The best wineries in Virginia
The year 2020 has held some major ups and downs for me, but there is one wonderful milestone it has witnessed. It seems appropriate that in October, otherwise known as Virginia Wine Month, I finally hit my goal of visiting 100 Virginia wineries while visiting Stars in the Valley, a new (and tasty) winery that’s less than two years old.
People are often surprised to hear that Virginia is home to nearly 300 wineries and is tied for the fifth largest wine producing region in the United States. However, wine has been grown in Virginia for over four centuries, dating back at least to 1619. Now, I could go into all the history about Jefferson’s struggle to produce drinkable wine at Monticello or the (re)discovery of a native Virginia grape by Dr. James Norton, but my guess is that you’re really here to find a weekend escape with good friends, good wines, and good views.
One of the most important things to know about Virginia wine is that it will consistently challenge your expectations. It may seem obvious, but there is no single, universal way of making any specific type of wine. This is wonderfully evident here in Virginia. You may come across a chardonnay that is reminiscent of your Napa Valley oakey chards, that is to say tasting like a tub of buttered movie theatre popcorn, but then the very next chardonnay you taste may be a crisp, stainless steel with bright apple notes and no hint of butter or oak.
Basically, there is something for everyone: whites so sweet they’ll make your teeth ache, full bodied reds, wines made from other fruit, and more. My quest to hit 100 wineries truly started with wanting to understand more about the wines I like so that I could stop wasting money at the grocery store, but it grew into so much more than that.
As you're out tasting, no matter where you are, be sure to pay close attention to some of the grapes that show the best of what Virginia has to offer: Chardonnay, VIgonier, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Norton, and Petit Verdot. Ask your wine educator their recommendations (and don’t forget to tip them!). Learn about basics like residual sugar and aging, as these will help you learn what to look for in the future. But most importantly, find what you like, and enjoy it!
The best wineries in Virginia
I hope to pass on some of what I’ve learned to you! After much humming and hawing, and countless hours spent looking at my Virginia wineries spreadsheet (yes, I have a spreadsheet), here are my favorite wineries across the state of Virginia!
Best overall: Michael Shaps Wineworks, Charlottesville Virginia
I first discovered Michael Shaps back in 2016 on a “Gals and Dogs” wine weekend in Charlottesville. It’s a slow meander up a gravel driveway, surrounded by light woods. You’ll actually have to drive straight past another winery to get there, but don’t get distracted, because what’s at the end of the path is definitely worth the wait.
Not only has Michael Shaps multiple gold medals in the prestigious Virginia’s Governor’s Cup wine competition, he’s done so year after year. But what I love most is that his wine list is also the precise definition of “something for everyone.” Shaps makes wine both locally here Virginia and at his estate in Burgundy (for you old world aficionados). He makes boxed wine and wine for refillable growlers under a label called Wineworks that is meant to be high-quality yet also budget conscious -- perfect for those of you who’ve needed a little extra calming during these quarantine times. He also makes a sweet dessert wine that is literally named Raisin (not to be confused with raison!) d’Etre.
If Charlottesville is too far away for you, Shaps also makes wine for a handful of other wineries, including Shenandoah Vineyards (off I-81) and The Barns at Hamilton Station (near Leesburg).
I highly recommend the following wines:
● Michael Shaps Petit Manseng: You absolutely have to try my favorite grape to be grown in Virginia. The Petit Manseng was historically grown in France to make sweeter or dessert wines, but here in Virginia, you’ll often find them dry and bursting with tropical flavor.
● Wineworks BOX Rosé: Shaps was actually the first Virginia winery to offer “boxed” wine, and like all of his wines, there’s an attention to detail that produces quality but this time at a lower price point. A different blend annually, this light, dry rose is guaranteed to be your summer favorite!
● Michael Shaps L. Scott: This luscious red is a blend of Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and it’s well-balanced to provide a round mouthfeel that is smooth and velvety, making it the perfect wine for the coming winter months and the corresponding hearty meals.
