Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail

We recently took a trip to the Northern Neck of Virginia, which included a journey down the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. For those not familiar with the Commonwealth’s geography, the eastern edge has 3 finger-like projections formed by several large rivers flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. “Northern Neck” is the topmost peninsula with the Potomac River to its north and the Rappahannock River to the south, which is commonly referred to as “The Rivah.”

If you plan on visiting most of the nine wineries on Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, make sure you purchase a Tasting Pass. They are $30/person ($25 if you buy 4 or more) compared to the $56 worth of wine tasting fees you’ll incur doing full tastings at each of the eight participating winery. To save even more, you can also get stamps in your Wine Trail Passport. Seven different stamps entitles you to a 10% discount on wine for a full year. Nine different stamps = 15% discount on wine purchases.

TIP: The Passport is widely advertised at the wineries. The Tasting Pass is not. We just happened to learn about the Pass at our first stop. Make sure to ask about them!

TIP: Two of the wineries on the Passport (and several of the maps) have closed this year. This can be very confusing, especially since the road signs directing you to their locations haven’t been removed. Belle Mount Vineyards in Warsaw and Athena Vineyards in Heathsville are both out of business.

Oak Crest Vineyard & Winery

Tasting – $5 for 11 wines (3 were sold out)

Nice atmosphere. Friendly staff. Very nice collections of wines with a number of blends. Several were rather unique, including their Hot Jazz which is infused with jalapeño peppers. It was actually very well balanced (and I don’t like spicy food) and would go really well with roasted chicken or mild cheeses. We were also impressed with their Moonlight Sonata, a German Rhine style wine of 100% Symphony grapes.

  • Bottles sell for $15-$22
  • Wines – 4 stars
  • Winery – 4 stars

Ingleside Vineyards

Tasting – $8 for 8 wines with a souvenir wine glass

The unique atmosphere of the Barrel Room added to the tasting experience. The hostess was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. She did a great job of getting all the participants involved with each other. Most of their wines are straight varietals with a few blends. They have the unusual distinction of selling a wine that smells awful but actually tastes pretty good. Apparently, only certain people can smell the sulphur-like ‘bouquet.’ I was one of them. Their medium-bodied Sangiovese was our favorite.

  • Wines sell for $15-$25
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Vault Field Vineyards

Tastings – $2 for 5 wines

Don’t let the very attractive website fool you. The photos are obviously stock photos and not of the winery itself. Down a back road and past some really unhealthy looking yellow vines, you find a rather small winery. The “tasting room” is really just a counter in the storage shed. All their wines are from 2008-2010. The host said they had had several bad years but still had plenty of stock from the good years. He indicated too much rain in the fall had burst the grapes several years in a row. Despite that, we really enjoyed their 2010 Vidal Blanc and their 2009 Conundrum, which is a blend of several white wines and the conundrum is “which ones?” You’ve got to love a winery with a sense of humor too!

  • Bottles are $12-$20
  • Winery – 3 stars
  • Wines – 5 stars

General’s Ridge Vineyard

Tasting – $10 for a full tasting of 12 wines, $8 for only reds or whites.

TIP: If you make a purchase, ask if you can keep the glass, which has a cool cannon etched in it. They gave us ours once we inquired about it.

The tasting rooms with a tin roof don’t mix well with torrential downpours. It sounded like cannon fire to go with their logo! The woman who did our tasting seemed a bit brusque. I’m not sure if it was the noise, her personality or her irritation with some mistakes the other employees seemed to be making with opening certain bottles of wine. The wines, however, were very nice. The winery is owned by a retired 2-star Marine Corps General, which is reflected in several of the wines’ names. The offer everything from off-dry blends to 100% varieties to a sparkling wine to a charming late harvest white to a port-style red.

  • Prices range from $15-$28
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Jacey Vineyards & Velas Tapas

Tastings – $10

All the brochures and their listings on Yelp and TripAdvisor say they are open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm. Someone at one of the wineries told us we really needed to call ahead for an appointment. When we tried calling to schedule one, we found out they were only open on Saturdays now. We were about an hour away and it was 3pm, so I asked if we could get one for that afternoon around 4pm. They said they were closing at 4.

