Dan and I attended our friends Pryor’s and Bryan’s wedding earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia and, since my parents live in Virginia and I had not seen them alllll of quarantine, we met them for two fun-filled days of wine tasting in Charlottesville, Virginia before the wedding! While Dan and I have wine tasted all over the world, from Mendoza, to Stellenbosh, to Bordeaux, we had not spent a lot of time in Central Virginia, so we were pumped to try some VA wines, especially since I am from Central Viriginia!
For those not in the know, Charlottesville is in Central Virginia and there are a lot of wineries in the “greater’ Charlottesville area, meaning the countryside surrounding all sides of Charlottesville. As the wineries are scattered all over, it can take a long time to get from one winery to another, and since there are so many wineries from which to choose, we enlisted the assistance of a local expert – Albemarle Limousine!
Albemarle Limousine does Virigina wine tours regularly and offers four set day wine tours or an option to “create your own” tour. We opted for the “West Tour,” which hits vineyards west of Charlottesville and is decribed as “Mountains, classic Viriginia wines, scenice vistas!” The West tour, like all pre-curated tours, visited 3 wineries over 5 hours and includes tastings at each winery and a “light snack.” Despite a “light snack” being included on the tour, i very much recommend breakfast in advance of the wine tasting. We ordered bacon, pimento, and egg biscuits from the Farm Bell in Charlottesville. Pimento cheese is a fabulous addition to a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit!
The morning of our tour started with a 10:30 pick-up at our Charlottesville hotel, the Holiday Inn – Monticello. And if you are interested in this specific itinerary, the Holiday-Inn Monticello is a great choice of hotel in terms of location. Before picking us up, Albemarle Limousine emailed us the night prior, and texted the morning of, to remind us of our tour (as if I would forget!). Our guide promptly arrived 30 minutes early and was waiting in a luxury SUV to start the tour. As mentioned, “Charlottesville” wineries are outside of Charlottesville proper, so we set off about 20 minutes to our first winery in Crozet, VA. Side note – Crozet is a tiny town with lots of wineries, breweries, and even a distillery in the immediate vicinity. A few minutes later, we arrived at our first stop: Grace Estate Winery.
Grace Estate Winery. Crozet, VA.
Located in Crozet, VA, Grace Estate Winery is a family winery that was established in 2013. Grace Estate grows many different types of grapes to are eventually made into a myriad of Virginia wines. We started our tour in Grace Estate’s tasting room, which I would describe as modern shabby chic – a lot of central VA flair (in a good way!). We each choose between two tasting flights, both consisting of six Grace Estate wines.
After ordering, we took our wine samples, served in a carousel(!), to Grace Estate’s back porch overlooking the vineyards to enjoy our tasting. We could have stayned inside but it was a nice day and well, COVID. Dan and I sampled the Classic Flight, and my parents both sampled the Fall Flight, which had more whites. We spent about an hour at Grace Estate, which was just enough time to finish our wines and purchase a bottle or two to take home. Standouts in my book were the Rosé and the Merlot. We also picked up a bottle of Tannat, our very favorite wine (as you may recall from our trip to Uruguay) to take home.
Veritas Vineyard and Winery. Afton, VA.
Our second stop was Veritas Vineyard and Winery in Afton, VA, not too far from Grace Estate Winery and also very close to a number of wineries and breweries. Veritas, like Grace, is a family owned winery that was started by a British family in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Its still run by the same family. Veritas is a bit “fancier” than Grace and its home to an upscale restaurant and a fancy event venue. Side note, I would LOVE to host an event here! Seriously, gorgeous.
During COVID (and I believe during normal times too), the winery has three seating options: the sit down restaurant for fancy food service and no tastings, socially distant picnic tables under a tent with table service for wine tastings and casual food, and lawn seating with BOYC (bring your own chair) and self-ordering tastings and food from the kiosk set up inside Veritas. COVID times or not, but especially during COVID, reservations for at least the restaurant and the tented seating are mandatory and book up far in advance. Luckily, Abermarle Limousine made all of our reservations!
At Veritas, we all did the standard COVID tasting: a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2019 Viognier, a 2019 Claret, and 2019 Petit Verdot. The cool thing about Veritas’ tasting during COVID is that it comes pre-packed in a litle box containg four half glasses of wine. The box also includes a tasting card with a QR code that can be scanned to watch a video about the specific wine’s production. The Viognier and the Claret were the best in my opinion,.
We also ordered lunch at Veritas. My parents and I choose the roast beef melt on sourdough bread with horseradish aioli. Dan went with the chicken vegetable wrap in an effort to be healthy, lol. The food was quite good and served quickly.
Pollak Vineyards. Greenwood, VA.
The third and final tasting on our tour was at Pollak Vineyards, another gorgeous property set in the mountains alongside a small lake. Simlar to Veritas, Pollak started in 2003 and focuses of French varitals.
Pollak offers tastings of four wines, choosen by the taster. Dan and I went with the biggest reds Pollak had to offer, while my parents went a bit lighter. While we were probably a bit tipsy for this last tasting (whoops!), we really loved Pollak’s wines. We, again, took our tastings outside and sat at a table over looking the lake. And the tastings here are heavy!
Unlike some other vineyards, Pollak sells cute little gifts and souvenirs that are not alcohol if you are looking for this sort of thing. I purchased an Christmas ornament and a cork hand sanitizer holder. I know, what a time to be alive.
