander the gardens, stand in Jefferson’s renowned wine cellar and tour the house itself, still decorated with Jefferson’s personal furnishings. The history and beauty of this great house are thrilling — it gave me chills to visit.
Drive to nearby Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia’s most famous winery, and have lunch in their renowned Palladio Restaurant. After a stroll along the vineyards to the evocative ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion, tour the cellars and taste their superb wines. The nearby Horton Vineyards is also well worth a visit. Where else could you taste a sparkling Viognier, an Rkatsiteli, a Petit Manseng, a Tannat and a Pinotage, and have them all be delicious?
Return to Clifton for some time to relax at the infinity pool before dinner in their romantic gourmet restaurant.
Saturday: After a leisurely breakfast, head south to Blenheim Vineyards, owned by musician Dave Matthews. Book the $25 private cellar tour, which includes some fun barrel tastings.
A little ways north stands Keswick Hall, a striking Italianate villa with an award-wining restaurant, Fossett’s. Have lunch on the terrace, with panoramic views of the countryside. Alternatively, assemble a picnic and dine on the lawn of nearby Keswick Vineyards, accompanied by their fine wines.
Neighboring Castle Hill makes a fascinating change of pace; this estate, built in 1764, is now devoted to crafting artisinal hard cider. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the cider fermented in traditional kvevri, clay amphorae buried in the earth to maintain a cool temperature.
Return to Clifton to relax and have dinner.
Sunday: Check out of Clifton and return to Charlottesville. Wander the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded by Thomas Jefferson. You can take a guided tour of the Rotunda, inspired by Rome’s Pantheon. Spend some time in the adjacent historic downtown area of Charlottesville, getting in any last-minute shopping before your flight home.
Extension: Virginia actually has a number of wine centers worth exploring. If you have additional time, drive north from Charlottesville to Loudoun County to visit excellent wineries like Chrysalis and Boxwood. The Goodstone Inn would make a memorable base. From there you can reach Washington D.C.’s Dulles Airport in about 30 minutes.
Albemarle County (around Charlottesville)