Loudoun Wine Adventure

On May 20, 2012 · 3 Comments

Fair warning. This article is going to resemble a travelogue more than a discussion of geo-oddities. I figure I can change the rules occasionally for self-indulgent reasons so I hope you don’t mind. Come back in a couple of days if you’re more a fan of the usual content on the Twelve Mile Circle. The in-laws are visiting this week and they offered my wife and I a rare and very much appreciated opportunity: a night away from the kids. Parents in the audience know exactly what I mean. We love our little monsters darlings of course — wouldn’t trade them for the world — and our brief times apart guarantee that they won’t be abandoned on a roadside or given up for adoption.

Before kids, bed-and-breakfast inns were our overnight accommodations of choice. Now it’s all about whichever hotel has an indoor pool and a breakfast buffet. Still, there was a time when historic was more important than practical. We were happy to accept a 24-hour reprieve to live like we once did before we occupied the house of a million Lego Star Wars kits.

We also chose an activity that is ill-advised with children in tow: a full-day of wine tasting. I’m an experienced beer snob but I’m definitely not an oenophile. I know comparably little about wine. That’s not the point. I’ll admit it — this was completely about removing oneself from parental obligations for the day. There are few things worse than dragging kids to a bunch of vineyards. They’re completely and utterly bored, and they do their best to create a miserable time for everyone involved as punishment for inflicting this horror upon them. The other tasters shoot dirty looks in your direction like you’re one of "those parents". All of us with children been on the receiving end of this at one time or another, haven’t we?

8 Chains North Vineyard Waterford
8 Chains North Vineyard

I took leave from work for the day, figuring correctly that wandering the countryside on a Friday afternoon would cut down on the crowds. We drove out to Loudoun County, an area of Virginia about an hour west of Washington, DC (map). Longtime 12MC readers might recall that I’ve mentioned Loudoun before. It’s where I lived as a kid. That’s true enough although the Loudoun of my youth was much different than the county of today. Loudoun had fifty-thousand residents when I lived there. Now it has more than three hundred thousand residents and it’s been one of the fastest growing counties in the United States consistently for the last two decades.

Loudoun Valley Vineyards Waterford
Loudoun Valley Vineyards

There also weren’t any vineyards back then, or at least none that I can recall. I wasn’t of legal drinking age at the time so maybe there were a small handful that escaped my attention. Now there are something like 30 vineyards and wineries located in several clusters and there are reputedly more in Loudoun than any other part of Virginia. It still confounds me. The Loudoun of my youth was a redneck place (said respectfully) and today it epitomizes upper-class sophistication.

We began with a leisurely lunch in historic Leesburg — not far from where I flipped burgers during my High School job — and continued a few miles west towards the edge of wine country. There are countless wine trails and guides although we used a more haphazard approach. We selected a small cluster on the route between Leesburg and our B&B.

View Larger Map

I figured this would minimize driving and maximize tasting and loafing time. Three vineyards in less than three miles: 8 Chains North; Loudoun Valley Vineyards and Sunset Hills Vineyard. Their close alignment is quite remarkable. I think the two southern ones nearly abutted property lines. One often hears of the "terroir" of wines, that combination of unique geography, geology and climate affecting a specific vineyard’s flavors. I would have thought three vineyards so closely located would have had the same basic terroir, and yet even I could detect distinct differences with my considerably untrained palate. There are plenty of human-controlled variations too I suppose, and perhaps those made up the bulk of the differences.

Sunset Hills Vineyard Purcellville
Sunset Hills Vineyard

We settled in at the third location, Sunset Hills. It turned out to be a place that’s rather well regarded by visitors. Again, that was a completely random choice. It was just one of those days were everything seemed to fall into place. Even the weather was amazing: a sunny day with perfect temperature (75°f / 24°c) and low humidity. It seems like we get only a handful of days like this every spring before the pounding heat and stifling humidity settles in for the summer months. Here, we sat on an outdoor patio for awhile and chatted. It was also time for me to turn the car keys over to my wife for the remainder of our day. I wasn’t a menace to society or anything, and frankly I was probably still considerably and safely below the legal limit. Why take chances, though?

Veramar Vineyard Berryville

Veramar Vineyard

We’d planned to visit other Loudoun vineyards but we skipped them, and drove into neighboring Clarke County (map) to the west. We crossed the Shenandoah River, which is primarily a geographic feature of Virginia in spite of of what the song says! We were already nearly palate-fatigue but we pressed onward for one more stop.

The vineyards haven’t gained the same foothold in Clarke as they have in Loudoun. There are a couple though and stopped at Veramar Vineyard. Clarke reminded me of the Loudoun County of thirty years ago in its pre-McMansion era. We stayed overnight in Clarke at the Smithfield Farm Bed and Breakfast. This allowed me to change the color for Clarke on my County Counting Map (any county where I spend the night gets a different color).

View Larger Map
Right along the state line!

I noticed a National Register of Historic Places plaque on the entrance. This was a wonderful development because it allowed me to pull its nomination package from the Internet and truly understand its significance. That’s typically what I do when I notice one of those National Register plaques. The other interesting feature is that property borders the state line. I would have gone looking for boundary markers if we’d been there another day, to which my wife replied, "I love you, but you’re such a geek."

Smithfield Farm Berryville
Smithfield Farm Bed and Breakfast

We returned home on Saturday morning to two kids who had such a great time with their grandparents that they hardly noticed we’d left.

On May 20, 2012 · 3 Comments

3 Responses to “Loudoun Wine Adventure”

  1. Peter says:

    Not too far from me there’s a cluster of wineries, and visiting some of them makes for a nice weekend outing. Most have busy tasting rooms and offer live entertainment. Still, I’m left with the suspicion that by and large the wineries are more in the category of “rich person hobby” than “serious moneymaking venture.” It’s probably the same with the ones in Loudon County.

  2. David F-H says:

    Wait, Wait, Wait, you live just a 45 minute drive from PG county in MD and you haven’t been there? You can wrap up MD with a trip to the ‘burbs, a drive up I-95 and then a trek to the Eastern Shore. What are you doing for memorial day weekend?
    Also, what’s ‘Star’ mean on your mob-rule map?
    Keep up the great blogging! (Any kind of blogging!)

    • Actually I’ve been to every county in Maryland. I’m not sure why it’s not showing up correctly on Mob Rule at the moment… the map I copied from there shows it right.

      A “star” county is one that holds special meaning for me. I allow myself to pick a single county per state (if one is worthy). For Virginia, that’s Charlottesville, an independent city that’s considered a county-equivalent. It’s where I met my wife. 🙂

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