Michael Schaps Winworks Extended, Charlottesville, VA.
Our official tour ended after Pollak and we were dropped back off at our hotel for a little nap, but later in the evening we visited one of the only tasting rooms in Charlottesville proper, Michael Schaps Wineworks Extended. Michael Schaps has a vineyard west of Charlottesville, not too far from where we were ealier in the day, but he also has a tasting room in the town of Charlottesville. I specifically wanted to come here to try his Tannat, which supposedly receives high marks. We purchased a bottle for the four of us to split. It was fine, but definitely not one of the better Tannats I have had. The wine maker actually stopped by the property and we very much wanted to ask him about some of his other tannats at his property, but he was simply too busy to speak with us. So there’s that, LOL. We had originally planned to go to the vineyard outside of town to try some of his other tannats the following day, but after this interaction, we decided not to visit.
Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard, North Garden, VA.
The next day, however, we did visit one other winery, Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard, for lunch. Like those wineries on our tour, Pippin Hill is located West of Charlottesville, about 15 minutes outside of town. Similar to Veritas, Pippin Hill has multiple tasting options: a sit down restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and lawn seating where guests BYOC and order food and bottles (no tastings on the lawn) to consume on the lawn. Tents are also available for rent. The whole property is beautiful and this was a great place to spend a lazy afternoon.
We got really lucky and snagged a 1:00 veranda reservation (i.e. outdoor restaurant seating) the day prior. That being said, that is unusual and restaurant bookings, particularly those outside, book up far in advance. Reservations open on Resy 30 days in advance and I would book as far out as possible.
On arrival, we were seated at the most gorgeous table overlooking the surrounding grounds, vineyards, and mountains! Tastings are offered table side, and guests can create a tasting of any three wines on the menu. Dan and I opted for Pippin Hill’s biggest reds: Wild Common, Easton Blue, and the Petit Verdot. My parents did a lighter tasting, including the Rosé, the Viogner, and the Petit Manseng. The wine were great, but the real standout at Pippin Hill was the food! We tried a lot of things, from a brussel sprout cesar salad, fried green tomato sliders, a falafel platter, parmesean fries, and crab tagliatelle. We also had both desserts offered, which were AMAZING, but I forgot to take pictures!
Things to know before booking wine tastings/tours in the Greater Charlottesville, VA area.
- Eat breakfast before the tour/tastings start. Most Virginia wineries are pretty liberal with tastings. You don’t want to go on an empty stomach. If you happen to do so, most vineyards sell at least some chips or crackers to accompanying the tasting.
- Tip is not included in the cost of the wine tour. Bring cash for that.
- A light snack is included with the Albemarle Limousine tour, which was a pretty decently sized snack. However, most tours include an option to have a quick lunch at one of the stops. Email and ask about your options. Ours were a Panera lunch at $20/person, a stop at a local boutique grocer/deli, or ordering lunch at the second vineyard. We, obviously, went with vineyard lunch.
- If you are tasting on your town, look up the vineyard on line for the most up to date COVID requirements and make reservations IN ADVANCE. Capacity is limited, especially in vineyard restaurants. For example, Pippin Hill opens its reservations 30 days in advance.
- If you are driving yourself, map our your route in advance to ensure your desire route is doable and the vineyards are not an hour apart. Also, a DD is necessary.
- Breweries, distilleries, and cideries abound in the Charlottesville area. These can be great add ons to winery visits if you are in the area.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Albemarle Limousine Tours: The company that we used for our wine tour. Easy booking online. Tip for driver not inlcuded in cost. Costs clearly disclosed on the website when you go to book.
Grace Estate Wines: 5273 Mt. Juliet Farm, Crozet, VA. Open Wednesday – Sunday 11:00 – 5:00 PM, until 7:00 PM on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Cheese and crackers for purchase in the tasting room; guests can bring their own food.
Veritas Vineyard and Winery: 151 Veritas Lane, Afton, VA. It seems like Veritas is now open 11:00 – 5:00 PM daily, but I would confirm directly with the winery, particularly during COVID. Veritas is home to a restaurant at which reservations are required and no tastings are served. Veritas is also home to outdoor tables and tents, reserved for $25 per hour, and open “lawn seating” where guests bring their own chairs (no reservations for this). If you don’t eat at the restaurant, wine tastings and food can be purchased at the vineyard for both tent seating and lawn seating. Food is good and reasonable. Gorgeous event space if you are in the market. Also, for restaurant or tent seating, book in advance, far in advance during COVID. Due to limited seating, Veritas books up, even more so on weekends.
Pollak Vineyards: 330 Newtown Road, Greenwood, VA. Wednesday – Sunday 11:00 – 5:00 PM at the time of writing due to COVID. Reservations are necessary and last for 1.5 hours per party. No food aside from small snacks.
Michael Schaps Wineworks Extended: Wineworks Extended, 1585 Avon Street Extended, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Open daily 1 – 7 PM. Indoor and outdoor seating with heaters. Small snacks for sale.
Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard: 5022 Plank Rd, North Garden, VA 22959. Open daily 11 – 6 PM. Reservations for the restaurant, indoor or outdoor, are mandatory and open 30 days in advance. Check the website for the most recent COVID rules and regulations. Menu is below for those interested.