While Virginia boasts more than 300 wineries, they don’t all get the same amount of attention. Some of them are closer to urban areas and thus more accessible; others have received national publicity and have become destinations in and of themselves.
But there are many lesser-known, more out-of-the-way Central Virginia wineries worth a detour. Here are three in Central Virginia that we’ve visited recently that we recommend. All three of them are boutique, well-established family-owned wineries with award-winning wines.
1. DuCard Vineyards
Going to hike Old Rag Mountain or White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park? Lucky enough to snag a reservation at the 3 Star Michelin Restaurant Inn at Little Washington? Be sure to squeeze in a visit to nearby DuCard Vineyards in Etlan. Nestled in a bucolic mountainside in rural Madison County, the winery offers full-service wine tastings at your own table with either white, red, or mixed flights, complete with glass stemware and friendly, knowledgeable staff that explain both the wines and the winery’s history. The 20-year-old winery originally sold its grapes to others; when those wines began to win awards, the owner decided to produce his own wine and opened to the public in 2010.
The main tasting room is pretty, with a fireplace; there’s also a garden room and an outdoor area. The wines are excellent. We tried Viognier, Chardonnay, a sparkling wine, a Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Franc, Norton (the state’s signature varietal), and the winery’s Port-style wine. This Central Virginia winery is well worth a detour.
2. Honah Lee Vineyard
Many people head to the world-renowned Barboursville Vineyards, one of the pioneers of Virginia wine. And it is a must-visit destination in Central Virginia’s Orange County, with great wines, plus historic landmark ruins of a mansion designed by Thomas Jefferson, a restaurant, and an inn on the premises.
But it’s so popular that it can be frenetic. It’s often mobbed and overwhelming. Shuttle buses make the rounds here to pick up and drop off visitors. The last time I was there I tried more than 16 different wines; I could barely keep them straight even though I was taking notes. While that’s been toned down some since the COVID-19 pandemic, it still can be a crazy scene.
For a little breather and a change of pace, add in the nearby little Honah Lee Vineyard in Gordonsville, also in Orange County. Established in 1992 and named in honor of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Honah Lee has a small, rustic tasting room up a hill overlooking its vineyards. The atmosphere is easy-going and laid back. The winery produces 15 different varietals, including Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Tannat, and Malbec. The last time we were there, mulled wine was also available. While we enjoy the wines, the homemade jams, available for tasting and purchase, deserve their own shout-out; we buy them every time we visit.
3. Gray Ghost Vineyards
Headed to view the foliage on Skyline Drive? Willing to pop off Route 29 on your way through the state? Gray Ghost Vineyards in Rappahannock County is another Central Virginia winery worth a detour. Established in 1994 and named after Confederate Colonel John Mosby, it lives up to its slogan, “exceptional wines, Southern hospitality.”
We were treated to a great wine tasting at the bar in glass stemware by the owners’ daughter and learned a lot about the wine, the winery, and its history. Some of the wonderful wines we tried included the Chardonnay, Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Rose, a Bordeaux style red blend, and a dessert wine. The winemaking occurs in a converted horse stable attached to the tasting room. There’s also a beautifully appointed lounge upstairs to relax in, as well as an outdoor picnic area.
We hope you get the chance to get off the beaten path and experience these Central Virginia wineries worth a detour. Please let us know what other wineries we should visit and add to this list! Our email is email@example.com.
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