Hidden Gem: Linden Vineyards, Linden, Virginia
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you all about Linden Vineyards, home to my other favorite winemaker in Virginia.
Thankfully recommended to me a few years ago by a friend in the industry, I’m now passing along this insider knowledge to you. Linden Vineyards is a hidden gem, located on a hill overlooking one of three vineyards that are the sole source of Linden’s grapes, nestled mere miles away from I-66, about an hour from DC. Without a sign drawing in traffic from the highway, Linden has focused on creating quality wines that speak for themselves. And boy do they!
Jim Law, the owner of Linden Vineyards, has built it into one of the pillars of Virginia winemaking. One of the older wineries in Virginia, Law broke ground nearly 40 years ago in 1983 and has been nurturing his vineyards ever since. He treats winemaking like an art form, and it’s truly evident in the outstanding wines that are produced year after year.
It’s evident from the moment you walk in the door. There’s an air of seriousness blended with appreciation. You’ll not find kids or dogs running under foot here, just fellow wine lovers, an incredibly knowledgeable staff. And some of the best wine in Virginia.
If you find yourself out that way, do yourself a favor and try some. Here are my favorites:
● Avenius Chardonnay: My personal favorite, that I remember years after tasting it. Avenius, named for one of three vineyards that produces all of the grapes for Linden, offers a minerality that complements nicely the fuller bodied nature of this Chardonnay. This tends to be more of a “Chablis” style Chardonnay in that it is well-balanced and not overly oaked.
● Claret: Now, if you’re like me, you may have thought that Claret was something that English gentlemen drank 200 years ago, but this one should change your thinking! Really, all a Claret is is a Bordeaux (often a red blend). If they still have it, I’d go for the 2015 vintage as it was a great growing season all around. It’s balanced and medium-bodied, and a great sipping wine!
● Best on a budget: Ox-Eye Vineyards is one of the few downtown tasting rooms I’ve visited in Virginia, but I dig it’s industrial vibe. You’ll find it nestled into an old brick storefront in Staunton, Virginia, a charming old town off I-81. They have an excellent list of wines in the $20 range. My favorite for the summer is their dry Riesling.
● Best Views: There’s a reason Pippin Hill Winery is a South Charlottesville favorite. You’ll see families and bridal showers meandering over their lush, gardened hills, making a day of being in this beautiful valley. They also have a vineyard-to-table kitchen that allows you to enjoy the most natural pairing of all: wine and food. My pick here would definitely be the Viognier.
● Best Organic: Nestled at the top of a rather steep gravel drive Arterra Wines is home to a winemaker who embraces a more minimalist technique, allowing the grapes to express themselves in the most authentic way possible. When you’re here, if it’s available, you must try their Malbec.
● Best Dog Day Out: If you’re like me, and you like a slightly slower pace, Muse Vineyards is the place for you. It’s low key, amazing wines, sedate hikes through vineyards, and you can take your furry friend right up to the tasting counter! While you’re there, don’t miss out on a classic Virginia varietal, the Cabernet Franc.
