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.
6 great outdoor activities in Puerto Rico
1. Take a Tour of Old San Juan While Castillo San Felipe del Morro is closed until further notice, there are still plenty of interesting things to do in Old San Juan, whether you decide to go solo with one of GPSmyCity’s audio tours or with a group. Covid-compliant historical walking tours are available through Viator from $41 per person. San Juan Food Tours aims to keep patrons safe on its three-hour Flavors of Old San Juan tour (from $94 per person) and two-hour Rum Runners Craft Cocktail Tour (from $49 per person), while Spoon has similar health and safety protocols in place for its food and cocktail themed walking tours, ranging from $75 to $99 per person. To see San Juan from the water, East Island Excursions offers tours from $79 per person for daytime sailings or $95 per person for sunset sailings as long as guests fill out a health questionnaire before boarding. Misty jungle path through the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. ©Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock 2. Get Back to Nature in El Yunque National Forest El Yunque National Forest is open but you’ll need to reserve an entry ticket online for $2 per vehicle ahead of time to visit the La Mina Recreation Area on Rd 191. Time slots between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. can be booked up to 30 days in advance. Note that La Mina Falls and Big Tree Trail will be closed for construction until 2022. Remember to keep your mask on and stay at least six feet from anyone outside your group. 3. Hike to Cueva Ventana (Window Cave) If you’re staying on the western side of the island or looking for an easy day trip from San Juan, Aventura Cueva Ventana (or Window Cave) near Arecibo is a fun place to go hiking, see petroglyphs and stone carvings left behind by Puerto Rico’s earliest inhabitants and check out the views from the cave’s window-esque opening. Tickets are $19 per person and there’s a $2 discount if you visit Wednesday to Friday. All visitors must comply with stringent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing measures at all times. ©watcherFF/Getty Images 4. Explore Bioluminescent Bay by Kayak On the eastern end of the island, Island Kayaking runs guided tours (from $53 per person) to Bioluminescent Bay near Fajardo. You’ll be organized into kayaks per group—as in, you won’t be seated with strangers—masks must be worn throughout the tour and anyone with a temperature over 100.4 won’t be allowed to join. Their two-hour Glowing Bay Adventure tour takes you through a mangrove forest out to the bay, where tiny creatures called pyrodiniums bahamenses light up all around you whenever you move your paddle and kayak. 5. Visit a Rum Distillery While the Bacardi Rum Factory has halted its tours now, another historic rum distillery, Ron de Barrilito, is open. Rum tasting tours and mixology classes, available from $80 per person, must be booked ahead of time online as the number of guests will be limited to allow for social distancing. 6. Head to the Beach or Condado Lagoon If you’re a fan of sunbathing, surfing, boogie boarding, swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking or other recreational beach activities, it really boils down to this: stay with your own group, remain at least six feet from others and keep your mask on whenever you’re not in the water. Military tank left behind on Culebra Beach. ©Tinapat Kotumrongsak/Shutterstock
The motel from Schitt's Creek is going up for sale
For the past six years, the CBC/Pop TV series – a fish-out-of-water comedy starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, and Annie Murphy as a once-wealthy clan forced to relocate to the boonies – has filmed in Mono, Ontario, renting out a one-time motel to stand in for the show’s main location. And soon, fans will have a chance to stake their claim on the Rose family business. In an interview with the Orangeville Banner’s Chris Halliday, owner Jesse Tipping revealed the motel would go up for sale in October, a decision he put off when the pandemic started in favor of housing those who needed to quarantine. “We were able to help out a great organization locally with their need,” Tipping said. The property has appeared onscreen in multiple productions © Courtesy of CBC Prior to COVID-19, the motel served as home base for a host of young recruits attending a prep school basketball program nearby, as well as a filming location for Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, Amazon Prime’s 11.22.63, and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, the Banner reports. It was also listed on Airbnb at one point, though its onscreen fame was downplayed. “We didn’t advertise for you to come stay at Schitt’s Creek or the Rosebud motel,” Tipping said. The real-life property may lack the signage of its onscreen counterpart, but before the pandemic, fans of the show flocked to see it in person, staging photo shoots and leaving reviews online – in character, of course. “We just kind of let them enjoy it because if they are not bothering anybody,” Tipping said. “People really get a kick out of it.” It's been a good couple of weeks for Schitt's Creek fans. After enjoying huge success at the Emmy Awards last month, sweeping the comedy categories with wins for best actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress, best comedy series, and outstanding writing and directing, the show’s sixth and final season landed on Netflix ahead of schedule – a pleasant surprise to many fans.
