all photos: Morgan H. West
Now that the weather is nicer, one may be tempted not just to leave one’s apartment, but even (GASP) to sporadically leave our fair city as well. And while we wait for the 2015 summer edition of “REASONS TO LEAVE DC” we figured we may as well start doing some footwork for your future day and weekend trips now. And with Virginia in our backyard, and there apparently being almost 300 vineyards over there to visit, which combine 2 things we KNOW BYT readers love the most: outdoors and drinking outdoors, we thought – it is as good of a place as any to start. And it turned out – it was possibly the BEST place to start.
Before we start though…Safety first: you don’t want to drive (because you want to taste wine) and unless someone in your party is happy to be a designated driver through the wine Disneyland, you may want to consider a tour. Since we needed some pro tips about our pro-assistance here we talked to VA Wine (always go straight to the source if you can) and they set us up with Wine Pro Tours, which involved a very nice man named Bruce (owner of Wine Pro Tours, we should mention), a very comfortable Chevy Tahoe, and a complete peace of mind as we went on with our day (Bruce, as an added bonus, really knows and loves wine but he is also, as a bonus to the bonus, one of the best users of the tasting room spit bucket we’ve ever seen). Bonus to the bonus of the bonus: if, after 10 hours of wining you need a mini naps, the Chevy Tahoe is a VERY smooth ride. FYI.
Now, here is a basic planning check-list when getting yourself prepped for a wine tour day:
- set your expectations realistically in terms of how much you’ll be able to do: we did 3 wineries in a day and that was PLENTY
- EAT BREAKFAST
- make sure you schedule a lunch somewhere (we had ours at one of the Wineries and it was DELICIOUS, and more on that below)
I think that covers it.
Now, it should be noted that this particular car (consisting of your writer and photographer) enjoys wine but doesn’t really KNOW wine. So, while you can customize your tours according to your tastes and interests (checking out what made it into the coveted Virginia Governor’s Cup Case that and in the recent years is a good starting point), we asked VA Wine to simply create us an “interesting itinerary” which is what we would recommend to any novice.
Mainly because the three wineries we were sent to (Pearmund Cellars, Narmada Winery and Gadino Cellars) each had such a strong personal identity and did an amazing job to show that, in fact, not all Virginia Wineries are the same.
But, lets start at the beginning:
Pearmund Cellars was our first stop and it was easy to see why it was chosen for us as such: as far as a quintessential VA wine experience goes, this ranks pretty high.
A pretty outdoor space, a selection of wines that showcase the local grapes in a traditional but forward looking way and a series of awards, including the most recent Virginia Wine Lovers Magazine’s BEST WINERY, BEST WINEMAKER and BEST WINERY DOG (dogs are, btw, a big part of the Virginia Wine Country experience and we, here at BYT, fully salute this).
There is really no wrong turn to take here in the tasting room, but we loved their Ameritage and definitely walked out with some bottles of their Viognier (a perfect transitional white wine) to enjoy at home. BONUS: during our visit, they were building an outdoor tasting station as well so that if you chose to enjoy their ample outdoor seating you wouldn’t have to take a step inside at all.
After Pearmund, the next stop was Narmada Winery which Bruce helpfully informed us, just got a bottle in the aforementioned 2015 edition fo the Governor’s Case, and has been winning awards left right and center, after barely a half decade of being open.
What he didn’t tell us was that we’d fall in love with it SO HARD. Like, head over heels, maybe never want to leave kind of hard. A big reason for this are the owners: Pandit and Sudha Patil came to United States as newlyweds some 50 years a go, and after long, and challenging careers in engineering and dentistry (respectively) went back to their love of land and wine and built Narmada, which was named after Pandit’s Mother.
In fact, the whole operation is brimming with family love and Indian tradition, both of which the visitor can’t help but feel within minutes of talking to them and their team AND/OR tasting their wines.
Their most popular bottle is called simply MOM (put this on your gift list for the upcoming Mother’s Day) and is a lovely summer white with tropical notes and an easy palate.
It paired beautifully with the family style Indian meal Sudha prepared for us and we were EXCITED to learn that: a. you can now get Narmada Wines at Rasika West End and that they DO have a DC wine distributor (a lot of Virginia Wineries don’t) so if you can’t make the trip out to them, you can still pick some up at Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits, for example.
The other stand-out is obviously Yash-Vir, named after Sudha and Pandit’s grandsons and the wine that got them that coveted Governor’s case spot. But truly, as we made our way through the tasting menu(s), there were virtually no missteps: if you want to impress (and surprise) your friends on a Virginia Wine Trip – take them to Narmada.
It will be like multiple trips in wine: a great showcase of how creative one can get with the Virginia grapes, and an excursion into the traditions of India, both of which seamlessly co-exist here.
After Narmada, it was hard to imagine what could be the next stop, but the Gadino Cellars proved to be a perfect counterpoint.
Smaller, operation wise, than our other two stops, it is a great example of a family winery: Bill and Aletta Gadino share an Italian heritage and a familial history of home winemaking.
They took it to the next step when they purchased these 15 acres of land in Rappahannock county. Since then, they’ve grown, won awards and embraced the wine technology (leaps and bounds ahead compared to their grandfather’s home efforts) but they stuck with one thing: keeping it all in the family.
Their daughter Stephanie is the Assistant Winemaker & Tasting Room Manager and son-in-law, Derek is the Operations Manager and the next generation is already being groomed. But more so than anything, talking to Bill, you truly get a sense that he is living the dream here: a vineyard, a winery, his family all in one place, and an unlimited supply of petit manseng and cabernet franc to make new, delicious bottles with.
In the great Italian tradition, we loved their semi-dry summer white (Luminoso) but truly, deeply fell for their dessert port Finale – that is the one that made it into our bags on the way out. A perfect, happy wine ending. (followed by that nap, of course, THANK YOU BRUCE!)
Obviously, this one day barely scratched the surface. To learn more about Virginia Wine and plan your assorted trips – visit: http://www.virginiawine.org/
And now, for some more of our wine tour memories, in photo form: