One of the East Coast's top wine tasting destinations is nestled in the piedmont area of central Virginia. Here you will find a fantastic blend of rich history, music, restaurants, and wineries surrounding Charlottesville, VA. What most people don't realize is that this region - known to oenophiles as the Monticello AVA - is perhaps one of the most historically significant wine regions anywhere in North America. This makes a visit to Charlottesville, Virginia the perfect place to explore how old world wines and winemaking tradition have blended with new world innovation to produce very high-quality wine on local farms in this fantastic part of Virginia Wine Country.
Tucked away in the northwestern portion in the Commonwealth of Virginia is the Monticello AVA, or American Viticultural Area. This AVA is nestled southeast of Charlottesville, and northwest of the capital, Richmond. This particular AVA stands out among most others because of the history in the area along with the great wine. Any true American oenophile should have this region on their list of places they must visit. One thing we especially like about visiting the wineries around Charlottesville is that it has a nice variety of winery styles and tasting experiences that range from the ultra luxury to the more "come as you are" style that is often more appealing to casual wine drinkers. For instance at Pollak Vineyards just 15 miles west of Charlottesville, in Greenwood, Virginia they even advertise on their website that guests should bring their own picnic lunch and enjoy it on their veranda, patio, picnic tables, or even a blanket by the pond. This casual and inviting sense of hospitality is of course not uncommon due to the distinct Southern hospitality that vacationers and wine connoisseur have enjoyed in the region for hundreds of year.
Wineries In Monticello For A Virginia Guys Getaway In The Footsteps Of Thomas Jefferson
There are many competing stories for who was responsible for bringing wine to America. Some point to the influences of Spanish Missions in California starting with Fr Junipero Serra in 1769 at Mission San Diego, others point to New Mexico as the birthplace of American wine since Spanish settlers first planned Vitis vinifiera in Senecu as early as 1629, and still others point to efforts by European settlers in the 1800's in Ohio and New York who worked to make wine from native grapes.
However, no person played as important of a role in both cultivating, innovating, and evangelizing American wine as former President Thomas Jefferson. Monticello is the estate built by Thomas Jefferson, in 1772 and his winemaking story begins in 1773 when he was introduced to Italian viticulturalist Filippo 'Philip' Mazzei. He was so impressed by Filippo that he offered him 193 acres of land south of Monticello to begin planting a vineyard. Sadly there was much to learn about planting vines in the new world and in 1774 a severe frost killed many of the vines and the American revolution began a few years later.
Despite these challenges though, Mazzei managed to produce a small amount of wine on the property and even proclaimed to George Washington that he found Virginia soil and climate to be superior to that it Italy.
There is much more to the story of Jefferson and Mazzei's partnership during the early years that are shared on Jefferson Vineyards, and I encourage you to read it.
Even though his own history of winemaking seems rather disappointing, it is important to consider Jefferson's efforts for not just viticulture but also for exploring the health benefits of wine, and exploring the role of soil and climate. During his travels, it was more than simply an opportunity to enjoy drinking some of the world's best wines. Rather he was documenting environmental patterns, practices that dated back generations and other observations from his travels through the winemaking areas of France and Italy. These experiences would ultimately inspire future generations of winemakers. This passion is something that continues today - not just in Virginia but across the United States. His efforts in large part contributed to the industry we know today, where wine is more than just a sacramental drink for religious purposes and more than just something you drink to prevent getting sick since the alcohol kills bacteria. Indeed, his efforts helped make wine something that transcends art and philosophy.
For that, I am very appreciative!
While it took a while for Virginia to rise back to the forefront of the conversation when it comes to a great place for good wine, since 1979 the state has grown from only six wineries to now boasting more than 300.
Just in the area near Charlottesville though, there are more than 40 wineries in this region of Virginia, and they are extremely easy to visit as part of a road trip or weekend getaway. In addition, consider checking out one of the many other attractions the area has to offer. You could get a bird's-eye view of the vineyards on one of the many balloon tours. Catch a show at the historic Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Or summon the dead with the Ghosts and Mysteries walking tour. If you prefer exploring nature, consider one of the many trails in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. Plus, since Charlottesville is also home to the University of Virginia, there's always cultural events, live music, innovative restaurants, and plenty of hotels too. Now, without further ado, let’s explore some wineries you should have on your list for your next visit.
Monticello AVA Wineries Near Charlottesville, VA
You could visit the Charlottesville wineries spread along the Monticello Wine Trail and simple sip and enjoy your way through the day without considering the history. However, to me, wine is as much about the experience as it is the liquid itself. Here in Virginia you have a mixture of classic wineries as well as innovators that are trying new things and that's incredibly special here since it connects us back to the inception of Thomas Jefferson's dream. The Virginia wine industry may not be as well known as in states like New York, California, or even Texas but it is an exciting time for wine makers here in the Shenandoah Valley near Charlottesville in the legendarily beautiful foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
While some of these wineries are larger operations and may have a large tasting room, many family-run winery tasting rooms are smaller. So, if you are traveling in a large group - for instance as a bachelor party, bachelorette party, or a group of friends - that you call the individual tasting rooms first, to inquire about maximum group size, before arriving. Alternatively, we always suggest that the best way to tour wine regions like this is to let someone else do the driving and charter a party bus or private driver for the day instead.
