Saturday the weather was beautiful and we were lucky to have all day with nowhere to be…perfect for some wine adventures! We decided to stick fairly close to home in the Upperville and Middleburg area.
We began our day with lunch at one of our go-to places in Upperville; Hunter’s Head Tavern. This English Pub serves locally sourced food and offers everything from hot sandwiches, comfort food, traditional English dishes, to finer dinner fare. Located in a house built in the mid-1700s there is no shortage of character to observe while you dine. On a pleasant day, you can sit outside in the flagstone garden surrounded by all types of flowers.
The garden is pet-friendly and since we decided to bring our puppy, Seamus along for the day, this is where we sat. We arrived at opening and found a table right away. This was the plan because experience has taught us that it doesn’t take long for the patio to fill up despite having about 12-15 tables of varying size. Today was no exception and the patio was full within the first 30 minutes we were there.
Our server quickly greeted us and brought some water and menus to look at. Typically you head straight in to order at a small tavern window in the bar, but when you visit with a dog, they offer you menus so that you can make your choices outside after which, someone remains at the table outside with your four-legged friend while the other goes in to order.
Inside, the menu is written on a large chalkboard near the bar so that you can take a look while you wait your turn to place an order. Once placed, you are given a wooden spoon and you step to the bar to pick up your drinks before heading to your table.
What’s fun is that they have a pretty good selection of Virginia wines too. Kris opted for the Rappahannock Cab Franc and I went for Gray Ghost Vineyards’ Rose’. I think we both liked the Rose a bit more than the Cab Franc. The Rose’ was dry with a nice strawberry finish that wasn’t too sweet and very refreshing. It was definitely a bit darker than your typical Rose’ as you can see in the picture. The Cab Franc was solid and typical of those found in Virginia with a deep purple color, a heavy hit of plum, and a good amount of tannin, all balanced with the earthiness one comes to expect from this style.
For lunch, I had the cheeseburger, which was delicious as usual, and Kris had fish & chips, which was also great. The fries are all had cut which I love and they offer yellow mustard…a major plus in my mind when serving a burger!
Next stop, Slater Run Vineyards. You might recognize the name since it was listed in last week’s newsletter and that they would be hosting the public at their vineyard. Over the summer the vineyard was only open one weekend per month, but for October they are hosting guests every weekend for tastings. I was super excited to go check them out for several reasons. First, we knew very little about them, second, they are rather close to our home, and third, the limited open days to the public felt like we were really getting a special treat to taste at the vineyard.
As we turned onto the road leading to the vineyard, I can tell you it suddenly felt like autumn…the narrow windy gravel road took us about a mile off Route 50 through tall trees and fence-lined properties. Entering the vineyard property wound us past the vines, a pond, and an old red silo. There were only a few cars parked out front, but this didn’t discourage us, it only added to the feeling of exclusivity.
The tasting room was set up on a small hill with a patio full of inviting furniture and sails strung overhead to provide some shade. We entered directly into the tasting room where two tables were set up for tasting. We headed toward one with another couple already there and the pourer was very welcoming and invited us to join.
We were told that we would taste 2 whites, a rose, 3 reds, and a dessert wine, but the pourer explained that unfortunately they had sold out of their Pinot Gris and we would be tasting 2 Chardonnay’s…their 2015 and 2016 side by side. I presume Kris would be bummed since Chardonnay isn’t his preference, but he didn’t show it and as it turned out, tasting the two side-by-side perked his interest.
As we began our tasting, the pourer told a little about the vineyard; they are a small family owned operation, they planted their first grapes in 2010, and also maintain farmland as well with cows.
Starting with the Chardonnays, both were very good and not very buttery, which we were happy about. Kris and I liked different ones, of course – he preferred the crisper citrus-y 2015 and me the drier, oaky 2016. I found this interesting because I do not typically like oaky Chardonnay, however, I think it is the buttery combination with the oak that I tend to dislike.
My first observation when I saw the Rose’ in the glass was that it was very light, it was barely tinted pink and from what I have experienced and tasted, this is usually a sign that the wine would be more like a white than a Rose’, however, this Rose’ was light, crisp, dry and surprisingly fruity with strawberry notes without being overly sweet despite the light color. It was enjoyed!
Next, we moved on to the reds starting with the Cab Franc, which is made from estate grapes. It was dark red in color, medium-bodied, fruit forward with earthy notes and tannins on the finish and a very good representation of a Virginia Cab Franc. Smooth and easy to drink. The last two reds were some of my favorites; a right and left bank Bordeaux; First Bridge was their right bank and Roots their left. Both were great in their own ways, bold, true to style, and robust.
We finished the tasting with the winemaker’s family recipe for a dessert wine called Monbazillac. The nose on this wine was very interesting and we never did determine exactly what it was we were picking up, but the taste was unique and unexpected. The wine was sweet, but not in a syrupy thick way and was more about tasting the natural sugars that came out from the grapes.
