While founding father Thomas Jefferson always believed his beloved Virginia was capable of creating wine on par with that of Europe, we think were he alive today, he’d still marvel at the fact that a mere hour and a half drive west from the White House, his prediction has now truly become a reality.
It is widely known that Jefferson was a passionate lover of wine, but he was an even stronger champion of his adored Virginia. From his travels across Europe, particularly in France, Jefferson became convinced that Virginia was capable of making high-quality wine similar to that of its European peers. While he may not have seen that dream realized in his lifetime, his vision is now beginning to take shape, with many believing Virginia is poised to be our country’s next Napa.
While wine is being made all over the Commonwealth, there are currently two regions producing a majority of the state’s stellar wine: Northern Virginia, just a few hours drive outside Washington DC, and the area around Jefferson’s home of Monticello in Charlottesville. These two regions make up what Virginia’s most famous winemaker, Jim Law, calls “the Piedmont,” and it’s where 75% of the state’s vineyards reside.
Due to Virginia’s size, it is very difficult to visit wineries in both regions on the same day, so we’re going to break our exploration of Virginia wine into two parts, concentrating on each region individually and giving you plenty of wonderful wineries to try.
First up in our exploration is the wine region of Northern Virginia. Many would say it is this region, and really one winery in particular, that proved Jefferson’s vision for Virginia wine could come true.
The area of Northern Virginia is a beautiful blend of the Blue Ridge Mountains, small towns, forests and endless hiking trails. The Shenandoah National Park serves as the region’s border to the west and the Potomac river its border to the north. When visiting this region you’re more likely to bump into a fly fisherman or a group of motorcyclists eager to ride Skyline Drive than people looking to taste wine, but that’s changing.
First Stop – Linden Vineyards
The first stop on our tour is where it all started in 1983: Linden Vineyards. Linden Vineyards’ owner/winemaker, Jim Law, is widely regarded as the most talented winemaker on the East Coast, and responsible for single-handedly helping to place Virginia wine in the consciousness of consumers across the world. It’s only appropriate that this be the first winery you visit on your tour of Virginia wine country.
As you approach Linden you’ll turn off the main road onto a windy gravel drive that snakes up the hill past the vineyards and to your tasting room destination at the top. Once inside you’ll have two choices: either taste the wine while standing at the indoor bar, or venture out to the winery’s expansive deck, but note that access to that deck will take joining the winery’s case club, which means buying a case of wine to-go. Trust us, it’s worth it.
During your time at Linden, all of the wine you taste will be delicious, but you’ll want to focus on the two wines that proved Virginia could hold its own against any of the world’s great wine regions: the winery’s Hardscrabble Chardonnay and its Bordeaux style red blend. As you venture through Virginia, you’ll begin to see that the Bordeaux blend is the most typical style of red wine the state now produces, and a lot of that is due to the success winemakers like Jim Law have had with it.
An Apprenticeship Program Breeds New Vineyards
Not content to simply have a successful vineyard himself, years ago Jim Law created a rigorous apprentice program meant to draw more winemakers to Virginia. The premise of the program was simple: if you committed to working at Linden for two years and then opening a winery in Virginia, you’d be considered. Our next three stops on our tour of the region are to three of Jim’s brightest pupils.
A Five-Generation Farm Is The Ideal Site For A Winery
A fourteen-mile drive to the west of Linden sits Glen Manor, a vineyard that bumps right up to Skyline Drive and is run by longtime Jim Law pupil Jeff White. A student and employee of Law’s for twelve years, in 1995, while still working at Linden, White recognized that the farm which had been in his family for generations possessed the ideal slope and soil for growing grapes. White began planting vines on the farm and selling the fruit they produced to Law. The wine the grapes’ created was wonderful and so after a few years of using the grapes for Law’s wine, White struck out on his own.
Glen Manor can be a bit difficult to find as you drive slowly along the winding roads past farm after farm, but when you finally come across it, tucked into the mountainside, you’ll encounter a small tasting room and an expansive hill with adirondack chairs, perfect for relaxing and enjoying a glass or two. As you sit in the chairs, you’ll notice the vines are literally grown on the side of the mountain, seemingly hanging on for dear life along the cliffs. It’s a breathtaking site.
