Think there’s nothing to do when the weather turns cold? Don’t whine—there’s always wine. At wineries across Central Virginia, you can spend winter weekends warming up with a glass— or bottle—of locally-made wine.
Area winemakers will tell you that wintertime, what some might consider the off-season, is a great time to visit wineries. George Hodson, general manager at Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton, says at Veritas winter is “more of a mindset.”
In addition to the ambience of the fireplace—a good place to “snuggle up,” he said—winter is a quiet season, but in the best way. “We have our fireplace burning constantly,” Hodson said. “The other aspect is how quiet it is. Wintertime is the perfect time to do the wine trails because there’s less traffic.”
In addition, he said, the winter tasting room staff is “more tenured,” which can mean a better experience. “They can have a really good interaction with people who have worked at the wineries a long time, that core tasting-room staff,” he said.
Wineries also can be a great place to enjoy the winter weather, albeit probably from indoors. After all, as Afton Mountain Vineyards puts it on their website, “Grapes don’t grow in ugly places.”
At Afton Mountain, which along with Veritas is one of several wineries located along State Route 151 in Nelson County, visitors can sip wine in an enclosed pavilion overlooking the winery.
“It offers all the beautiful views, like you’d be sitting outside, but it’s enclosed, and you have heat and a nice place to relax,” tasting room manager Michelle Kimmell said. “It’s a large, relaxing space for people to gather.”
The tasting room at Afton’s Valley Road Vineyards offers a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Rockfish Valley. CEO Stan Joynes calls it “the money shot” and said they plan to install a fire pit outside as well.
The Homeplace Vineyard, in Chatham, hosts its tastings in a rustic log cabin, and for history buffs, the tasting room at Chatham’s Tomahawk Mill Vineyard & Winery is a grist mill, built in 1888 by Confederate veteran James Anderson.
Close to Wintergreen Resort, Flying Fox Vineyard is a good place to wind down after a day on the slopes, “It’s really cozy here,” owner Chloe Watkins said, adding, “When they’re sick of skiing, they’ll come see us.”
Bring out Your Reds
The staff at area wineries will tell you winter is the time to bring out the red wines. With holidays and heavier foods, reds are more popular. “In the winter, we find that a lot of people come in to get red wine because they’re having a party or an Italian meal, something like lasagna or a pasta dish,” Kimmell said.
Ports are a big seller, too. “We have a fabulous, port-style wine,” Kimmell said of Afton Mountain’s VDN. “[It’s] fortified with brandy. It’s made from our grape juice, and we send it off to be distilled—aged—in bourbon barrels. It’s a definite cold-weather favorite. It’s the perfect wine to cozy up in front of a warm fire with in the wintertime.”
Valley Road, which released its first bottles this past April, has what Joynes describes as “particularly spectacular” reds. “What we’ve been told is our Meritage is really special and will be more special if we put it away for a while,” Joynes said of the blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
At Flying Fox, Watkins said Red Table is a popular winter wine. Described on the website as an “off-dry blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot,” it’s said to appeal to both red and white fans. It’s also the wine Watkins uses to make mulled wine, a spiced, heated wine offered at some wineries during the winter.
Around Thanksgiving, Cardinal Point Vineyard & Winery, in Afton, releases a nouveau, a holiday wine that’s made from grapes harvested just weeks before. “It’s not aged very long,” said Rose Harper, who works in the tasting room. “It’s a pretty quick process.”
For that reason, Harper said, it “only lasts about three months before it starts to go,” and nouveau wines are sold only until about mid-January. “You’ve got to get it and drink it. It’s a pretty limited batch.”
While not a red and technically not even a wine, Sans Soucy Vineyards’ Ginger wine is a popular choice for winter. According to co-owner Jackie Anctil, Ginger is “more of a cordial, after-dinner drink” and is a good partner for Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
Anctil also suggests mixing it with bourbon or whisky to make a “Whisky Mac” or with champagne, her favorite. “It’s quite sweet and very gingery,” she said.
According to Anctil, Sans Soucy, located about a half-hour from Lynchburg in Brookneal, is the only winery in the Commonwealth and possibly beyond that makes ginger wine. “We’re the only ones who make ginger wine,” she said. “We’re the only ones in the state, for sure, and we pretty much believe we’re the only ones on the East Coast.”
When thinking about the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” what’s likely to come to mind are drumming drummers, milking maids and partridges roosting in pear trees. This holiday season, consider a new, grownup take on the classic ditty: 12 days of holiday spirits—more specifically wine — along State Route 151 in Nelson County.
Nelson 151 (www.nelson151.com), a group that promotes wineries, breweries and distilleries along the scenic byway, will present its “Twelve Days of Christmas on Nelson 151” from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, 2017.
Five wineries along the route—Flying Fox, Afton Mountain, Hill Top, Veritas and Cardinal Point—are participating in the fundraiser, which benefits several area charities.
“Each member of 151 chooses a local charity that they want to support on their designated day,” Hodson, of Veritas, said. “They also choose how they want to determine their contribution. Some will do a percentage of total revenue, some will have the value of tastings.”
Take a Drive
Route 151 Wine Tour (From Lynchburg, south to north)
Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery,
2800 Berry Hill Rd., Nellysford.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days.
Flying Fox Vineyard,
27 Chapel Hollow Rd., Afton.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Monday.
Cardinal Point Vineyard & Winery,
9423 Batesville Rd., Afton.
11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days (November/December), weekends only, January through March.
Afton Mountain Vineyards,
234 Vineyard Ln., Afton.
11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days (weather permitting).
Veritas Vineyard & Winery,
151 Veritas Ln., Afton.
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Valley Road Vineyards,
9264 Critzers Shop Rd., Afton.
10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday.
Southside Wine Tour
The Homeplace Vineyard,
568 Rigney Circle, Chatham.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday. Closed January and February.
Tomahawk Mill Vineyard & Winery,
9221 Anderson Mill Rd., Chatham.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Sunday, through mid-December. Mid-December through mid-March, by appointment.
Sans Soucy Vineyards (and Staunton River Brewing Company),
1571 Mount Calvary Rd., Brookneal.
1 to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (check Facebook for additional hours).
By Suzanne Ramsey