During the tasting, we learned that our pourer was none other than Kiernan, the owner of the vineyard and that her husband Chris was pouring at the other table. We were very impressed by all of the wines, the feel of the venue and the friendly welcoming environment. Although the vineyard is fairly young, this is surely going to be one to watch over the coming years as it will definitely grow into a local favorite.
We purchased both the left and right bank red blends and a bottle of the Monbazillac…I have to figure out what it was I observed on the nose! I’m also looking forward to trying it with a savory recipe as recommended by Kiernan.
Their other location and everyday tasting room is located ironically right next to Hunter’s Head Tavern and we never realized it. I had seen the building in passing, but didn’t realize we were missing out on a great wine experience all year long! The very quaint looking stone house and the little market next door is also theirs, so you can grab a sandwich and then head to the tasting room for a glass of wine with your lunch.
We did not join the wine club while at Slater Run, but after talking about how much we enjoyed their wine, the feel, and our experience, I expect that we will be going to check out the tasting room near Hunter’s Head soon to sign up for membership.
On the way back through Middleburg we noticed a grand opening sign for the new Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery. For months we’d driven by and noticed the large wooden barn being built upon a hill as you enter downtown Middleburg and wondered when it would open. We had to stop in and check it out, of course. The parking lot was crowded, much of the porch and patio seating was filled. We walked into the barn to a fun atmosphere and bright wide open space with picnic type tables, live music and a bar that offered flights of the different flavors of ciders. Kris headed for the line to order our flight and I went back to the car to grab Seamus and find us a spot out front under the shady awning.
We lucked out with a seat under the ceiling fans to cool off the rapidly warming, humid day with our flight in hand and the dog at our feet. Our tasting included four types of hard cider; Farmhouse Style, General’s Reserve Hard Cider, Toasted Pecan, and a Spiced Cider. We both agreed that all were good but our favorite was torn between the Farmhouse and the Spiced. While we were enjoying our flight a group came up and asked to join us at the large picnic table we sat at. After some discussion, we learned that we were sitting with some of the staff from Mt. Defiance and I was sitting next to the distiller! He explained that they also make Absinthe as well as a few different Rums and Brandy.
What luck that we were driving through and managed to catch the Cidery on opening day and we got to meet and visit with the distiller and make some new friends. We will definitely be going back to try some more cider this fall as Kris and I do enjoy things beyond wine.
Last stop on the list was Greenhill Vineyards. We joined the wine club here earlier this summer during our first visit and had not had a chance to check out the Member’s Club House yet. One of our favorite aspects of Greenhill (aside from the delicious wine of course) is that you don’t stand at a bar for your tasting…they do it at your seat. On that past/initial visit, we sat on the veranda looking out over the vineyard in the shady breeze while doing our first taste.
What a difference in pace this makes as sometimes at a tasting bar I feel like there is a sense of urgency to taste faster and purchase something to go sit and relax somewhere else. That evaporated the minute our pourer finished describing the sparkling white she handed us to taste and explained that she would be back in a bit with the next pour. Now mind you, if the objective is to stop in and do a quick tasting, buy a bottle, and leave this not the place for that. We tasted three whites and three reds and it took about 30 minutes.
Of course, given the relaxing setting, it was hard not to sit back and take full advantage of the time. Some of our tastings included a Blanc de Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Eternity (my favorite – dark cherry, big, earthy, tobacco). and Ontology (smokey, big, fruit forward, tannins) all priced in the $39-$49 dollar range. Oh, and who could forget that they allow dogs outside, but no kids as it is an over 21 only venue.
When we drive up this past visit the parking lot was packed with cars and a few buses. We noticed most of the seating was full as we continued down the lane past the outdoor area and towards the Club House set further back on the property. The Club House is actually a historic, pre-revolutionary stone manor built in 1762 on a pond overlooking the vines and there were only a few cars in the parking area. It was gorgeous!
Inside we found several rooms all with different feels to them; one with big leather couches, another with a bar and a few barrel tables, a covered back porch, and a larger room with a long table to choose from. There were a few groups there scattered about and we were greeted by one of the staff in the kitchen area who offered us a tasting or glasses of wine.
We opted to each get a glass in lieu of the courtesy tasting this visit since we had already eyed a few comfy looking chairs out on the lawn by the pond where we could have the puppy sit with us. Kris had the Viognier and I had the Eternity. What a great way to finish off the day! We had a shady spot and the breeze was blowing just enough to bust through the humidity that had crept upon us through the day. We honestly could have sat at that spot for hours.
I am very excited about finding Greenhill as it offers two very different experiences, though both relaxing…one where you can be a part of the crowd at the main building or the quiet seclusion of the members-only area. Many of the vineyards and wineries we visit have a variety of amenities that they offer to their members and we have been learning more and more what perks appeal to us the most. Watch for a post in the near future about all the different wine club options that we’ve found out and about at Virginia Wineries.
Well, that about covers this adventure. Until next time, Cheers!