The best US lakes for recreation
Lake Powell Lake Powell is a reservoir in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area near the Utah and Arizona border. The water is a crisp blue, and snakes through the red rock canyon, offering plenty of opportunities for water sports and recreation. Visitors to Lake Powell can take a boat tour, go waterskiing and visit Cathedral in the Desert, a stunning rock monument located in Lake Powell. Its location near the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley provides an amazing opportunity for adventurers to have the road trip of a lifetime. Lake Lanier Lake Lanier is located in North Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta and a short drive from Chattanooga. It is a man-made reservoir made by damming the Chattahoochee River to provide electricity and flood control for nearby Atlanta. More than 10 million people visit Lake Lanier annually, with many of them using the Lanier Islands as a recreational hub. The Lanier Islands have plenty of lodging and dining options for all budgets, including tent camping and an RV park. Lake of the Ozarks Missouri's crown jewel of a lake sits in the middle of the state and offers a world-class destination. Visitors can find a plethora of land-based activities, restaurants and accommodations. In addition, there are countless marinas available to rent or store a boat. There are also 32 hiking trails near the lake, along with four caves to explore. There is inexpensive camping available nearby at Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Pickwick Lake © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Pickwick Lake, Tennessee The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created a series of 9 major dams across Tennessee during the 1930s and 1940s to bring affordable electricity and jobs to an area stricken by the Great Depression. Today, all the TVA lakes are great for water sports and recreation, but our favorite is Pickwick Lake, on the border of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, just outside Memphis. Yellow Creek Cove on the lake is a constant party for boaters in the summer and features a rope swing into the water below. There is a great camping spot at Pickwick Landing State Park, where there is also a marina and available boat rentals. Big Bear Lake Big Bear Lake in Southern California, the ‘Jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest,’ prides itself on being open all four seasons for water recreation. Located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, it also can be accessed easily from Las Vegas or Phoenix. Big Bear offers a mountain atmosphere, with hiking trails, winter skiing, and summer swimming. The heart of Big Bear Lake is at Big Bear Village, a charming small town that serves as the region’s hub for dining and lodging. Make sure to check out the local festivals at The Village at Halloween and Christmas. Lake Tahoe © MariuszBlach / Getty Images Lake Tahoe Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada, near Reno. It is the second deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake) and is known for its incredibly clear water and vibrant colors. Tahoe is known as a gateway for recreational adventure. Visitors can access hundreds of miles of beautiful hiking trails, as well as rent paddleboards and kayaks to explore the lake. Lake Mead Lake Mead lies outside of Las Vegas, and is the largest reservoir in the United States, formed by the Hoover Dam. Boating in Lake Mead is a popular activity, with four separate marinas available to rent or store boats. Lake Mead Cruises also takes a nightly cruise to the Hoover Dam and back. Lake Mead is heaven for fishing and offers some of the best sport fishing in the United States. Lake Placid © Chuck Robinson Photography / Getty Images Lake Placid Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is a classic New York mountain town, with views so legendary the town was selected to host the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. In the winter, Lake Placid has amazing opportunities to snow ski and snowboard. In the summer, Lake Placid is a utopia for waterboarding and tubing. For those who own their own boat, there are several public launch points. For those on a budget, there are hostels off the lake for low rates or camping in nearby campgrounds or in the Adirondack backcountry. Lake Winnebago Lake Winnebago is a glacial lake in eastern Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee near Appleton and Oshkosh. It is a relatively shallow lake, known for great fishing in both the summer and the winter, with a prominent ice fishing industry. The lake’s most abundant fish are the Walleye, Perch, Sturgeon and Bass. Boats are readily available for rent at nearby Marinas. Boaters have access to more than 18,000 acres of water, including Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River. Lake Winnepesaukee You can explore more than 250 different islands in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesaukee, or hike in the nearby White Mountains. There are a plethora of small villages on the shores of the lake, which can be reached by either boat or car, and each offers an individual flavor. Rent a boat and go waterboarding in the summer or plan a snowboarding adventure in the winter. When you’re ready to go indoors, check out one of the many breweries nearby, such as the Woodstock Inn Brewery in Woodstock. The nearest major city is Manchester. SPONSORED BY GEICOAs always, prior to travel, make sure you are up to date on your destination’s health and safety restrictions. See how much you could save when you bundle your car and boat insurance with GEICO. Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
