Favorite Virginia Wineries – Part 2

All about the Reds

For the most part, I am a white wine drinker. So when a red impresses me, it is a noteworthy experience. Ox-Eye Vineyards holds the distinction of offering me the first red wine I ever liked. Their Lemberger is a full-bodied red but the tannins are soft enough that I love it, especially with a steaks on the grill. As an added bonus, they make their Shy Ox Rose and Ruby Ox Port style fortified wine from the same Blaufränkisch grape. I enjoy Shy Ox in the summer and the port is especially lovely in front the fire in the winter.

A Virginia Sunset

They have a picturesque Tasting Room in downtown Historic Staunton. There is a cozy nook on the first floor with comfy chairs for chatting with friends or reading a good book while enjoying a glass of wine. Upstairs, there is a large room with tables and chairs accented by an art gallery featuring local artists. But my favorite spot to unwind with a glass of vino is the back patio which offers lovely breezes and plenty of cover. I’ve even been known to have a birthday gathering or two there.

Ox-Eye Tasting Room patio

This past summer, my daughter and I both hit milestone ages. We decided to take a mini wine tour to celebrate. When we visited Keswick Vineyards, we were surprised to discover we liked all the red wines they had to offer. They impressed me so much that the very next day I took my husband and some friends back so they could try them too, even though the winery is an hour away. Everyone enjoyed the tasting so much that we also purchased a bottle of their Les Vents d’Anges Rives Red, which is a blend, and savored it in one of their comfy outdoor seating areas.

Keswick Porch

They offer a unique experience called a Consensus Blending Party each year. This is a competition that allows hundreds of guests divided into small teams to compete for the best red wine blend. Whichever one wins is bottled under the Consensus label and there is a photo book to commemorate the day. Someday, I hope to participate!

Keswick outdoor seating area

If you love reds, or are trying to find some that you will like, I recommend you visiting Ox-Eye and Keswick Vineyards!

Favorite Virginia Wineries – Part 1

The Commonwealth of Virginia has 270+ wineries and that number keeps on growing. I recently started placing pins in my wine map to keep track of the ones I have visited and was surprised to see I’m at 59.

Marking each location gave me the opportunity to reflect on my visits. I quickly realized that I had favorites, for a variety of reasons, along with a few I wouldn’t bother revisiting anytime soon. I’m going to dedicate the next several posts, in no particulate order, to sharing which tasting rooms I’m most fond of, and why they made the list.

Pollak Vineyards

The only winery we have ever felt compelled to join the wine club.

A lot of the local vineyards I had heard of because of attending Wine Festivals. But Pollak wasn’t one of them. Occasionally, someone would ask if we had ever been there and then would seem surprised we hadn’t. We finally decided to look them up and take a ride over the mountain to visit one Saturday.

It was fairly packed when we arrived. A gentleman came out from behind the bar and invited us to sit at a table by the fireplace where he would present their wines. We were impressed. As our tasting proceeded, we discovered he was the General Manager. His knowledge of the winery’s history and the stories behind each wine just enhanced the experience. We both enjoyed each and every wine, which is unique for this white vs. red wine-loving couple.


We had planned on maybe visiting another winery or two, but instead, we ordered a bottle of their Durant White along with some fresh bread and a charcuterie and cheese selection. We found a table on the balcony overlooking the mountains and lake and simply relaxed for awhile. We also decided we weren’t leaving without joining their wine club. Something we had never even considered at other wineries. We enjoyed the wines and atmosphere too much to pass it up.

Some of the things we love are: it’s close enough we can visit frequently and yet far enough away that the views are different than in the Valley. We get free tastings each time and keep being impressed with the quality of the wine. It is a lovely place to hang out and unwind, inside or out.

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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