0 stars

The Hague Winery

Tasting – $5 for 5 wines

Please note, this winery does NOT participate in the Tasting Pass program. The outdoor seating area was very nice even though it was pouring rain. There was only one person working. She graciously handled the 3 groups that were at different points in their tastings, even though she seemed a bit harried. The star of the show here is their nicely layered Chardonel that is aged in acacia wood.

  • Bottles of wine range from $18-$29
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

The Dog and Oyster Vineyard

Tasting – $7 for 5 wines

Please Note: If you have an older wine trail map, this winery used to be called White Fences.

The vineyard is home to numerous rescue dogs that live in the fields to keep the deer away. Don’t worry though. They have heated dog houses with heated water bowls and they all seemed quite content. The property is easily the prettiest one in the area. The tasting room consist of 2 long tables for folks to relax and savor their wines. We really liked the pace of the tasting. It wasn’t rushed at all. The wine were very pleasant but expensive. I especially liked their robust rosé. However, at $39 a bottle, it seemed over priced. Their was an oyster food truck on site if you wanted to do a wine and oyster pairing.

  • Bottles sold for $26-$39
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines, quality – 4 stars
  • Wines, prices – 3 stars

Good Luck Cellars

Tastings – $9 for 12 wines

Our overall favorite of our trip. The staff was friendly and very personable. The tasting room was clean and bright. Even the crackers and chocolate were of a higher quality than most wineries. It was difficult to narrow down our favorites. I have a feeling if this had been our first or second stop on the trail, we would have purchased a lot more wine then we did. They use Seval Blanc in a couple of their blends, which was a new grape to us. One that we really enjoyed. Their Inheritage, a blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Cab Sav, was also a hit. We found the dry, lightly oaked Chardonnay exceptional as well. A surprising feature of the winery was they also sold flavored olive oil and they let you bring your own bottles.

  • Wines range from $12-$28 with most in the teens.
  • Winery – 5 stars
  • Wines – 5 stars

Caret Cellars

Tastings – $5 for 10 wines

Caret Cellars is in Essex County on east side of the Rappahannock River, which is not on the actual Northern Neck. It is down a long winding back road, but well worth the drive. The owner shared amusing stories while pouring his wine, all of which were well received. His favorite grape is the Sangiovese and it shows. It features in several of his blends as well as being bottled in the Classico Chianti style. The tastings are done in the heavily wine-scented barrel room. Unfortunately, it had a prolific fruit fly population. They were very distracting and you had to be careful they didn’t end up in your glass. Investing in some fruit fly traps would be well advised.

  • Cost of bottles are $13 to $25
  • Winery – 4 stars
  • Wines – 4 stars

Cheers!

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Travel through Europe while you solve Mysteries

As I have mentioned previously, I love books reminiscent of the Golden Era of Detection. Mysteries where the plots are elaborate, the clues subtle, the characters multifaceted and the vocabulary expansive. Throw in a good dose of appropriate local color from around the world, and I’m beyond content.

I have just recently discovered the Fiona Mason Mysteries by Judith Cranswick. The premise being that following the death of her husband, 50-something Fiona takes a job as a Travel Coach Tour Manager based out of the UK. Each book follows the levelheaded guide and her endearing bus driver, Winston, as they visit various European countries, along with a coachload of interesting passengers. Along the way, they stumble upon murders, smugglers, assassinations, thieves and a very charming MI6 agent.

Book 1 – Blood in the Bulb Fields, has us off to Amsterdam during Tulip Season on Fiona’s “maiden voyage” as a Tour Manager. Unfortunately, the dead bodies start piling up before they can even cross the Channel. I find the added travel and history commentary fascinating. However, if that isn’t one of your interest, it is easy to skim over those bits without losing anything related to the crimes being solved. Mysterious deaths and diamond smuggling keep this from being the boring job Fiona’s sons think she has.

Book 2 – Blood in the Wine, is a tour of the Rhine River region with an emphasis on Mosel Wine Country, where my favorite wine originates.

I found the travelogue and wine making notes as enjoyable as the mystery itself. Was the brutal stabbing of one of the passengers related to his annoying personality and where do the missing plans for a guidance missile system fit in?

