Where to Eat and Drink in Virginia Wine Country

In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the area around Charlottesville, Virginia has emerged as a wine destination with a booming food scene. Here's where to spend your weekend eating and drinking. 

Photo By: Andrea Hubbell Photography

Photo By: Andrea Hubbell Photography

©Jack Looney Photography

Photo By: Andrea Hubbell Photography

The Monticello Wine Trail

In the last decade, central Virginia has emerged as a wine destination. The small city of Charlottesville — long known for its historic charm and the University of Virginia campus founded by Thomas Jefferson — is now surrounded by gorgeous wine country and a burgeoning food scene bolstered by local farms and producers. Here’s our guide to a weekend of eating and drinking your way through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the beautiful Monticello Wine Trail. 

 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Hubbell

The Standard-Bearer: Barboursville Vineyards

In 1976 an Italian winemaker transformed the historic plantation of James Barbour (a former Virginia governor) into a vineyard, despite recommendations that he’d be better off planting tobacco. We’re glad he ignored that advice. In the 30-plus years since, Barboursville has set the stage for Virginia wine. Octagon, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, is the winery’s crown jewel. It has received a slew of awards and appears on many top restaurant wine lists. Though you won’t get to sip Octagon with Barboursville’s $7 tasting, you will be able to try more than a dozen current vintages, so pace yourself! Spring for the $20 library tasting on weekends to try select vintages of more limited supply paired with house-cured charcuterie and local cheeses. 

 

Photo courtesy of Barboursville Vineyards

Spend the Day: Early Mountain Vineyards

Pull up to Early Mountain and you’ll immediately see why this picture-perfect estate is a favorite local wedding venue. The plush, comfortable tasting room is almost as enjoyable as a seat on the terrace, overlooking a historic barn and the rolling vineyards. Settle in and enjoy a full lunch or dinner as you taste your way through Early Mountain’s portfolio, or sample a full range of the Virginia wine country — owners Jean and Steve Case promote the Monticello Wine Trail with a curated selection of labels from across the region. Chef Harrison Keevil of Charlottesville’s Brookville Restaurant consults on the menu of fresh salads, housemade flatbreads and hearty sandwiches, so if you want to experience some of the area’s best wine and have a great lunch all in one stop, Early Mountain is a good choice.

 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Hubbell

Wine and Horses: King Family Vineyards

Truly family owned and operated, this stunning winery came to be because of patriarch David King’s love of polo. When he decided to relocate his family from Texas to rural Crozet, Va., in 1996, he wasn’t even thinking about wine — he sought a farm with 12 acres of flat land to accommodate polo grounds. Today that polo field is surrounded by acres of Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes, producing 10,000 cases of wine per year. Although David, his wife, Ellen, and their three sons have become fully immersed in the wine business, polo is still a big part of the Kings’ lives. Every Sunday afternoon from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October, tasting room guests can catch a polo match while enjoying King Family wine field side. 

Off the Beaten Path: Stinson Vineyards and Ankida Ridge Vineyards

Father-daughter team Scott Stinson and Rachel Stinson Vrooman are producing 2,000 cases of wine each year, including a bright, crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a smooth and complex Meritage blend, in what was once a three-car garage surrounded by about two acres of vines in Crozet. Rachel’s husband, Nathan Vrooman, is the winemaker for his own even smaller family winery, Ankida Ridge Vineyards. (The couple claims there’s only a little friendly competition between their parents.) Ankida’s portfolio includes a wonderful and unusual-for-Virginia Pinot Noir. Both wineries’ bottles are plentiful at Stinson Vineyards for Tailgate Thursdays throughout the summer. Anyone is welcome at this weekly outdoor happy hour, where live music plays and two Big Green Eggs are fired up for guests to grill whatever they bring along. It’s a perfect way to kick off a weekend in Virginia wine country.

