When people talk about visiting wineries in Virginia, Charlottesville, Northern Virginia, and even Chesapeake often get mentioned. I’ve found a hidden gem for you. Just a little North and East of Charlottesville (or a little West of Fredericksburg), Orange, Virginia, features a range of wonderful wineries, along with dining, shopping and beautiful places to stay. I’ve got your itinerary for a one-night stay ready to go.
Day 1: Grab Coffee To-Go and Start Your Day with Breathtaking Views at Early Mountain Vineyard
If you’re going from Richmond, Orange is only about an hour and fifteen minutes away, so there’s no need to leave at the crack of dawn. Instead, get up, stop for coffee and breakfast to-go, and hit the road around 10 a.m. Plan to arrive at Early Mountain Vineyard, a little after 11—technically in Madison it’s a little further off the beaten path, so start your day there and work your way backward—trust me the views are worth the drive. The luxe tasting room features plush couches, elegant lighting, and a spacious patio with views that extend for miles in every direction.
During your tasting, notice the unique bottle label designs—the swirls and ridges represent the topography of the surrounding land and the little triangle toward the bottom represents the winery’s location. I am partial to the Brut—no surprise—which features creamy lemon and crisp apple flavors. Along with its own wines, Early Mountain also offers flights that include other selected Virginia wines.
Lunch: The Market at Grelen
A high-end oasis in the middle of the country, The Market at Grelen is a combination café, garden shop, pick-your-own farm, and event space. The café is open from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and stays open until 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and focuses on local ingredients.
On our visit, standouts included chilled curried chicken salad with raisins and apricot chutney, the “adult” grilled cheese panini with Fontina, brie, smoked gouda, plum chutney, and arugula on sourdough, and a special chilled sweet corn soup that was packed with flavor. On the hot day when we stopped by, we chose a bottle of Gray Ghost Vineyards Gewurztraminer from the case of Virginia wines to accompany the variety of flavors. We also had to sample the house-made ice cream for dessert. Flavors change daily and range from peach lavender to cherry cinnamon. While you’re there, plan a few minutes to browse the shop that features a range of home decor and gourmet foods along with the outside areas.
Chestnut Oak: Another Winery in Barboursville
After lunch, head to Chestnut Oak Vineyard, a newer winery in Barboursville. The vineyard is focused on small-quantity, single-varietal, single-vineyard wines. When the winery first started in 2009, Michael Shaps produced the wines, but when the tasting room opened in 2013, David Eiserman took over. The tasting room itself is pretty and spacious, making this a lovely spot in summer or winter. On my visit, I particularly enjoyed the Petite Mansengs (several vintages were available to taste), which contained varying pleasing balances of fruit and acidity, along with the Cabernet Franc, which featured a lot of ripe red fruit. The winery only produces around 300 or 400 cases of wine per year, so when you visit, what’s available will likely be different, and you likely won’t be able to find the wines elsewhere. Stop in for a distinctive tasting experience.
Last Stop: Wine and A Frolic in the Autumn Mist in A Land Called…
When you pull up to Honah Lee Vineyard, the tasting room might look small, but don’t skip this lovely vineyard. After years selling primarily to Michael Shaps and Jake Busching Wines alongside other area wineries, the owners decided to launch their own label and opened their tasting room in 2015. Co-owner Eric Hopwood produces his wines in collaboration with the team at Michael Shaps. When you stop by the vineyard, you’ll have the option to taste a variety of Virginia wines along with Honah Lee creations. I tried to stick with the Honah Lee wines. In particular, I liked the Chardonnay, which was flavorful and well balanced.
In addition to that, I brought home a bottle of the Jake Busching Wines Cabernet Franc. Busching has worked with many wineries around Virginia, including Michael Shaps, and has finally created his own label. If you are a fan of jams and jellies, make sure to also try the BerryWood Crafters creations that are for sale at Honah Lee. They are made by Hopwood’s wife and are delicious. I brought home a jar of the Spiced Blueberry Jam that tasted just like blueberry pie. If you want to get a glass of wine, Honah Lee offers a spacious patio and pergola where you are welcome to relax. If you sweet talk the staff, they also just might let you sneak up into the vineyards for a look around.
Stay: Inn at Willow Grove
This is a luxury weekend, so book a room at Travel & Leisure’s best hotel in the South and third best hotel in the United States for 2016. A stay at the Inn at Willow Grove includes luxury accommodations, nightly turndown service with tea and dessert in your room, beignets delivered to your room with coffee and tea in the morning, and breakfast in the dining room (for an added fee of $15 per person it can be delivered to your room as well).
The grounds have a beautiful, relaxed country atmosphere—we stayed in the Carriage House, which featured a lovely little patio for sipping wine while gazing at the stars at the end of the night or drinking coffee in the morning.
