There are more than 40 wineries around Charlottesville, Virginia, known as the “birthplace of American wine.” But the wineries themselves offer different wine tasting experiences. If you’re visiting Charlottesville’s wineries, you might want to try a variety of what this wonderful region has to offer.
Here are three different winery experiences around Charlottesville we recommend. These three wineries are each distinctive in their own way. They are all in different parts of the region.
1. Michael Shaps Wineworks
Just a few miles south of downtown Charlottesville, Michael Shaps Wineworks is a renowned, innovative winery that produces several different wines, including Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, Petit Manseng, and various blends, such as Meritage. Michael Shaps has been making wine in Virginia since the 1990s and opened this winery in 2007. He also owns and manages a winery in Burgundy, France; visitors to the Virginia winery can taste wine from both wineries. These award winners can be found in multiple stores and restaurants.
The tasting room used to be located in the winery’s production facility and was very rustic. In July 2022 it expanded into the pretty tasting room nearby that used to belong to First Colony Winery and then Thatch Winery. The atmosphere is still somewhat simple and rustic, with a barn-like ceiling and exposed beams. The atmosphere is relaxed and unhurried.
I particularly like the fact that the winery offers guided bar tastings; we learned a tremendous amount about the wine from our pourer, Janice. One could also simply buy wine and enjoy it in either the indoor or outdoor seating areas. Cheese and crackers are available, and guests can bring in food from outside.
2. Glass House Winery
For a different winery experience around Charlottesville, Glass House Winery, in Free Union, Virginia, is a boutique family-owned winery about 20 minutes northwest of the city near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Its award-winning artisanal wines are mainly from its 15-acre vineyards. It produces a variety of wines, including Pinot Gris, Petit Manseng, Barbera, Chambourcin, and blends. The artisanal chocolates are house-made, and there’s a bed and breakfast on the premises. The winery sells some food, such as cheeses, meats, crackers, and tamponades; one can also bring in a picnic or have a tailgate.
You can enjoy a guided tasting in the tasting room, but it’s also fun to sit in the winery’s unusual glass-enclosed conservatory. It’s filled with whimsical decorations and tropical plants, which provide a measure of privacy between the tables. One can also sip and relax on the deck, along the lake, on the dock, or on the hillside.
The winery prides itself on being environmentally friendly, using solar and geothermal energy sources and natural materials, such as clay, to ward off pests. Jess was able to enjoy a backroom tour of the winery’s ecological efforts as a member of a student environmental club she belonged to when at graduate school; while most of the other students’ questions were about sustainability and the environment, Jess was more focused on the wine. 😊
3. Early Mountain Vineyards
If you’re looking for a more elegant, refined wine tasting experience, venture about 40 minutes north of Charlottesville to Early Mountain Vineyards in Madison, Virginia. This is a larger, more sophisticated operation. The winery is beautifully appointed; it hosts a lot of weddings and other events. It also offers virtual and library tastings. Unlike the other two wineries, here reservations are highly recommended.
The winery looks more like a restaurant. You can sit at the bar, on couches, or at a table. There is also outside seating on the patio and in the meadow. If you sit at a table, you’ll be offered flights rather than a guided tasting, but there are four different types of flights to choose from: “Taste,” which is of two whites and two reds; a flight of rosé wines; “Summer,” a tasting of all white wines, or “Refresh,” which were all sparkling wines. One could also simply order a glass (or bottle) of wine. The flights were accompanied by detailed descriptions of each wine being tasted.
What I found different about this winery is that it also offers wines from several other Virginia wineries, so you can sample from more than one winery at the same time. That’s also rather supportive of the local industry as a whole.
Another distinction is that the winery offers a much larger food selection than most wineries, and does so in a restaurant format. While we opted for the ample artisanal charcuterie and cheese board, other items on the menu included gazpacho, ahi tuna crudo, bison ribeye tartare, grilled pork, and rockfish. Much of the food is seasonal and locally sourced.
We hope you get the chance to try these different winery experiences around Charlottesville. Please let us know what other wineries we should add to this list! Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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