My best friend and I headed to Charlottesville this weekend for some girl time and to see The Milk Carton Kids perform. I know, I've seen them already this year, more than once I confess, but every show is equally funny with Joey's stage banter and Kenneth's awe-inspiring flatpicking skills. With the destination selected and the reason for going established, I had to plan out what to do with the rest of our time.
When heading to this part of Virginia, you pretty much have two main options. You can make it a lesson in history with trips to Jefferson's Monticello, Monroe's Montpelier, and other stops in American History. Or, you can booze it up. With an abundance of wineries, craft breweries, and distilleries, it's simply a matter of what route to take. We opted to take a route that allowed us to sample all three.
First stop was a whiskey distillery in Culpepper, Virginia. I'm not a hard alcohol drinker at all, but I'm open to the adventure of tasting new things. We selected Belmont Farm Distillery because I was curious about their two flavored corn whiskeys - cherry and apple pie. Tours are free and tastings are $5 for three selections. I was quickly reminded why I don't like hard liquor, especially moonshine, but I still picked up two bottles as gifts. My friend liked the cherry whiskey, and took a jar of it home.
By choosing Belmont Farm, we found a route into Charlottesville that passed by two wineries: Burnley Vineyards and Keswick Vineyards. Burnley Vineyards, established in 1977 in Barboursville, is one of the oldest vineyards in the region. They specialize in chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, chambourcin, vidal, norton, muscat blanc, and orange muscat varietals. For a $3 fee, you are able to taste all of the wines available. I feel really bad saying this, but while the tasting room attendant was nice and their dog was cute, every single wine I tasted was terrible! There was even a red wine that, if you ordered it at a restaurant, you would have sent it back because it tasted like it had turned bad. If you're in Barboursville, I would highly suggest that you opt to visit the more popular Barboursville Winery for a better wine tasting experience. And if you need food, Stonefire Kitchen is a good option for healthy deli selections made from local products.
At Keswick Vineyards, you not only get to taste wine, but you can satiate your thirst for historical knowledge as well. Established in 2000, the vineyard is located on the historic Edgewood Estate - part of the original 1727 Nicholas Meriwether Crown Grant. The Estate saw action in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and (fun fact) was once the home of Art Garfunkel. Tastings are $5, which include a taste of some of their cabernet sauvignon infused chocolate syrup. I'm happy to say that there were some wines that were good there, which is a testament to hiring educated and experienced winemakers to control the production, I think.
After the drive to Charlottesville, via our tasting stops, we got settled in our hotel then headed out to find some local craft beers and some dinner. Charlottesville is a great university town with a conveniently located central pedestrian mall that has everything you need for your visit. Near this pedestrian mall are two options for beer drinkers. Champion Brewing Company has a tap room on 6th Street and South Street Brewery is popular for food and beer, but we discovered it is currently closed for renovations and is expected to reopen Fall 2014. After trying Champion's Missile IPA, we finished our tasting day off with some selections from our restaurant's menu, including an IPA from Parkway Brewing Company in Salem, Virginia. Then, of course, the rest of the night was spent with The Milk Carton Kids, who surprised the audience by acting as both the opener and the headliner for the night. More music for us!
The next morning, we found ourselves eating some very reasonably priced, and good tasting brunch at the Southern Way Cafe in Crozet, Virginia. It was a perfect way to get ourselves full of food as well as position us to take advantage of the wineries and breweries east of Charlottesville. While the Starr Hill Brewery was practically across the street from brunch, our first stop of the day was the King Family Vineyards just a few miles away. The property has a beautiful tasting room, and all of the wines were surprisingly good as well. On Sundays, if you want to see something different, come later in the morning and get a spot around the polo field because from Memorial Day through mid-October, a free polo match begins at 1pm.
Heading down to Route 151 South, off of Route 250, you're bound to stumble upon more wineries. More importantly, you will also be able to stop for some tastes of local craft brews. The first you will encounter is on the left, Blue Mountain Brewery. A good time to stop here is lunchtime because there is plenty of seating, good food, and some cornhole if you feel like a game. Flights of beer are $9, and include 2.5 oz. samples of 8-10 beers on tap.
About 10 miles down the road, you will see Wild Wolf Brewing Company on the right. Yet another place to grab some food (I saw fried oreos were an option!) or get a tasting flight. We selected the $10 full tasting of the five regular beers and the six seasonal beers. This was a wide spectrum of tastes from pilsner to a really sour beer. It also included a dark beer with hints of strawberry and chocolate.
Unfortunately, this was our last stop because we had to get home. If we had more time, there are two more options nearby: Devils Backbone Brewing Company and Blue Mountain Barrel House. Collectively, I've read that these breweries are called the Brew Ridge Trail.
By the way, I thought I would mention that, in the area, there are many u-pick fruit farm options. This time of year, it's peach season in Virginia. We stopped at Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet to get some bags of peaches from the market on site - yes we are lazy and can't even pick our own peaches!