Sip Under the Stars: Veritas Vineyard & Winery

Since opening in 2002, Veritas has not only produced award-winning Petit Verdot, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc, they’ve expanded into a destination complete with a wellness retreat center and an eight-room bed and breakfast in an immaculately restored farmhouse. On Saturday evenings in the summer, Starry Nights at Veritas is the place to be. Both locals and visitors gather with blankets, lawn chairs and, of course, picnic baskets full of food and wine for a night of live music surrounded by vineyard and mountain views. 

 

Photo by Sara Kramer

Not Wine: Foggy Ridge Cider

Forget the cloyingly sweet stuff that may come to mind when you think of hard cider. Foggy Ridge produces four dry, complex sparkling ciders and two dessert apple Ports that any wine lover will appreciate. Visit their orchards and cider house for a tasting and a change of scenery, subbing apple trees for vineyard vines. Foggy Ridge is a bit off the beaten path, but the drive through the Virginia countryside is a beautiful one. If you don’t make it out there, you’ll find Foggy Ridge ciders on many restaurant menus in the area, and a glass of cider is a nice way to switch things up after drinking wine all day. 

 

Photo courtesy of Foggy Ridge Cider

Where to Eat Breakfast

Start the day at the homey Bluegrass Grill, a diner-style spot where heaping plates of pancakes, fluffy omelets and hash topped with corned beef (or tofu!) will prepare you for the day of wine drinking ahead. Just looking for a quick bite before you hit the wine trail? Head to Paradox Pastry next door, where buttery croissants, fruit-filled muffins and savory quiches from French-trained Pastry Chef Jenny Peterson and her team of “sugaristas” beckon from the display case. 

Where to Eat Lunch

Most wineries are more than happy to accommodate a picnic, especially if you buy a bottle to enjoy with it. Picking up provisions around Charlottesville is a fun activity in itself. Stop by the charmingly rustic Greenwood Gourmet Grocery for hearty sandwiches made with meats from the acclaimed local Polyface Farms, plus fresh sides and a to-go coffee from their tiny barista station up front. At Feast!, a bright and airy gourmet market that opened in 2002, the shelves are stocked with local products and prepared foods. You could spend an hour at the cheese counter alone, chatting and sampling with the friendly and well-informed staff. The shopping area around Feast! has become a food-lover’s paradise: Stop into Albemarle Baking Company for wonderful crusty breads and pastries, Gearharts Fine Chocolates for something sweet, and The Spice Diva for eclectic blends to experiment with back home. 

Where to Eat Dinner

Charlottesville’s quaint Downtown Mall is a pedestrian plaza full of students, locals, visitors — and great restaurants. "Farm-to-table" is almost a cliche at this point, but for Chef Keevil and his wife/co-owner, Jennifer, at Brookville Restaurant, it’s not just a buzzword. They source 95 percent of their ingredients from local farmers, foragers and the restaurant’s garden to create comforting fare like fried chicken and bacon waffles topped with a textbook sunny-side-up egg. The drinks list is made up entirely of Virginia wines and ciders, plus cocktails spiked with local booze. C&O Restaurant is a local favorite that’s been serving regional specialties like Virginia oyster stew since 1976. Lampo, a newer spot on the Mall, offers excellent Neapolitan pizzas made with local ingredients. For a nightcap (or a full meal), stop by The Alley Light, a modern French-inspired bistro. Tuck into shared plates of pork rillettes, salmon tartare and artichoke gratin alongside expertly crafted cocktails and wines both local and French. 

Where to Stay

Check out StayCharlottesville.com, a well-curated local version of Airbnb, where you can rent beautifully appointed homes, cottages and carriage houses, complete with hotel amenities like fresh towels and toiletries. The Charlottesville area offers a range of hotels, from affordable chains to luxurious inns like Clifton, Willow Grove and Boar’s Head. Some wineries have limited accommodations onsite, like the farmhouse at Veritas and Early Mountain’s comfy guest cottage.

 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Hubbell

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