Virginia Vineyard Month Part 2
April is Virginia Vineyard Month here in the Commonwealth! Being the wino that I am, I of COURSE had to find a way to celebrate with all of you! So, I’m going to be sharing a small series of posts featuring some of my favorite wineries in the state.
Part 1: Best Wineries Near Leesburg, VA
Part 2: Virginia Wineries with an International Twist
Part 3: Virginia Vineyards with a View
One of the benefits of Virginia’s young wine history is that winemakers are still exploring what works best here. There are no regulations on what grapes can be grown or what processes are used to produce wine, so the winemakers are free to experiment and use their creativity and basically do whatever they want to do. Typical Americans, right? 😛
In the wine-world, this is very unusual. Most traditional wine regions have their tried and tested ways of producing wine and go to great lengths to make sure those ways stay the same. Many regions have extremely strict rules, from how many grapes you grow, how you pick them, what bottles you use, what room you ferment them in, etc. etc. But because Virginia doesn’t have all that, there’s a large amount of diversity between the wineries, from the grape varietals, tasting room menus, and production processes.
One particular trend harkens to the American melting pot experience – several wineries in Virginia were founded by foreigners, or children of immigrants, who infuse their wine-making with traditions and tastes from their home country. They make Virginia wines, but with an international twist. This means that in Virginia, you can find a German winemaker at home just a few miles away from a Greek one, a Tuscan-style vineyard on a Blue Ridge mountaintop, and an Indian winery in the heart of Bluegrass country. It makes for an eclectic mix, but a never ending stream of new experiences for your taste buds. In Virginia, you can satisfy your cravings for international flavors without taking a red-eye overseas flight.
Here’s my roundup of the best international wineries in Virginia!
Virginia Wineries with an International Twist
- Owner Gerhard Bauer has turned this tiny plot of land in Purcellville into a little piece of his native Germany. While his focus is on producing wines that showcase the terroir of his Loudoun County vineyards, he does so using Old World grapes unfamiliar to most Americans. Although you will find standard varietals such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon here, they aren’t the stars of the winery. That title belongs to lesser-known (at least, here in the U.S.) wines made from German grapes, such as Grüner Veltliner, Grauburgunder (German Pinot Gris), Blaufränkisch, Dornfelder, and Zweigelt. Otium is definitely on the cutting edge of the German-wine movement in America.
- The wine: While I found all of the wines on the tasting menu to be solid, well-crafted wines, the Blaufrankisch is the stand-out. It’s a medium-bodied red wine with lots of dark fruit notes
- Updated May 2020: Otium Cellars is currently for sale and will hopefully reopen soon under new management
2) Molon Lave
- In the famous Battle of the 300, the invading forces encouraged King Leonidas to surrender and lay down his weapons. No true Spartan would ever do that; instead, Leonidas shouted “Molon Lave,” which translates to “come and get them.” This boutique winery in Opal is referring, of course, to wine bottles and not weapons, though I guess they could double as such in a pinch! The Papadopoulos family opened Molon Lave in 2009. Here, Greek-born Louizos Papadopoulos melds Virginia grapes with old-world style wine making traditions.
- The wine: Molon Lave produces a wine called “Kokineli,” which is similar to a Greek Retsina. It looks like a Rose, but tastes entirely different. It’s made with pine resin, and has a dry herbal taste with hints of thyme and rosemary. Personally, I didn’t enjoy it all, but my mom did. But hey, it’s a traditionally Greek wine you can’t find anywhere else in the US, so you might as well try it! But, they do have several very elegant wines that I did like – their 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the best I’ve had in Virginia.
- Visiting info: Open for tastings every day 11-6, $8 per person.
- When she was 14 years old, Doukenie Bacos left her father’s vineyard in Greece, boarded a boat, and made the journey across the Atlantic to America. Many decades later, her grandson now tends a sprawling vineyard of his own at the base of the Short Hill Mountains in Loudoun County. While the family’s Greek roots don’t influence their winemaking, it does impact their warm hospitality. Every visitor that buys a bottle of wine is treated to a piece of baklava, homemade by George’s mother Hope. And that piece of baklava is better than any you can find in Greece.
- The wine: The Vinter’s Reserve is the star wine here. It’s a dark, smoky, Bordeaux blend ready to be coupled with a steak or a cold winter’s night. The 2015 Zeus (it is a Greek winery, after all) is a more drinkable but just as lovely red for those looking for something less intense than the Vinter’s.
- Visiting info: Open everyday from 10-6, tastings are $12 per person.
- When Pandit and Sudha Patil arrived in Virginia from Mumbai, India 40 years ago, they dreamed of one day having their own vineyard. In 2009, Narmada opened it’s doors, and their dream became a reality. While they don’t produce “Indian wine,” they do use their knowledge of complex spices from their childhood in India to bring out notes and flavors from the grapes that other wineries may overlook. They also serve several Indian dishes in the tasting room that pair well with their wines.
- The wine: “Mom” was the first white wine I ever liked; it’s also their most popular and most award-winning wine, so I’m clearly not the only one who thinks it’s awesome (order a glass with some of their Butter Chicken to make your taste buds have a party). But none of the wines here fall flat, thanks to Sudha’s close attention to flavors.
- Visiting info: Narmada is just 30 minutes from Shenandoah National Park, so it’s perfect for after a hike! Or as a side trip if you’re in the park for a weekend. Or just because you want a reason to drive through beautiful Rappahanock County. Open for tastings Fri-Sun, 11-5.
- Winemaking has been in the Morais family for generations. Owner Jose Morais’ father and grandfather were both winemakers in Portugal, and when Jose came to America, it was his dream to one day carry-on the family legacy. The 180 acre property in Fauquier County that is now Morais Vineyards is the continuation of that heritage. Winemaker Vitor Guimariãis also hails from Portugal, ensuring that this Virginia winery consistently produces excellent Virginia wines with a unique Portuguese spin.
- The wine: Morais produces several uniquely Portugese wines – “Battlefield,” made with Albarino, and then all three of the dessert wines. Portugal is the land of port, after all. The winner is their Cherry Wine, made from very sour Morello cherries and served in a small chocolate cup…yes, a chocolate cup. It’s as divine as it sounds.
- Visiting info: Open for tastings Friday 1-7, Sat-Sun 12-6.
- If you guessed that, with a name like that, this has to be an Italian-inspired winery, you’re right! It might be located in a remote area off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but this winery does everything it can to transport you to Tuscany. The tasting room would fit in much better in Montepulciano than in Floyd, VA, with its terra cotta roof, burnt orange stucco, and Italian gardens. Unlike the other wineries on this list, the owners have no blood-connection to the source of their inspiration; they just have a deep love and appreciation for Italian food and wine (I can relate to that!). They grow exclusively Italian grapes, including the lesser known varieties Aglianico, Malvasia Bianca, and Primitvo. They are also the only winery in the US to grow Corvina.
- The wine: This winery is doing some very interesting things seen nowhere else. Not even in Italy would you find varietals from both Northern and Southern Italy in one vineyard. Like I mentioned, they’re the only ones in the US producing Corvina, and they are doing that extremely well.
- Visiting info: The winery is located right off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which doesn’t allow signage. That makes finding Villa Appalaccia tricky. It’s between Meadows of Dan and Virginia Rt. 8. Tasting room hours are Friday 11-5, Saturday 11-6, and Sunday 12-4:30. Only $5 per person!
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