Book 3 – Blood and Chocolate, takes place several months later during a culture tour of Belgium. The tour was supposed to be an easier one for Fiona as it included a private group who would be doing most of the lectures on Flemish Art. But things don’t go according to plan when a British Member of Parliament is assassinated while the group is dispersed throughout the city. Once again, Fiona finds herself relying on her faithful West Indies driver for advice and support while helping MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones answer questions that only her passengers can help with.

There are five books in the series so far. I’m reading #4 Blood Hits the Wall at the moment. If you’d like to save a few dollars, I recommend purchasing the boxed set of #1-#3. So sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery as we sleuth across Europe!

Comparing the Islands We’ve Been To

A while back, I shared why we prefer Sandals Resorts when we travel to the Caribbean. I thought it might be helpful to touch on the pros and cons of the various islands we have visited around the world.

1992 – Cayman Brac (Divi Tiara Dive Resort – destroyed by a hurricane several years later)

  • British territory – very clean, low crime rate, friendly locals
  • Caters to divers – Divers were gone all day & went to bed early. It was almost like having our own private resort.
  • Island very rocky with scrub brush.
  • Very little to do besides lounging, snorkeling, diving or fishing.
  • Easy access to snorkeling on the pink sand island of Little Cayman

2003 – Kauai, Hawaii (Marriott Beach Resort)

  • US state – no passport needed or having to exchange currency. Also clean with low crime rate.
  • Lush and tropical
  • A lot of things to do off the resort like hiking, shopping, golf, helicopter rides, kayaking, and touring coffee or sugar plantations. Also an easy day trip to Pearl Harbor, which was completely worth it.
  • Lengthy flights and drastic time change from the east coast.
  • The resorts are very family oriented and touristy.
  • Seafood is pretty limited to fish. Shrimp and lobster hard to come by.
  • Water is clear and not near as salty.

2008 & 2011 – Bahamas (Sandals Royal Bahamian & a cruise ship stop)

  • Absolutely gorgeous crystal blue water.
  • Not overly lush but not rocky and scraggly either.
  • Locals are a bit pushy sometimes, especially when haggling over prices.
  • Easy-to-use public buses.
  • Low daytime crime rate. We were advised to stay on the resort after dark.
  • Very popular with European tourist.
  • Easy to get to from the east coast.
  • A lot of snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, stingrays or pigs, glass bottom boat tours, sunset cruises, large resorts with casinos & shows like the Atlantis.

2012 – Jamaica (Sandals Montego Bay Resort & Royal Caribbean Resort)

  • Very rocky with a lot of scrub brush.
  • The water isn’t as clear for snorkeling.
  • A lot poverty and crime.
  • Safe on the resorts and on resort tours but friends were mugged when they ventured into town on their own.
  • But on the other hand, some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.
  • The nicer resorts are a lot further away from the airport. The resorts right by the airport have a lot of jet noise during the day.

2015 – Bermuda (cruise ship port)

  • British territory – very clean, low crime rate & friendly locals
  • The most upscale island I’ve been to so far.
  • Easy to get around on buses, rented mopeds or the boat taxis.
  • A lot of historical forts and ruins to explore.
  • Gorgeous pink sand Horseshoe Bay
  • In the middle of the Atlantic, so chillier than the Caribbean or Hawaii.
  • Amazing snorkeling of the shipwrecks of the Bermuda Triangle. (Water temp only 68-70° in May)

2016 – St. Lucia (Sandals La Toc Resort)

  • Very lush jungle mountainous island.
  • A lot further south and very hot & humid even in April, even though they said it was unusual for that time of year.
  • Long flights with no return options that didn’t include an overnight in Atlanta. (But at least you are still in the same time zone, which helps.)
  • It’s an hour bus trip on winding mountain roads to & from the airport.
  • Some poverty & crime issues downtown in the city. Villages seemed a lot more friendly and honest.
  • Good snorkeling and water clarity.
  • Friendly locals on the resort. Some pushier, ruder ones in town.
  • A fairly large island which offers more things to do, like catamaran cruises to the Pitons, zip lining or hiking the jungles & mountains, plantation tours, rum factory tours, tall ship cruises etc.

We still haven’t found our “absolute perfect island,” but we are willing to keep looking!!

