There are a handful of places on the east coast that have a serious concentration of world-class wineries. The Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Central Virginia is absolutely one of them. If we drill down a bit further, there is a very singular section of the AVA pressed up against the Blue Ridge Mountains. Huddled on either side of the Nelson and Albemarle County lines you will find a disproportionate number of the East Coast’s best producers.
The conditions are some of the best in the Mid Atlantic. Mountain breezes provide protection against frost and the slopes allow drainage in even the wettest season. For these and many other reasons, there is a line of over 20 wineries huddled along the eastern side of the Blue Ridge in this very compressed area.
One might spend several days exploring this part of Virginia, but a couple of days will be enough to hit the high points. It will also be just enough to convince you to plan a return trip.
Day 1—Nelson County
Where to Taste
There are several wineries of note on the Nelson County side of the line, but there are a few we strongly recommend.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
A small winery that hosts very few large events and does not accommodate tour buses, Afton Mountain Vineyards is one of the most spectacular venues imaginable. Despite the jaw-dropping mountain views and the slight après ski feel of the tasting room, this winery is much more than a beautiful spot to stop for a tasting or a glass of wine.
Planting at Afton Mountain began in the late 1970s, making this one of the region’s oldest producers. Winemaker Damien Blanchon points out that the program strengths are “ the vineyard, minimal intervention in the winery, and minimal use of chemicals.” He strives to allow the fruit to fully express the terroir. The resulting wines tend to be lighter in style, but very food friendly.
The Baco blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot is the best seller. While Baco is exceptional, you should also be certain to try the Albariño, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Almost since opening their doors back in 2000, Veritas Vineyards has been considered a winery of note. Winemaker Emily Pelton grew up with her vines and is a second-generation producer at a winery where she and her siblings are involved in every aspect of the operation. Emily believes that “passion” is the key to the winery’s success.
It is no secret that Emily is excited by her craft and her wines have won nearly every conceivable award at the local, state and national levels. According to Emily, after eighteen seasons, she is still “100 percent invested in more creative bandwidth.” In other words, there is room for this great producer to continue pushing the limits of Virginia winemaking. Every trip to Veritas offers an opportunity to experience something new.
The rosé may be the best seller, but the Petit Verdot displays the most consistent quality. Other perennial greats include the Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Petit Manseng.
Other Great Wineries
Cardinal Point Winery or Flying Fox Vineyard are high on the list of accomplished producers and each offer a unique winery experience.
Where to Eat
If you want something quick and informal, consider the local BBQ. Both Blue Ridge Pig in Nellysford or Paulie’s Pig Out closer to the county line are great options.
Several local breweries, the town of Nellysford and Wintergreen Resort offer a wide range of dining options.
For upscale dining, Veritas Vineyards Farmhouse offers a set menu, paired with Veritas wines, that is gaining a reputation as Nelson County’s top fine dining venue.
Where to Stay
There is a wide range of lodging options in Nelson County. Here are a few recommendations:
If you are looking for the full wine country experience there are three great options very near the county line. Afton Mountain Vineyards has a number of small cottages that offer views of both vineyards and the Blue Ridge. The farmhouse at Veritas Vineyards is operated as an upscale bed and breakfast and provides guests with all the modern amenities. Nearby Cardinal Point Winery also makes their farmhouse available to guests and offers stunning mountain views.
There are many quaint local inns. Mark Addy Inn and the Iris Inn are two of our favorites. You can find these and other options on the Nelson 151 site.
Day 2—Albemarle County
Where to Taste
King Family Vineyards
Near the town of Crozet, you will find one of the region’s premier producers. King Family Vineyards’ Wine Club Manager Matthew Brown pointed out that King Family has been successful, because they “never stopped experimenting and innovating.” The Small Batch Series wines are the most visible examples of this pursuit for greater understanding of our vineyards and winemaking techniques.” The wine and beauty of the King Family venue are just part of the reason for their large local following. The vineyard and winery tour is extremely popular and was voted the second best in the country by USA Today.
Their most popular wine is the dry, merlot-based rosé, but their Meritage blend is the flagship wine and everything from the Small Batch Series is worthy of note.
The list of medals earned by Pollak Vineyards’ wines and the total number of 90+ point wines is genuinely impressive. In addition to their ridiculously good wine, it is a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy the libations. Whether on the covered porch, the lawn or down by the pond, there are ample spots to relax, get away from the crowd and have a picnic or just a glass of wine. In cooler seasons, there is space by the fireplace to curl up and escape the winter chill.
While there, be certain to taste the Reserve Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Meritage blend.
If You Have Time
A recent addition is Septenary Winery in Greenwood. They have a very strong wine program and a jaw-dropping view of the mountains from their front patio.
Where to Eat
On your way to the Albemarle wineries, consider a stop at Greenwood Gourmet Grocery on Rockfish Gap Turnpike. You can assemble picnic items and enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of your stops.
There are also a variety of sit-down establishments in the nearby town of Crozet.
Other Local Attractions
The fifteen miles that stretch between the towns of Crozet and Nellysford offer not just world-class wine, but a wide array of other attractions.
Mid spring through mid fall, the Nelson County Farmers Market in Nellysford is a great start to a Saturday morning. The market is completely under canvas, so it is an option even on a rainy day. There is always live music along with a wide array of vendors.
Sitting high above the Rockfish Valley, Wintergreen Resort is a year-round attraction. Golf or skiing in season are complemented by a variety of lodging and dining options and entertainment appropriate for families or adults.
Outdoor opportunities include camping, hiking or options for breathtaking drives. Both the Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway are accessible from the top of Afton Mountain.
Even if you know nothing about the sport, Sunday Polo at King Family Vineyards is a fun and relaxing way to watch the game, take in a the stunning mountain views and share a bottle of wine. It is also a family-friendly event.
You will find a plethora of other wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries stretched along Route 151 as it winds through the Rockfish Valley in Nelson County.
Planning Your Trip
Automobile is the most practical option.
Amtrak or Air Transport will get you as near as Charlottesville. There are numerous auto rental options. It is a 30-minute drive from Charlottesville to this grouping of wineries.
Alternately, limo and wine-tour companies operate out of Charlottesville.