The award-winning restaurant, Vintage, features beautiful, local art work, pockets of dining rooms, and a spacious bar for drinks. If you are able to stay during the week, Wednesdays feature a special menu of gourmet tapas and the weekly “Three on Thursdays” feature special menus for $29.92 and are great deals.
Since I stayed, the Inn has added a 3,000-foot spa with an outdoor pool, fitness, and yoga facility—guess I need to plan a return trip!
Day 2: Shopping in Downtown Orange
After your beignets and breakfast at the Inn at Willow Grove, head into the little town of Orange for some shopping. You might be in need of a little detox after the wine and gourmet cuisine: if so, stop by Under the Sun Natural Foods. The creations at this little juice bar in the front of a natural food store rival any juice bar I’ve visited in big cities.
Your next stop is Lacy’s Florist and Gift Shop of Orange for locally made Lux Aromatica beauty products. I’m kind of a snob about handmade products and I’m officially in love with this line. The premium products are produced by a husband-wife team and are clean, green and effective. On my visit I picked up the Buzz Off lotion—a natural mosquito repellent that has a pleasant herbal fragrance and that actually works! I’ll be using this instead of any spray from the drug store from now on. I also grabbed the Future Perfect Face Mask, which is formulated with argan oil, aloe, glycerin, clay and botanicals to exfoliate and deep clean. I liked that instead of leaving this mask on to fully dry—which can pull too much moisture from skin—you are only supposed to leave it on for a few minutes, so I use it in the shower. Meaning I actually do use it on a regular basis, and I can feel it cleaning my pores without being too harsh or drying.
A few doors down from Lacy’s, Original Designs by Maria Pace is an adorable, tiny textiles store. Designer Maria Pace paints nature-inspired patterns and has them printed on cocktail napkins, blankets, tablecloths, headbands, tea towels, and anything you can imagine. Her prints are cheerful, whimsical and unique—you will definitely want to take something home.
A bit down the road, the owners of The Inn at Willow Grove also own a boutique called Objects on Main—this shop is filled with distinctive art, apparel, bath and body products, and other items the owners love. If you find something you just have to have and did stay at the inn, make sure to mention it as you’ll get a discount in the shop.
Downtown Orange also offers a host of antiques stores. Go here for a full list of shopping.
Lunch: Forked on Main
Speaking of the Inn at Willow Grove, if you get hungry and need a shopping break, you might want to stop by Orange’s newest restaurant, Forked on Main, which is also owned by the inn. The space opened earlier this year and has been freshly renovated with a beautiful dining room and bar.
I stopped in for lunch and enjoyed a “sip” of soup served in an adorable tiny jar alongside BLT popovers—basically a tasty fresh popover cut and served as the base for an open-faced BLT sandwich. My dining companion, who had a heartier appetite, thoroughly enjoyed the beef on kemmelwecick: shaved prime rib on a salted knot roll with au jus and horseradish sauce.
One More Winery: Chateau MerrillAnne
Another off-the-beaten path winery, Chateau MerrillAnne boasts a quaint but beautiful tasting room housed in a refurbished barn with a spacious patio for sipping a glass or bottle. Most days you’ll find owner Kenny White pouring and telling you about the vineyard’s history. For a smaller, newer property—the tasting room just opened in 2012—I was really impressed with the selection. It was no surprise when I learned that yet again Michael Shaps worked with White to make some of the wines (does Shaps ever sleep?). As with many area wineries, I enjoyed the Vioginer here, as well as the Bordeaux-style blend, Governor Spotswood, and the Cabernet Franc. As with Honah Lee and Chestnut Oak, I also just enjoyed the experience of visiting a smaller, more personal winery that had some high-quality wines for sampling.
Should you end up with time in your schedule, there are two additional new wineries in the area I didn’t have time to visit on my trip. Hammerstone Cellars in Orange just opened last Spring and produces around 12 different wines, including a Cuvee Blanc. I can’t wait to go taste it!
And, Five Oaks Vineyard in Barboursville currently offers an outdoor tasting while the actual tasting room is being completed. I have heard the experience is very European and enjoyable. The vineyard started with four acres planted in 2009 and has expanded from there. Sounds like a unique stop if you can squeeze it in to your wine adventure.
BBQ Exchange on the Way Home
After a few winery stops, you might want dinner before the full drive back to Richmond. BBQ Exchange features mouthwatering, smoked and slow-roasted meats, made-with-love sides, and bacon-filled desserts. I rarely deviate from the smoked pork belly, but more adventurous diners can choose concoctions like the Hell, which features bang bang bacon, fried mac and cheese, Thai-dragon salad and ghost pepper sauce.