Updated: Oct 14, 2020
A trip to the Monticello AVA and a trio of wineries to visit
What I like about Virginia wine is that there is no one varietal that defines the region. Instead there is great variety among the 300+ vineyards in the state. Also, I believe that some of the better single varietal wines that are produced in Virginia are from lesser known or appreciated varieties – Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are regulars on the tasting menus, but generally serve as mixing or blending grapes in many other countries.
I recently reconnected with Virginia wine during a trip to Charlottesville, which anchors the Monticello AVA, where approximately one-quarter of Virginia wineries are located – with more than 80 vineyards, you can barely make a dent in the tasting opportunities surrounding Charlottesville over a weekend visit.
When we go to the Monticello AVA, there are so many great tasting options that it is hard to shortlist which to visit. On this trip we decided to include one of our favorites, as well as try a few new locations that we had not tried before. Michael Shaps Wineworks counts as our most favored, not only because the Chardonnay is outstanding (and quite possibly one of the best in Virginia), but also because Shaps has a vineyard in Burgundy that exports the wines to the US. The collection of Burgundy wines are on offer at the original Wineworks location, but there is a second location in Charlottesville that is more like a tap room for sampling wine flights or by the glass.
A newfound favorite on this trip would be Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard, which we stopped at for lunch. We were not aware until our tasting of the wines that Michael Shaps is a contract winemaker for Pippin Hill (as he is for numerous other vineyards in the region). Pippin Hill is known for having a terrific food menu and fabulous views of the countryside from the dining room – both were commendable. The dining room is first-come, first-served and apparently is extremely popular on weekends.
Our day of tasting rounded out a theme that started with Wineworks and finished at Jefferson Vineyards, which is where Michael Shaps began his winemaking journey in the mid-1990s. That was about the time we tried our first Jefferson Chardonnay at the Virginia Wine Festival, which I suspect Shaps had a hand in producing. While we had been to Jefferson Vineyards before, it had been some time since our last visit and it was nice to get reacquainted with their wines.
The journey from Arlington to Charlottesville is about 2 hours by car, so it is possible to make a day trip out of a visit to the Monticello AVA wineries, but it then becomes a very long day if you do. It is also a missed opportunity to not spend an overnight in Charlottesville, which has a very lively restaurant and brewpub scene in the vicinity of the Downtown Mall. On this recent trip we dined at the North American Sake Brewery, which claims to be the only craft sake distillery in the State of Virginia!
I am not being compensated for my mention of any of the establishments in this post. I am simply a happy customer.