 

Trump Winery – Charlottesville, VA

Last week, we decided to visit Trump Winery in Charlottesville for the first time. We had done a tasting at a wine festival about 5 years ago shortly after Donald Trump purchased it from Patricia Kluge’s bankrupt estate. We didn’t care for any of the varieties they offered. We saw a news story a year or so later regarding their new French vintner’s intentions of improving the quality. Recently, we had a few friends say they had visited the winery and enjoyed the selection. We felt it was time to give them another try.

The weather was gorgeous, especially for February. With temps in the upper 60’s, we enjoyed our drive past Monticello and Ash Lawn as we wound our way through the back roads of Albemarle County to the estate. Because it was so warm, they had the patio tasting room open as well as the lovely one inside.

The $15 fee including a tasting of 5 varietals as well as a souvenir wine glass. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed each one. We rated each of the following a 4 out of 5.


Sparkling Blanc de Blanc 2010 – a champagne-style Chardonnay, which is bright and crisp.

Viognier 2015 – Virginia’s signature grape. This one is similar to a Riesling.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – This is my husband’s favorite wine. The Trump version is blended with 25% Merlot, which made it smoother than a traditional Cab Sauv and easier on the palate.

New World Reserve 2014 – A lovely complex, well-rounded blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

We finished off with the most amazing dessert wine we have ever tried. I think the best way to describe their signature fortified Chardonnay, Cru, is a white port. “Cru is created by blending Chardonnay juice with grape brandy in lieu of a traditional fermentation. This fortified wine is then aged for over a year in American bourbon barrels.” No matter how it is done, the end results are phenomenal!

We then enjoyed a glass of wine with their diverse cheese tray ($20) while relaxing on the patio. All the cheeses and fruit spreads were excellent. Our overall favorite was the espresso encrusted cheese.

The expansive views certainly add to the experience. Even in late winter, they were impressive.

We can’t wait to visit again in the summer and try out the Adirondack chairs!

 

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Sandals All-Inclusive Resorts

We have had the privilege of traveling to several beach resorts over the years. We’ve tried privately-owned properties, hotel chain locations and Sandals Resorts. We are totally sold on Sandals All-Inclusive Resorts. We have been to their properties in The Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Lucia. All were impressive.

Regency La Toc, St. Lucia

Here are a few of the reasons we feel they are superior to other options we have tried.

They are “couples only” resorts. We have found this fact to be extremely important. While celebrating our 11th anniversary in Kauai, we had a family with several loud, obnoxious kids ruin our leisure time by the pool and a meal or two. Please note, this is also different than “adults only” properties. We’ve heard horror stories of single adults turning resorts into giant frat parties or swingers clubs. At each Sandals we have visited, there has been a quieter, more relaxing pool area, as well as a pool that offers games like water volleyball, trivia or “name that tune.”

Royal Bahamian, Bahamas

They are indeed, all-inclusive. Each property have several restaurants and bars to choose from throughout the day. You can partake of breakfast on your room’s terrace overlooking the ocean, enjoy burgers on the beach at lunch, cozy up to the swim-up bar for some afternoon refreshment, dine at an exclusive French restaurant for dinner, mosey over to the Italian bistro for dessert and sip a hand-delivered nightcap by the fire pit under the stars. All without adding a single cent to your bill.

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Even things like paddle boarding and snorkeling are included. (Spa services, scuba diving and privately catered dinners are extra, but all are totally optional.) Except for small purchase like souvenirs and extra suntan lotion, we never pay for more than what our original package included.

Royal Caribbean, Jamaica

The service is fantastic! Everyone is extremely polite, friendly and accommodating. They are at your beckon call if you need them or they will leave you alone if that’s what you prefer. Unless you have a room with a butler, there is no tipping allowed. Period. No matter how much someone has been inconvenienced to attend to a problem (fixing a mess plumbing issues, carrying luggage up a really steep hill, etc.) they all refuse any kind of gratuity.

Regency La Toc, St. Lucia

The more you go, the more you save! They offer a loyalties program that earns you discounts on future visits or free add ons like a sunset catamaran cruise.

Yes, I’ll admit it. My favorite part is being waited on hand-and-foot all week!