By guest writer and local wine enthusiast Kathryn Parsons
Many people are surprised to discover that Virginia has a long history of wine making. Okay, attempts at winemaking. In 1619, settlers at Jamestowne held the first meeting of the House of Burgesses and set into motion the 12th Act, requiring all landowners to plant at least 10 vines on their property specifically for the development of winemaking. Thomas Jefferson tried (and failed) to cultivate the European vines, vitis vinifera, at Monticello. Thankfully, after a few hundred years of trial and error, Virginia is now the 5th largest wine producing state in the country with over 230 wineries. If you’re getting thirsty and are ready to go visit a winery, here are six things to keep in mind.
- What style of wine do they make? One of the great things about wine and people is variety. I love heavy reds, my friends like sweet wines, while my brother won’t drink anything but light beer. Some wineries specialize in a certain style, like French style wines, lighter sweet wines. Or is you are new to wine or are looking to broaden your palate; many wineries offer a wide range of wines on their tastings. Wineries may also offer several tastings, usually one featuring lighter wines (typically where sweeter wines are found) and a reserve tasting featuring higher quality, bolder wines for an additional fee.
- What do you do once you get there? Some wineries will only offer tastings, perfect for those who want to just sample or are short on time. Nearly all wineries will have tastings available all day long, while others may also offer scheduled tours at certain times throughout the day. Generally, tours will take you through the winemaking facilities and teach you about the process from vine to bottle and finish with a tasting. If you are interested in seeing them stomp the grapes Lucy and Ethel-style, visit during harvest (August – October) to see the current feet-free method. Plan to spend about 30 minutes for just a tasting and at least 1 hour for tours. In addition to regular tours, some wineries may offer specialized tours and tastings of reserve or library wines, some offer specialized wine and food paired tastings. These usually must be scheduled in advanced, check the website for specifics, including fees for tours and tastings.
- What about lunch? Most wineries will have light fare available in the gift shops such as cheeses, sliced meats, and packaged products, but many also feature restaurants onsite. Be sure to check hours of the restaurants, some only serve lunch and close early. Many wineries also feature picnic areas if you wish to pack a lunch, but first be sure to check that outside food is allowed.
- Can I bring my family? Children are always welcome at wineries, though due to the nature of the business, most seldom have activities for children, so be sure to bring some entertainment for them. Keep a close eye on them while onsite, wineries have lots of heavy equipment that looks like fun but isn’t a safe place to play. Many wineries also allow dogs on the ground but not in indoors due to health code restrictions. Dogs must be attended by an adult at all times
- What is the best time to visit? October is Virginia Wine Month and when most wineries will be just finishing harvest, so expect great weather, a lot of mention of the current vintage and bare vines. To get those beautiful pictures with a vineyard full of grapes in the background, visit in late spring through mid-September. To avoid the crowds, try to come earlier in the day, the busiest times are generally from around 12pm to 3pm; expect a bigger crowd on Saturdays.
- What else should we know? Keep an open mind while you taste, you never know when a wine will surprise you, even if it’s some you’d normally don’t care for. It’s also okay if you don’t care for a wine; spittoons are available at the tasting bar for anything you would prefer not to finish. Feel free to ask all those burning wine questions, the staff will be able to answer much of what you’ve wanted to know. Most importantly, have fun and drive safe! Cheers!
For more information on the Williamsburg Winery Click Here.