The winery produces rosé, white and red wine, but has become celebrated primarily for its Hodder Hill Red, which won the Virginia Governor’s Cup in 2012. This is a classic Left Bank Bordeaux style blend that is heavy on the Cabernet, making up almost 70% of the blend, and is ideal for popping immediately and drinking with a beautifully grilled steak, or saving to be drunk a few years down the road.
Abandoning Real Estate For Wine
After a visit to Glen Manor, we’ll double back toward Linden and head east 14 miles past Jim Law’s vineyard to Delaplane. In this locale sits – just down the road from one another – two of Jim’s other pupils: Delaplane Cellars and RdV Vineyards.
Delaplane Cellars sits on the top of a small hill overlooking the valley and is owned by Jim Dolphin, a former chief investment officer in a real-estate firm who preferred making wine to investing in real estate, selling his home and quitting his job to make his dream a reality.
Visitors to the winery will often be treated to live music and can both picnic in the vineyard or relax in the tasting room. Delaplane makes fantastic reds including a delicious Bordeaux style blend and a Syrah that adds a bit of Tannat to the wine. Tannat is a grape with incredibly thick skins from southwest France that is known for doing very well in warm and humid climates like Virginia, which is why Dolphin originally started to grow it. As the name suggests, Tannat is known for having an incredibly high amount of tannins and when blended with the Syrah it gives the wine a really nice structure, making it a perfect wine for grilled lamb or even Virginia BBQ.
Setting Sights On Greatness
Just around the corner from Delaplane Cellars might be the most ambitious of Jim Law’s three pupils: Rutger de Vink and RdV Vineyards. Visits to RdV are by appointment only, but taking the time to call ahead is well worth the effort.
No other winery in Virginia has received as high praise in as short amount of time as RdV. Critics from Jancis Robinson to Dave McIntyre of The Washington Post (who consulted VinePair on this guide) have sung its praises and rabid consumers devour each new release of wine. With all of these accolades behind them, RdV is out to prove that its Virginia-made wine can easily stand up to, and best, the top chateaux of Bordeaux and wineries of Napa. Often the vineyard holds blind tastings, pitting its wines against top vintages from these regions, and many times, it’s their wine that comes out on top. If you happen to visit, you may arrive on a day when one of these tastings is happening, so ask when you reserve and you’ll be in for a real treat.
As far as the wine that RdV makes, the winery creates only two: Lost Mountain and Rendezvous. Both are red Bordeaux blends, with Lost Mountain made in the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon style of the Left Bank and Rendezvous made in the style of the Right Bank with more Merlot in the blend. Both are priced at over $75 a bottle.
The Former Redskins Owner Turns To Wine
Departing RdV we’ll leave our tour of Jim Law’s apprentices behind and venture further east to Boxwood Winery, an ultramodern facility owned by John Kent Cooke, the son of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. The winery opened in 2004 and uses geeky technology such as GPS monitoring of year-round viticulture practices to produce their wine. Like many of the other vineyards in our guide, Boxwood only produces red wines in the Bordeaux style.
The winery used to not be open to the public, having guests schedule appointments similar to RdV, but recently they decided to open their doors on the weekends.
A Taste Of Virginia’s Native Grape
To end our tour of Northern Virginia wine country, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a taste of Virginia’s native grape: Norton. Norton, unlike the grapes used by all of the previous wineries on our list, was not born in Europe, but right here in the US, created in Richmond by Daniel Norton in the 1820s. Just 6 miles east of Boxwood, Chrysalis Vineyards, has made Norton the winery’s focus. While few places champion Norton, it is gaining fans, including famed wine critic Jancis Robinson.
The wine as described by Chrysalis is “robust and fruity,” and we think it’s the perfect glass with which to end your tour of Northern Virginia. Jefferson would certainly be proud.
3708 Harrels Corner Road
Linden, Virginia 22642
2244 Browntown Road
Front Royal, Virginia 22630
2187 Winchester Road
Delaplane, VA 20144
2550 Delaplane Grade Road
Delaplane, Virginia 20144
2042 Burrland Lane
Middleburg, Virginia 20117
23876 Champe Ford Road
Middleburg, Virginia 20117
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