Best spots for fall foliage in the South and Mid-Atlantic
SOUTH and MID-ATLANTIC Alabama Close to Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham with 50 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, with prime fall foliage viewing spots at Peavine Overlook and Peavine Falls. The Cheaha State Park is jam packed with woodlands, thanks to being both surrounded by the Talladega National Forest and nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Arkansas In the northern Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest gets colorful usually from October through early November and links to the Scenic 7 Byway, while St. Francis National Forest is smaller in size but known for its finest bottom-land hardwood. The Talimena National Scenic Byway goes to Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Mena and contains Rich Mountain, Arkansas’ second highest peak. ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock Georgia Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, Smithgall Woods State Park in Helen is perfect for fall fly fishing and picnicking near the creek. In Northwest Georgia, Cloudland Canyon State Park offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails; the five-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult but offers great canyon views. Maryland Western Maryland’s Deep Creek Lane has 69 miles of shoreline for viewing fall foliage. At Elk Neck State Park in North East, walk up inside the Turkey Point Lighthouse and gaze down at the 100-foot bluff at Elk Neck Peninsula’s southern tip. Or see trees up close via the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, a scenic byway paralleling the Potomac River. New Jersey High Point State Park in Sussex is where on a clear autumn day, visitors can see 80 miles of fall colors with a panorama of rich farmland and forest, soft hills, and lush valleys across three states. For scenic hikes through a shaded hemlock ravine, Hacklebarney State Park in Long Valley is one of the Garden State’s undiscovered treasures. North Carolina Southeast of Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park reportedly sees its lower elevations make this area one of the last to reach its peak colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In mid-October, the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest in Western N.C. hits its colorful prime. South Carolina Congaree National Park in Columbia has largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern U.S.; kayak or canoe along the Cedar Creek waterway. In Pickles, Table Rock State Park fits the bill for natural fall beauty, between October and November, with the opportunity to hike to its namesake mountain. A winding road through the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Credit: Tennessee Tourism. Tennessee In 2017, Tennessee developed the first scenic viewers to help those with red-green color deficiency take in the full beauty of the fall. There are currently 12 scenic viewers at overlooks and parks throughout the state, including the I-26 Westbound Scenic Overlook and Highway 111-Sequatchie Valley. View the full list at www.TNfallcolor.com. Texas Lost Maples State Natural Area takes its name from several isolated stands of Uvalde bigtooth maples, plus hold walnut, sycamore, and red and lacy oaks. The park’s website lists a foliage report, updated weekly October through November. East of El Paso, Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s McKittrick Canyon shelters stands of bigtooth maple, Texas madrones, walnut, ash, and grey and chinquapin oaks, plus desert sumac shrubs, for blasts of bright red, yellow, and orange. ©OGphoto/Getty Images Virginia Virginia Beach’s First Landing State Park provides canopies of color for strolling along, while Shenandoah National Park, which is 75 miles from Washington, D.C., entices with its 105-mile Skyline Drive and plentiful hiking trails. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests are a massive unit, with over 1.66 million acres and over 2,200 miles of trails plus 23 federally designated wildernesses within mountainous terrain ranging in elevation, topping at the 5,729-foot Mount Rogers.
How to see the best of Montana in 7 days
Montana is criminally underrated. Its natural beauty has earned it the nickname “The Last Best Place” and, after a week-long road trip across the state, you’ll have a hard time arguing otherwise. The western half of Montana is particularly spectacular thanks to the wonders of Glacier National Park, Flathead Valley, and its many small town splendors. But don't miss out on the beautiful highways that wander around the 100+ mountain ranges in the state. One of the many unintended consequences of COVID-19 travel restrictions has been the rebirth of the American road trip. Instead of flying to far flung places, people are escaping in their vehicles, in search of rest and respite. Luckily, there is only one way to properly see Montana in all its glory-- road trip. Due to the sheer size of the state, it would be nearly impossible to scratch the surface of Montana in a week. Instead, spend your time enjoying the Western side of the state-- where buffalo roam in front of snow capped mountains. Trip length: 7-10 days; 448 miles (720km) Best time to visit: August through mid-September (fewer crowds, weather is still warm) Essential photo op: Lake McDonald Can’t miss experience: Driving Going the Sun Road Quick road trip summary: Day 1- Kalispell and Flathead Lake Day 2- Wild Horse Island and Bigfork Days 3 and 4- Glacier National Park Day 5- Missoula Day 6 and 7- Bozeman and West Yellowstone Optional additions: Whitefish