- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On any weekend this fall, hundreds of Washingtonians will pile into their cars, take the exit off the main highway and begin a journey down gravel back roads and winding lanes, passing through quaint small towns with panoramic views of mountains and valleys — all in search of wine and vineyards.

It may sound like California, but it’s right here.

“There is no reason to book a flight to Napa Valley, when you have the Napa Valley of the East in your own back yard,” says Tareq Salahi, owner of Oasis Winery in Hume, Va.

“We have nearly every great wine region — France, Germany, California, Italy — represented in Virginia. All the wines of the world are here.”

Virginia wines are coming into their own: In 1979 the state had only six wineries. Today it has 92 — and 30 of them, all small, noncommercial or “boutique” wineries, are within an hour-and-a-half drive of the Beltway.

Yet to many people, Virginia wines remain a mystery. To demystify the subject the state has named October its official wine month. It’s harvest time, one of the busiest and most exciting seasons of the year, and every winery in Virginia will hold special events.

From barrel tastings and grape crushing to winery tours and wine dinners, the happenings are there for almost everyone, expert to novice, to enjoy.

• • •

Virginia wine has come a long way since Thomas Jefferson first planted his vines in the lush soil at Monticello more than 200 years ago. One of the strongest advocates of Virginia wine in Colonial times, Jefferson never did get to experience the velvet bite of a vintage merlot or the crisp fruity overtones of a chardonnay from his backyard vineyard: He never could figure out how to grow grapes in Virginia’s ever-changing climate, or find a way to fight the fungal diseases that attacked his vines.

With minimal growth through the early 1900s, the Virginia wine industry was nearly extinct after Prohibition, and for many years afterward its wine production was sluggish. In 1979, the state’s six wineries had fewer than 300 acres of vines. After concerted efforts by the state and by local growers, 2,500 acres are now planted with grapes, producing more than 231,000 cases of wine last year. Next year the number of wineries is expected to reach 100.

And in June, Gov. Mark Warner announced a “strategic plan” for the future of Virginia wines. He and the state’s wine producers aim to double the industry’s market share within the state and show substantial national sales by 2015.

Currently, more than 15 major wine varieties are grown throughout the state, including chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier, merlot, cabernet franc and chambourcin. Tony Champ, president of the Virginia Wineries Association and proprietor of White Hall Vineyards at Monticello, suggests that the state’s winemakers may have finally mastered what Jefferson could not.

“I think we have finally begun to find our place, learning to work with our climate and really strike that balance and make some great wine,” he says.

“Our chardonnay may never be as famous as some other region’s, but we are doing some great things with other grapes,” he says, pointing out a gold medal for a Virginia Viognier that went up against California wines, and another for a Virginia cabernet franc, which won at the 2005 Dallas Morning News wine competition, the fourth largest in the United States.

“I think this shows we are beginning to hold our own.”

• • •

Most of Northern Virginia’s wineries, 24 of them, group themselves into one of two associations, the Loudoun Wine Trail and the Blue Ridge Wine Way. The first is made up of 11 wineries that are located mainly north of Route 50 West and along Route 7 West. The second, with 13 wineries, covers the area south of Route 50 and east of Skyline Drive.

But all 30 of them welcome visitors and all are easy to reach. Here are a few:

Tarara Winery

Head down a winding dirt road, past a large lake, rows of apple trees and acres of vineyards just outside Leesburg to find Tarara Winery. Built by Ralph “Whitie” Hubert, a former construction company owner, Tarara is big, organized and unique in many respects.

The winery proper is built into the side of a mountain and housed in a man-made cave. Guests wander down a wooden deck path built onto the hillside before entering an underground room. There they find a tasting room, a banquet hall and the entrance for tours. Throughout the room, large glass cases display bottles of Tarara wines, along with the awards they’ve won.

Don’t be deterred at the sight of many cars in the parking lot. Tarara staff is able to handle the crowds that gather almost every weekend.

Tarara Winery isn’t just about the wine. Throughout the fall season, guests can pick apples and blueberries. Be sure to stop by the tasting room before you start — you need to pick up a bag and pay.

