Virginia’s state slogan, “Virginia is for lovers,” might be missing a word: Wine. The state has over 300 wineries producing increasingly high-quality bottles. Many are eager to welcome tasters.
Two regions in Virginia are particularly popular with visitors. In the north, just an hour outside of Washington DC, is Loudon County. If you’re looking to explore that region, it’s covered in this Winetraveler guide.
In the south is the Monticello AVA, which surrounds the small city of Charlottesville. This might be the most historically significant wine region in the United States – it’s where Thomas Jefferson attempted to grow grapevines. He was unsuccessful, but thanks to modern understanding of grape growing, many wineries in the area are now proving that it can be done extremely well.
Where To Stay in Charlottesville
Charlottesville is (quite conveniently) located right in the middle of the wine region. Many of Charlottesville’s shops and restaurants are located on or around the picturesque Downtown Mall, so it’s a good idea to stay nearby. You can browse a number of boutique hotel options in the area.
Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s former home, is just outside of town. Make sure to pre-book your ticket and give yourself at least 2-3 hours to enjoy the house, the grounds, and the views over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Beneath the house, you can see the cellars where Jefferson’s wines were bottled and stored.
Visiting Wineries During COVID-19
Most wineries have now re-opened and are offering tasting flights rather than guided tastings. These can be good fun – you can enjoy the tasting at your own pace, and staff are on hand to answer any questions. Another safe and fun option is to hire a private driver and design a custom tour of the region to avoid crowds and ensure you explore the region to its fullest.
Many wineries also allow you to bring your own picnic, which you can enjoy with a glass or bottle of their wine in the vineyard. It’s best to check the winery website or call in advance in case advanced bookings are required.
Winetraveler Tip: Several wineries are offering tasting flights from plastic cups due to COVID. If you’d prefer to taste from a glass, bring one along. Nobody will be offended!
Wineries to Visit in the Charlottesville Area
West of Charlottesville
King Family Vineyards
King Family Vineyards is set on an impressive 330-acre estate, just 20 minutes outside of Charlottesville. It offers a range of tasting options starting at $10 per person, or you can buy wine by the glass or bottle.
The Crosé Rosé (named after the nearby town of Crozet) is also a delight in the sun. It’s available both in cans and bottles.
As well as a vineyard, the estate is also home to a polo field. Matches are played on Sundays between Memorial Day and mid-October and are free to attend.
Stinson is just ten minutes from King Vineyards, north of Crozet. It specializes in small-batch wines – they’re made in a converted garage – from classic French varieties like Tannat, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.
The exception is its skin-contact wine, Wildkat. It’s made with Rkatsiteli (pronounced R-kat-si-teli), a Georgian grape variety that was brought to Virginia by Horton Vineyards. It’s zesty, textured and delicious – make sure you taste it.
Check opening hours, and make sure to book online before you visit. Seating options are more limited than at some of the bigger wineries – but you’ll enjoy being nestled among the vines.
East of Charlottesville
Early Mountain Vineyards
Early Mountain Vineyards is a little further out of town (around 40 minutes) but is worth the drive. The property is owned by the Case family of AOL fame, who have clearly invested generously in all aspects of the property – including the modern tasting room.
Tasting flights here are a little different. It’s common for them to feature wines from other quality producers, such as RdV, Veritas, Ox Eye, Michael Shaps, Lightwell Survey and others. This makes it a great place to explore and understand Virginia wines more broadly, especially if you don’t have time to drive to other parts of the state.
Early Mountain’s own wines are worth paying attention to also. Their range is headlined by some serious Bordeaux blends, but don’t overlook some of the fun, experimental styles. The luminous, juicy Chambourcin is proof that the variety can make good wine; the Pet Nat Blanc is aromatic and refreshing.
Booking ahead is advised but not required.
It would be easy for an afternoon to disappear at Keswick, thanks to its pretty garden and generous tasting pours. On Saturdays, you can enjoy live music – and there is often a food truck, too. Their leafy Cabernet Franc will please fans of the old world style.
Dennis Horton, owner of Horton Vineyards, was one of the early pioneers of winemaking in Virginia in the 1980s. It’s thanks to him that a number of varieties from France, Portugal, Georgia and Spain made their way over to the state.
Today, you can enjoy Horton wines among the vines – take a picnic along. Flights are available for $6, and you can choose from a long and varied tasting list. The Suil sparkling Viognier is a highlight.
South of Charlottesville
Michael Shaps Wineworks
Tucked at the end of a long, bumpy dirt track is Michael Shaps, a garage-style winery that produces over 30,000 cases for wineries across the state.
A lot of wine is made at Michael Shaps Wineworks – over 30,000 cases each year. Some of these are made for Michael Shaps’ eponymous wine label, which are focused on French varieties and style. Others are made for wineries around the state who contract the services of this garage-style producer.
Shaps also makes wine in Burgundy under his Maison Shaps label. These Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are available as part of the tasting flights that you can enjoy in a marquee area directly across from the winery.