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Yes, Virginia is for Wine Lovers

by Nannette Eaton on July 28, 2011

The Wine Harlot spent most of the last week in Virginia for the North American Wine Bloggers Conference held in Charlottesville. I enjoyed it so much, I’m contemplating a longer sojourn in the South, before leaving I went online and searched for best restaurants Charlottesville, I’m so glad I did as I ate at some amazing places and can’t wait to go back and try them again. The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was the weather. As someone raised in the Pacific Northwest, I’m a complete weather-wimp, my climatic temperature range sweet-spot is 50° to 70°, and as luck would have it, the temperature spiked and was in the triple digits with oppressive humidity – pretty much it was “hotter than f#ck.” When even the natives think it’s warm, I knew as a florid-flatlander, I was in serious trouble. But the charm and Southern hospitality of Virginia made up for what weather lacked.

Travel is all about experiencing the culture, the history, the people and the stories they share. For me, winemaking is the same – the tales they tell, not the technical sheet specs of the wines. And Virginia has stories to tell. From the earliest settlement at Jamestown to the surrender at Yorktown to conclude the Revolutionary War, you walk in the footsteps of history wherever you turn. This year marks the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, and visiting Virginia to commemorate is an appropriate place to begin, as Virginia endured more battles and casualties during the War Between the States.

When you’re planning your trip, a good place to start is the Official Tourism Website of the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Wine. Also recommended are the websites of Visit Charlottesville, Albemarle County and Visit Orange County to get suggestions on your perfect itinerary.

I was only in Charlottesville and the surrounding areas for a brief time, but here are some of the highlights and favorites of the Wine Harlots.

Make sure you visit Monticello, the home of the third President of the United States, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. The grounds are spectacular and on the Great Birthday of the Republic, 4th of July, they honor the heritage of America, the nation of immigrants, by hosting a naturalization ceremony where new Americans take the oath of citizenship. Jefferson died deeply in debt, due to his wine habit, as well as his innate kindness of helping his friends and family financially. After his death, his possessions were sold. Since 1923 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has been working tirelessly to locate and obtain the artifacts used during his lifetime. Another piece of impressive Jefferson architecture is the University of Virginia, whether you take a sanctioned tour or just stroll around the grounds, it’s a beautiful break from your wine excursions.

Did I say wine? After all that history, a Wine Harlot gets thirsty. There’s a large number of wineries around the Charlottesville area, here’s a couple that get the Wine Harlots Seal of Approval (kind of like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, but hipper, edgier and soaked in alcohol.)

Barboursville Vineyards is the gold standard for Virginia wines. Owned for the past thirty-five years by Casa Vinicola Zonin, it marries Italian elegance and refinement with American terroir. Just down the road is Horton Vineyards, classic in the American style of innovation and experimentation. If you’re a music lover, you can’t miss Blenheim Vineyards, owned by David Matthews. Jefferson Vineyard is another winery where you should liberate some delicious juice.

After all those tours and wine drinking are you hungry yet? In Charlottesville, I loved Camino, and if it’s on the menu make sure to order the lamb chops, totally out of this world. Maya is owned by a San Francisco transplant and focuses on local ingredients and sources from Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms. I only grabbed at glass of Rioja at Zinc, but it’s got the total hang-out vibe. Orzo was awesome; I was feeling a bit under the weather and out of place, but having a bowl of macaroni-and-cheese, Italian-style, restored my equilibrium. Next door is feast! an amazing deli and wine shop. I ordered their margherita focaccia sandwich to go, and it made my transcontinental flight bearable. Brookville is all exposed brick and banquettes. Siips is a great cozy wine bar. If you’re craving a burger and a beer, Miller’s Downtown is the ultimate place to go.

The conference was held at the Omni, which was incredibly gracious, especially in light of what the conference organizers not-so-tongue-in-cheek refer to our alcohol problem. After a long night of socializing and not much sleep, coffee is in order. (You thought the Wine Harlots ran completely on wine, which is partly true, but when I’m sorely sleep deprived I worship at the alter of caffeine.) Two great spots for espresso are Shenandoah Joe’s and the Mudhouse.

I’ll be talking more about the experiences and escapades over the next few weeks, but I wanted to whet your appetite and provide a few ideas for your next adventure. Cheers and safe travels!