Tarara Winery offers 14 different wines along with light fare. Tasting and tour hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Tasting fees are $5. 13648 Tarara Lane, Leesburg. 703/771-7100 or www.tarara.com

Hillsborough Vineyards

Opened in October 2003 and one of the newest wineries on the Loudoun Wine Trail, Hillsborough, near Purcellville, sits high up on a hillside with its vineyards flanking in almost all directions.

Bora Baki, his wife, Zeynep, and their two sons, Tolga and Kerem, are the family behind the Hillsborough winery. The Bakis moved to the United States from Turkey in 1979 and after years in the plastics business in Falls Church, Mr. Baki decided to retire to the countryside. At about that same time, Kerem graduated with a master’s degree in viticulture and enology — the study of grapes, winemaking and vineyard management — from Virginia Tech.

Realizing that he needed a hobby, Mr. Baki planted some vines and decided to start a winery, hiring his son as the winemaker.

While the winery is a tight fit in one of the property’s barns, the tasting room is unusual. Mr. Baki restored an 1850s cattle barn on the hill and it affords panoramic views of the mountainside and vineyards below. Guests can either sip their wine indoors in the tasting room or head out to one of several patios and sit among the vineyards with their drinks.

Hillsborough Winery offers four of its own wines in addition to selections from other Virginia wineries and some light fare. Tasting hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Monday. Tasting fees are $3. 6716 Charles Town Pike, Purcellville. 540/668-6216 or www.hillsboroughwine.com

Breaux Vineyards

It is hard not to imagine a Napa Valley estate or a Tuscan villa when you drive up the long winding road to Breaux Vineyards. On the slopes of Short Hills Mountain, the winery in Purcellville is just miles away from historic Harpers Ferry and is shadowed by the Blue Ridge mountains.

Winemaking was at first a hobby for owners Paul and Alexis Breaux when they inherited a three-acre vineyard and moved onto the property in 1994. After their hobby wine became popular, they decided to expand the business with winemaker Dave Collins. In 10 years the winery has expanded to 85 acres of vineyards and nearly 9,000 cases of wine a year. Many of their wines have won national and international awards.

The tasting room is expansive and the tours are informative. Breaux also has a large patio, “Patio Madeleine,” that is perfect for an afternoon picnic lunch. Because of its location and surroundings, Breaux schedules many private events. Call or check its Web site before visiting to make sure it’s open on the day you choose.

Breaux Vineyards offers 13 different wines along with light gourmet fare. Tasting and tour hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May through November and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. December through April. Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Tasting fees are $5. 36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Purcellville, VA. 540/668-6299 or www.breauxvineyards.com

Farfelu Vineyards

The journey to Farfelu Vineyards in Flint Hill doesn’t truly begin until a traveler turns off Route 647 onto a tree-covered dirt road that’s barely two lanes. Surrounded by woods, visitors must travel nearly four miles through blind turns and steep inclines to make it to the winery. Smart visitors will obey the signs that ask motorists to honk before going around the blind turns.

Opened in 1967 and licensed in 1975, Farfelu is one of Virginia’s first licensed wineries, and proud of it. The winery is housed in a converted 1860s dairy barn, while the grounds are peppered with horseshoe and bocce ball pits, bistro tables amid the acres of vineyards. The winery has built a reputation for its relaxed atmosphere; its motto is “Serious wine for un-serious people.”

“Our goal is to make wine approachable,” says sales manager Shannon Swain,. “We want people to come here and feel comfortable. Sit back, enjoy some wine and maybe in the process learn something about what we do.”

While the atmosphere is laid back, winemakers Caroline and John Osborne remain serious about their wine: They won 15 state and national awards in 2002 alone.

Farfelu Winery offers eight different wines along with light fare. Tasting hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Monday. The tasting fees, $3, includes a souvenir glass. 13058 Crest Hill Road, Flint Hill, Va. 540/364-2930 or www.farfeluwine.com

Oasis Winery

Webster defines “oasis” as “a refuge, as from work or stress; haven.” That may be the best way to describe Oasis Winery in Hume.

Located not far from Skyline Drive, this hilltop winery offers guests panoramic views of the vineyard and the nearby mountains from a two-tiered heated deck that keeps visitors warm during the sometimes chilly fall season.

Oasis Winery has been family-owned and operated for 28 years by the Salahi family. Tareq Salahi, who helped his father hand-plant the vineyards, oversees the business.