It would be difficult to visit the area without visiting the place where it all began at the Jefferson Vineyards. The winery was purchased in 1981 by the Woodward family, and they have brought it up to Jefferson’s exacting standards over the last 40 years. Come check out the two seasonal flight options for tasting, or one of the vintage library wines.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
The husband and wife team that runs Afton Mountain Vineyards selected the site located on the sunrise slope of Afton Mountain where the vineyard is sheltered from excessive rain by the mountain's rain shadow and dried by breezes passing through the nearby mountain gaps. In addition to award-winning wines, they also have a guest house and 1 bedroom vineyard cottages with fantastic views of the surrounding hills. If you don't believe me, scroll back up to the top and take a look at their vineyards again!
Hark may be new to the Monticello AVA, but this Virginia winery has made an impact. All the wines crafted at Hark Vineyards come from the estate vineyard located just north of Charlottesville. While there, try either the House or Reserve tasting flights, enjoy a guest musician, or simply enjoy the beauty of the estate. Time your visit right and enjoy some of the area’s best food trucks along with your wine.
The Trump family means more than just hotels and resorts, and Trump Winery demonstrates just that. The 1,300-acre estate is lush with varieties of grapes used for creating the best wines. The wines have proved to be worth trying, winning awards since 2010 and leading to this being one the area's favorite wineries. While sampling these incredible wines that live up to the name they beholden, check out the accompanying menu. Selections include everything from cheese and charcuterie to gourmet burgers and mac and cheese. Regardless of your particular pallet, Trump Winery will certainly have the food and wine to satisfy.
Stinson Vineyards breaks the typical vineyard mold when it comes to experiences. The vineyard prides itself in small-lot wines crafted in a three-car garage. The winery has a tasting room that also doubles as a farm store offering some of the best in natural meats, poultry, and local produce. Come for the wine, and get all you need to have an incredible feast with your friends.
Early Mountain Vineyards
Early Mountain Vineyards first opened in 2012 on a property that was first planted in 2005. In 2016 this Monticello AVA vineyard won the best tasting room award from USA Today. One of the unique offerings to the Early Mountain tasting room is the Best of Virginia wine flights. These are carefully crafted flights offering some of the best from not only Early Mountain but other quality Virginia wineries. If you want a getaway with the guys, consider rending the Cottage and the weekend recharging.
If you enjoy strolling through history, then the Barboursville Vineyards are on your itinerary. You can enjoy a tasting flight in the Discovery Tasting room or the Library 1821, or take your wine with you on a self-guided tour of the ruins of the former Barbour Mansion. The Library 1821 boasts vintage wine selections as well as historical documents from the property’s history, including the letter appointing James Barbour the Secretary of War.
King Family Vineyard
Travel a little further west from Charlottesville, and you’ll find Crozet and the King Family Vineyards. While here you can explore tastings including a Class, Small Batch, or Reserved Tasting. If you plan your trip on a Sunday between May and October and enjoy watching polo matches while enjoying your wine. It certainly is a different kind of experience!
Keswick Vineyards were first planted in 1999 and today the winery offers a laid back atmosphere where you can bring a picnic or order a la carte from their selections of cheeses, meats and other treats while enjoying a build-your-own flight featuring four of their award-winning wines.
Horton Vineyards features a variety of wines featuring French varietals including Viognier and Marsanne along with Mouvedre, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. These classic varietals combine nicely in an old-vs-new world experience along with Virginia's native Norton grape that winemaker Dennis Horton decided to revive from his experiences in his home state of Missouri.
Merrie Mill Farm
While Merrie Mill Farm is one of the newer wineries in the Charlottesville area, the history of the property goes back to the 1920s when the property featured a dance pavilion, and the region's first public pool as well as movie theater. Today though there's no pool or movie theater but the winery is known for hosting a variety of live music during the summer months.
Glass House Winery
This might be one of the more unexpected additions to a list featuring Virginia wines, but Glass House features a green house complete with tropical plants along with award-winning wines to welcome Charlottesville area wine lovers who otherwise might have decided to wait until spring to explore the area.
Charlottesville Virginia Makes For A Fantastic Wine Getaway In Central Virginia
Whether you are looking to just have a fantastic road trip through some of the states most beautiful countryside or walk in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson while sipping on a glass of wine, visiting the wineries around Charlottesville is a great excuse to get out and do something different. While without a doubt, most visitors to this Virginia wine region will be arriving by car - only 2.5 hours from Washington, DC, 60 minutes from Richmond, and three hours from Raleigh, the Charlottesville - Albemarle County Airport also offers regularly scheduled flights on national carriers including American, Delta, and United.