See the winners of our travel photo challenge
We teamed up with GuruShots, the world's favorite photo game, to run a travel photo contest. Almost 100k photos were submitted to the challenge, and we are pleased to feature the top 500 travel photos from around the world! Without further ado, here are the contest winners: Top Photographer: Henri Eftevand, Norway Top Photo: Moises Pindi, France Guru's top pick: Hemar Photography, Australia Kuriene, Netherlands ART EK, Austria Xavier Jouve, France Magic Maggie, Portugal Michael Bollhalder, Switzerland Andrii Pozdieiev, Ukraine Sergey Pesterev, Russia Jack Zhou, Canada Nikolay Tatarchuk, Israel Guy Wilson, Israel Juergen Wegner, Germany Richard Windeyer, Australia Xan White, Switzerland Jo Whitnell, United Kingdom Dmitriy Don, Russia Beno Medic, Slovenia Maricruz Sainz de Aja, United States
The last pie shop in Pie Town
When Sarah Joe Montana Chavez first visited Pie Town, New Mexico, on family vacations, three pie restaurants were open for business in the small high-desert town. The town’s love of pie was signified by the summertime Pie Town Pie Festival. Pie Town’s appeal was was based on curiosity from quirky travelers. “Folks look at a map and think, oh, Pie Town, let’s check that out and eat a pie in Pie Town,” says Montana Chavez. Then the COVID-19 pandemic halted mass gatherings and the Pie Town Pie Festival had to be cancelled in 2020. Trepidation lingered for the three pie businesses on whether to open their doors, thanks to the unknown health factors of the virus. After the pandemic hit, two of the three pie shops in Pie Town shuttered, leaving one sole pie shop – the Gatherin’ Place – the last pie shop in Pie Town. Montana Chavez baked at home for fun prior to moving to Pie Town, but didn’t realize that she would be carrying on a small-town tradition of doing just that: baking pie. A Phoenix, AZ native, depending on the day, Montana Chavez is the baker, shipper, cook, and front of house staff for the last pie shop in Pie Town: Pie Town Pies. In January 2021 Montana Chavez was folded into her new role as one of the last bakers in Pie Town. She was in between jobs when her stepmother, Sarah Chavez, decided to purchase a historic Pie Town antique shop, the Pie Town Homestead, which is next to the pie shop formerly known as The Gatherin’ Place. Montana Chavez moved to Pie Town to help her stepmother with the antique business, but when Chavez learned of the opportunity to buy the last pie shop in Pie Town next door, she couldn’t resist. Being able to serve travelers pie in Pie Town was the impetus for Chavez to purchase the Gatherin’ Place and keep the last pie shop in Pie Town alive. Montana Chavez learned all about baking New Mexican pies from the previous baker at The Gatherin’ Place and carries on the unique tradition of home-spun baking. The most popular pie she crafts is the New Mexico Apple Pie, a basic apple pie mixed with green chile and piñon, a treasured Southwestern nut that bursts from clusters of bushy piñon trees across New Mexico each fall. Montana Chavez says she has noticed an uptick in RV travel with adventurers on their way to California and Nevada. However, Pie Town faces distinct challenges in ramping up tourism because even though comparable towns across the state have faced similar travel fluctuations during the pandemic, Pie Town’s problems lie in its rural, serene nature. “There’s just not too much out here. In Santa Fe, there are a lot of restaurants and places to go, but in Pie Town, there is the RV park and a hotel or two. Having the last restaurant here and keeping it open is what makes Pie Town a place to still stop and visit.” As the pandemic hopefully turns a tide that welcomes back travelers to Pie Town, Montana Chavez is confident in the leadership that she and her stepmother can provide for businesses development and the community. “My stepmother is big on helping local artists by selling their goods at the Pie Town Homestead. She works to keep everyone involved to help the town stay alive.”
How 42 decaying president heads found a home in a Virginia field
From George Washington to George W Bush, each bust is 18-20 feet high, weigh between 11,000-20,000 pounds and sit in varying states of decay. The heads were moved to the field after the failure of President's Park, an attraction that was intended for tourists to Williamsburg, but wasn't met with much success. When the park failed, the busts were scheduled to be destroyed, but Howard Hankins couldn't bear the thought, and offered to take the busts to his privately owned farm. But moving the busts proved difficult, the process broke noses off and put holes in the back of some of the heads. Abraham Lincoln's bust has a hole in the back of his head (a poignant reminder of his assassination) and Ronald Reagan's bust was struck by lightening. There was at one time a miniature head of Barack Obama, but it appears to have been stolen. The busts sit on private property that is not open to the public, but tours are offered occasionally. Photography tours are run by John Plashal. There are plans to remove the President's heads to another location, potentially for another run at a museum. Those plans appear to be on hold as of 2020.