With more than 3,000 awards won since its inception in 1977, Oasis Winery also is one of only a few Virginia wineries that offer sparkling wine; in 1999 its Brut sparkling wine was named one of the top 10 in the world by the industry magazine The Wine Enthusiast. Beyond the views, visitors also can take a tour of the winery and then try several or all of Oasis’ wines in its expansive but comfortable and inviting tasting room.

Oasis Winery offers 14 different types of wine along with a wide range of food options (some require advance reservations). Tasting and tour hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, until 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Tasting fees are $5 and include a souvenir glass. 14141 Hume Road, Hume, VA. 540/635-3103 or www.oasiswine.com

Wineries getting into the spirit

October is Virginia Wine Month and the state’s wineries are open to all, with special events planned for each weekend. Here’s a guide to some of the vineyard activities in Northern Virginia.

All month

• Virginia Wine Country Limousine Tours: All guests on wine country tours during October will receive a gift or keepsake of Virginia wine country. 540/622-2505 or www.virginiawinecountry tours.com

Oct. 1-2

• Naked Mountain Vineyard’s Autumn Leaves Open House: In celebration of Virginia wine month, wines will be discounted this weekend. Light fare will be paired with current wines. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 540/364-1609 or www.nakedmtn.com

• Oasis Winery’s Virginia Wine Month Open House: Select wines discounted these two days only. Award-winning wines and distant views of the fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wine specials. 540/635-7627 or www.oasiswine.com

Oct. 8

• Hillsborough Vineyards’ Second Anniversary Party: Celebrate another year with a party, food, music and new releases. Fee. 540/668-6216 or www.hillsboroughwine.com

• Windham Winery’s Harvest Dinner: Celebrate the harvest with fine wines and fine food. Fee. 540/668-6464 or www.windhamwinery.com

Oct. 8-9

• Chrysalis Vineyards’ fifth annual Norton Festival: The winery’s biggest event of the year. Live music, autumn colors, hayrides and tasting of Chrysalis’ specialty, Norton, indigenous to Virginia, and its blends, including the new Locksley Reserve Norton, Chrysalis’ flagship red wine. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 800/235-8804 or www.chrysaliswine.com

Oct. 8-10

• Farfelu Vineyards’ Harvest Days Weekend: Fine wine and live music amid the fall foliage. Games of horseshoes and bocce; river trail hiking. Special wine discounts. Gourmet cheese and sausage available for purchase. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. $5 per person. 540/364-2930 or www.farfeluwine.com

• Oasis Winery’s “Meet the Oasis Cabernet”: New Cabernet Select wines discounted this day only. Award-winning wines, gourmet food and views of the Blue Ridge from the outdoor infrared heated deck. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/635-7627 or www.oasiswine.com

• Unicorn Winery’s Columbus Day fest: Wind your way to the tasting room amid the blazing maple trees along the driveway. Fee includes hors d’oeuvres, wine specials and a Unicorn glass. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/349-5885 or www.unicorn winery.com

Oct. 15-16

• Breaux Vineyards shows art and antiques: Paintings, sculptures, antiques, fall color, hayrides and fine wines. Light gourmet fare for sale. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 800/492-9961 or www.breauxvineyards.com

• Oasis Winery’s Fall Foliage Weekend: Taste the new Meritage directly from the barrel; futures available. Select wines discounted this day only. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/635-762 or www.oasiswine.com

• Tarara Winery’s October Wine Days: While on the Loudoun Farm Tour celebrate fall at Tarara with live music and October wine specials. Rain or shine. Tasting fee. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 703/771-7100 ext. 249 or www.tarara.com

• Unicorn Winery’s Sixth Annual Wine Festival: Games for children, wines for adults, fall colors for all. Food by Tim’s Rivershore Restaurant. Fee for food. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/349-5885 or www.unicorn winery.com

Oct. 22

• Lost Creek Winery’s Harvest Soup Weekend: New vintage wine and soup. 703/443-9836 or www.lostcreekwinery.com

• Veramar Vineyard’s Taste of Tuscany: Explore Italian food and Veramar wines in recognition of the Bogaty family’s heritage in the Italian Alps. Good eats with Italian opera singing. Reservations required. $15 per person fee includes Italian food tasting, opera singing, wine tasting and souvenir glass. Guided tasting 1-4 p.m. 540/955-5510 or www.veramar.com

