She described them as “softer reds” as we gazed out windows from the tasting bar atop a hill that overlooks grapes in the making. Beneath our feet, wines aging in American, French and Hungarian oak barrels are visible through a glass floor.
Equally gorgeous, Pollak Vineyards too claims national and international awards: gold and silver medals from the Dallas International, San Francisco and California Cabernet Shootout competitions.
The Zonin family operates nearby Barboursville Vineyards, along with 11 wineries in Italy, so it is no surprise to find some Italian reds among the vineyard’s 15 varietals and 21 types of wine.
The climate here is similar to the Piedmont region of Italy, notes Carter Nicholas, sales manager.
Octagon, their signature brand, is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, and scores big points in both regional and worldwide tastings.
The 830 acre-large Barboursville harks back to its Jefferson-based roots with ruins of the circa-1820 mansion designed by the former president. Mostly destroyed by fire in 1884, the estate’s servants’ quarters did survive.
The Zonins use the historic home when they visit, but otherwise let out The 1804 Inn’s three suites and three other cottages as exquisitely appointed accommodations for overnight guests.
Eat & Sleep Wine
Many overnighters end up having over-consumed at Barboursville’s divine Palladio Restaurant.
Stocked with its own production garden, Palladio uses seasonal flavors to make the Italian menu pop with such complex dishes as local braised rabbit ravioli with morels, pecorino and pistachios; and duck breast scaloppini on polenta.
Two other good places to wine and dine indulgently within steps of a pillow: Clifton Inn, a countryside Relais & Chateaux, and Boar’s Head Inn, on the University of Virginia campus (which, by the way, Jefferson launched) in the region’s main town of Charlottesville.
At Clifton, a small dining room tucked onto the back porch of a historic home serves an ambitious menu of small plates priced, like Palladio, by how many courses you order.
Labor- and flavor-intensive, they too rely on seasonal freshness in miniature productions such as asparagus soup with lemon confit, nasturtium ice cream and parmesan shortcake; ricotta gnocchi with guanciale, baby kale and black truffle; arugula risotto with pine nuts, sherry honey and local cheese; and chocolate cremeaux with coffee cake, Irish cream and condensed milk ice cream.
The inn pays homage to Jefferson, who kept Madeira fully stocked in White House cellars while he presided, perpetuating the tradition with bottles of the sweet wine in every room.
An AAA winner for 24 years straight, Boar’s Head’s Old Mill Dining Room specializes in such Virginia signatures as peanut soup and bread pudding. At breakfast, both the Eggs Benedict with local organic eggs and smoked cheese grits and brioche French toast with peach compote reinvent preconceptions of Southern fare.
“We’re trying to be as cognizant of local cuisine and as Jeffersonian as possible,” said Pat Burnette, marketing and communications manager.
An alternative to getting a room to sleep off the effects of the region’s undeniable culinary treasures are winery limo tours, which do the behind-the-wheel so you can do the down-the-hatch. Arcady, a local B&B, does its own private tours with guests.
Other tours take in the region’s orchards, cider making and other farms. Virginia’s Piedmont region may lie an hour away from dining capital Richmond, but it suffers not one nibble for it. In fact, with its farm heritage, wining and dining, it just may trump the metro area.
IF YOU GO:
The wineries charge a tasting fee of $5-$10 including souvenir wine glasses. Some conduct tours at certain times only. Call ahead or visit their Web sites for details.
Barboursville Vineyards, 540-832-3824, www.barboursvillewine.com
Blenheim Vineyards, 434-293-5366, www.blenheimvineyards.com
Jefferson Vineyards, 434-977-3042, www.jeffersonvineyards.com
Keswick Vineyards, 888-244-3341, www.keswickvineyards.com
King Family Vineyards, 434-823-7800, www.kingfamilyvineyards.com
Monticello, 434-984-9822, www.monticello.org
Restaurants & Lodging:
The 1804 Inn and Cottages, 540-832-5384, www.the1804inn.com
Arcady Vineyard B&B, 434-872-9475, www.arcadyvineyard.com
Boar’s Head Inn, www.boarsheadinn.com
The Holladay House, 800-358-4422, www.holladayhousebandb.com
Michie Tavern, 434-977-1234, www.michietavern.com
Palladio Restaurant, 540-832-7848, www.palladiorestaurant.com
Chelle Koster Walton is a regular contributor to the food and travel sections of the Miami Herald, Tampa Tribune, Naples Daily News, and dozens of other regional and national newspapers, magazines, Web sites, guidebooks and apps.