Great Wine, A Few Hours Away: Loudoun County, Virginia

Not all of America’s great wines are produced in Napa and Sonoma. Less than an hour outside of Washington DC in northern Virginia is Loudoun County, home of beautiful mountain vistas, farms, horse country and 40 award-winning wineries – not to mention 20 craft breweries – to explore.

“Virginia is the most happening place outside of California,” says Jennifer McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards in the village of Middleburg, outside the Bull Run Mountains.

Visitors to Loudoun will appreciate the area’s experiential offerings, from visiting a winemaker’s home to imbibing in a state-of-the-art industrial tasting room. Loudoun County is not a place “where you taste, shuffle, buy and move on,” says Jordan Harris, winemaker and general manager at Tarara Winery in Leesburg. “You can find a winery, sit, relax and enjoy. It’s more service-based,” he says. “I absolutely love where I am.”

This is a popular sentiment, according to Jennifer Sigal, spokesperson for Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism organization. “A lot of people say Virginia is more about the [whole] experience,” she says. “At other places, it’s about tasting, but here it’s right in the vineyard.” She recommends allowing plenty of time to explore the wineries, perhaps visiting two to three wineries a day.

Picnics, concerts and other events are also on the menu. Loudon County’s expanse means its wineries can host a lot more people than their rival wine regions. A summer concert, for example, often draws 1,000 people. Adventurers can even kayak or canoe the Potomac River to attend Tarara’s outdoor lawn concerts.

Virginia winemaking has a long tradition, dating back to the colonial days. Winemakers continue to evolve and improve the process – and they’re growing fast: In 2015, the state’s 250-plus wineries produced 556,000 cases of wine, up 34 percent since 2010. Wine here is now a $750-million industry, and Virginia is now the nation’s 5th-largest producer of wine grapes.

One of Loudoun County’s main attractions is the Norton grape. Also the state grape, it’s native to the U.S. It’s dark and has fruity flavors that may include plum and tart cherries. “We have winemakers come from all over—California, France. It’s a collaborative effort to elevate the quality of wines from Virginia. People want to be in on the excitement,” Sigal says.

Along with wineries, Loudoun County features many local craft breweries on the LoCo Ale Trail. As artisan beer has gained popularity, wine country has made room for hops, which has been in high demand, creating a beer-tasting destination.

Here are a few wineries and breweries to visit:

Chrysalis Vineyards. Chrysalis is known for having one of the largest plantings in the US. They specialize in unusual French and Spanish varietals as well as the Norton grape. They recently opened a new building and also produce artisan cheese. www.chrysaliswine.com

Tarara Winery. Tarara is one of the county’s oldest wineries, reaching across 475 acres of Potomac River front land and set in the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains. The winery specializes in single vineyard blends. www.tarara.com

Cana Vineyards and Winery of Middleburg. Here you’ll find an elegant, multi-level facility with a mountain view, and featuring a variety of red and white wines. The winery is named after the biblical wedding feast, Cana of Galilee, during which Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine. They are recent winners of the Loudoun Wine Awards competition. www.canavineyards.com

Corcoran Vineyards and Cider. This boutique winery is family-owned and produces 3,000 cases a year. Check out the 1750s restored log cabin tasting room for samples of wine and cider. The apple wine was recently voted best fruit wine by Virginia Wine Lover. For beer lovers, the Corcoran brewery is five miles from the vineyards. www.corcorancider.com

Dirt Farm Brewing. Enjoy small batch beer, handcrafted with fresh ingredients from the 400-acre Great Country farm in the small village of Bluemont, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The tap room has expanded outdoor seating and a fireplace. www.dirtfarmbrewing.com

For general information: www.visitloudoun.org

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