Oct. 22-23

• Oasis Winery’s Celebration of Colors: Sample the winery’s latest release and taste wines from the barrels. Indoor seating. Wine specials. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/635-7627 or www.oasiswine.com

• Windham Winery’s “Chili with the Reds”: The weather should be as ripe as the grapes for a warming bowl of chili and a glass of Windham red. Short Hill Mountain’s fall colors provide the backdrop. $5 fee includes chili and bread. 540/668-6464 or www.WindhamWinery.com

Oct. 22-23, 29-30

• Breaux Vineyards’ Fall Color Weekends: Take a drive to the mountains and enjoy the festive fall colors of western Loudoun County. Special prices on selected wines, holiday gift specials. 800/492-9961 or www.breauxvineyards.com

Oct. 29-30

• Oasis Winery’s Autumn Color Blue Ridge Celebration: Featuring the merlot and sampling of the latest releases from the barrel. Indoor and outdoor infrared heated seating. Wine specials. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 540/635-7627 or www.oasiswine.com

Oct. 30

• Hillsborough Vineyards’ Masquerade Ball: A spooky evening amid Blue Ridge mists, with a howling moon and bats in the barn. Heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, dancing, games and prizes. No admittance without costume. Fee. 540/668-6216 or www.hillsboroughwine.com

• Stillhouse Vineyards’s “Fall is in the Air”: Distinctive wines and an outside fire. Games include bocce and horseshoes. Light fare available for purchase. Free. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 540/364-1203 or www.stillhousevineyards.com

Mapping out visits to wineries

It can’t be done in a day, but a leisurely ramble through Northern Virginia’s vineyards will reward the palate at any time. And during the official “wine month” of October, special events — from barrel tastings to grape crushing — will liven up the schedule of every winery in Virginia.

Here’s a quick guide to Northern Virginia’s 30 wineries:

1. Lost Creek Vineyards & Winery, 43277 Spinks Ferry Road, Leesburg

2. Hidden Brook Winery, 43301 Spinks Ferry Road, Leesburg

3. Tarara Winery, 13648 Tarara Lane, Leesburg

4. Loudoun Valley Vineyards, Route 9, Leesburg

5. Waterford Vineyards, 14365 Corkys Farm Lane, Waterford

6. Windham Vineyard and Winery, County Route 10 one mile west of North Settlement Road, Windham

7. Hillsborough Vineyards, 716 Charles Town Pike, Purcellville

8. Breaux Vineyards, 36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Purcellville

9. Veramar Vineyard, Quarry Road (Route 612), Berryville

10. Willowcroft Farm Vineyards, 38906 Mount Gilead Road, Leesburg

11. Swedenburg Estate Vineyard, U.S. 50, Middleburg

12. Chrysalis Vineyards, 23876 Champe Ford Road, Middleburg

13. Boxwood Winery, The Plains Road, Middleburg

14. Piedmont Vineyards and Winery, 2546-D Halfway Road, Middleburg

15. Three Fox Vineyards, 10100 Three Fox Lane, off Route 17, Delaplane

16. Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery, 2747 Leeds Manor Road (Route 688), Markham

17. Rappahannock Cellars, 14437 Hume Road, Huntly

18. Oasis Winery, 14141 Hume Road, Hume

19. Stillhouse Vineyards, Stillhouse Road off Route 688, north of Hume

20. Farfelu Vineyards, 13058 Crest Hill Road, Flint Hill

21. Pearmund Cellars, 6190 Georgetown Road, Broad Run

22. Mediterranean Cellars, 8295 Falcon Glen Road, Warrenton

23. Unicorn Winery, 489 Old Bridge Road, Amissville

24. Gray Ghost Vineyards, 14706 Lee Highway, Amissville

25. Bleu Rock Vineyards, 12567 Lee Highway, Washington

26. Gadino Cellars, 92 Schoolhouse Road, Little Washington

27. Smokehouse Winery, 10 Ashby Road, Sperryville

28. Sharp Rock Vineyards, Routes 601 and 707, Sperryville

29. Rogers Ford Farm Winery, Rogers Ford Road (Route 632), Sumerduck

30. Hartwood Winery, 345 Hartwood Road, Fredericksburg

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