Kalispell Start your Montana adventure in quaint Kalispell! This quintessential Montana town, which will only take a day out of your itinerary, is the gateway to Glacier National Park, making it the best introduction to the state any first-time visitor could ask for. It’s an essential rite of passage for every visitor to order a huckleberry milkshake from Norm’s News. Flathead Lake, Montana. ©Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet Flathead Lake If you have the time, drive 14-minutes south towards Flathead Lake! It’s the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River and an idyllic place for a picnic. In warmer weather, you’ll see people stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and horseback riding around the Lake. You might also spot Flessie, the resident lake monster that locals swear dwells in the water. Flathead Lake is also home to guided Llama treks for the extra adventurous. Whitefish A 20-minute drive north from Kalispell will land you in Whitefish, a gorgeous town known for its ski slopes and high-end boutiques. Whitefish also has quite the reputation for its “romantic getaway” status. Montana has the second most breweries per capita in the country (just behind Vermont), and Whitefish has plenty of them. Because of this, it’s almost a requirement that you grab a craft beer from a locally-owned brewery like the Bonsai Brewing Project. If you happen to be visiting during the summer, check out the town’s farmer’s market for local vendors selling everything from florals to produce and handcrafted jewelry. Short on time? Skip Whitefish (for this visit) in lieu of exploring Flathead Lake. The Rocky Mountains in Montana. Photo by Donnie Sexton. Bigfork Bigfork, Montana, nearly qualifies as a hidden gem. It gets overlooked regularly by those passing through, but that’s a mistake. Bigfork is so picturesque it was proudly featured in the Hallmark film “Christmas in Montana”. Bronze bear fountains are dotted throughout the town, adding to its Western feel and shops along the main street sell homemade preserves from native berries. Make sure to try a pint of the local brew at Flathead Lake Brewing Company. Wild Horse Island For a totally unique Montana experience, head to Wild Horse Island. The island, which is actually a state park, is inhabited by bighorn sheep, deer, bald eagles, and (just as the name suggests) wild horses. You can kayak or paddleboard out to the island if you’re feeling fit, or opt to relax on a boat ride from Bigfork. Glacier National Park. Photo by Donnie Sexton. Glacier National Park Warning: visitors who travel to Glacier National Park may never want to leave. If there is one single spot you simply cannot miss on a visit to Montana, it’s Glacier. As the Crown Jewel of the state, it could keep you occupied with its scenic trails and glacial lakes for days on end, however, you’ll want to allow yourself a minimum of two days. First-time visitors to Glacier might feel overwhelmed by the wealth of options for what to see and do, but there are some clear winners topping any must-see list, including: stopping by Lake McDonald, hiking Grinnell Glacier, and, of course, driving Going the Sun Road. This 50-mile stretch of road is a feat of engineering that takes about 2 hours to drive one-way. The Highline Trail and Avalanche Lake are also well-worth seeing. Helmville Rodeo. Photo by Donnie Sexton. Missoula As far as college towns go, Missoula, Montana, is one of the best for outdoor enthusiasts. It is also one of the country’s quirkiest. An autumn visit to Missoula calls for a hot cup of caffeine at Clyde Coffee, Butterfly Herbs, or Break Espresso. Enjoy your joe while you stroll around the city and take in its many murals and Tibetan prayer flags flying from front porches. There are plenty of local businesses to support, including Hometana, The General Public, and Rockin’ Rudy’s. On the way to Missoula, make sure to stop in at Ninepipes Museum to support Indigenous art and designs. Bozeman Venture further south and you’ll land in Bozeman. Made extra popular with tourists thanks to the television series “Yellowstone” (starring Kevin Costner), Bozeman is known locally as the “California of Montana” due to the number of start-up companies. Despite its reputation as a “pass-through” place with pseudo cowboys and obvious wealth, Bozeman is remarkably easy on the eyes. it only takes a heartbeat to see why everyone wants to live there. Bozeman has a thriving food and coffee scene (local favourites include Nova Cafe, Jam!, Five on Black, and Plonk), historic ghost tours, and luxury spas. Bozeman is also home to the Bozeman Stampede Rodeo, the Montana Ballet Company, and rowdy Montana State University football games. Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Donnie Sexton. (West) Yellowstone National Park Montana might be home to only 3% of Yellowstone National Park, but that sliver is steeping with phenomenal views. Fill your days up here with fishing, whitewater rafting down the Yellowstone River, and hiking the nearby trails. After all your outdoor recreation, treat yourself to dinner and huckleberry ice cream at Arrowleaf Ice Cream and Grill. Beartooth Highway in the Summer. Photo by Laura Brown. Red Lodge Montana and the Beartooth Highway The Beartooth Highway is a 68-mile All-American road connected the town of Red Lodge, Montana to Yellowstone National Park. It is considered one of the most beautiful drives in America. It is typically open in the summer months, but those with adventurous snow experience can try their hand at a snowmobile in the winter. Stop over in Red Lodge for a charming small western town experience.