Virginia Wine: 6 Things You Need to Know If You’re a Newbie

Image via Robin Shreeves

By Robin Shreeves

October 19, 2022

That includes recommendations for four Virginia wineries where you can experience some of the best of the best.

If you’re new to drinking Virginia wine, it’s good to know a few things before you head out to visit your first local/regional winery. 

True, it’s not rocket science. You can simply grab your designated driver and head to the nearest winery. But if you want to be more informed before your visit, here’s some helpful information.

Virginia Has Eight AVAs (American Viticultural Areas)

An AVA has specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown. In short, being designated an AVA means the conditions are right for growing wine grapes. 

Virginia Wine: 6 Things You Need to Know If You're a Newbie
Image via Robin Shreeves

If you see an AVA listed on a bottle of Virginia wine, it indicates that 85% of the grapes in the wine had to be grown within the AVA. 

These are Virginia’s eight AVAs:

  • North Fork of Roanoke AVA (located in the Blue Ridge region)
  • The Rocky Kob AVA (located in the Blue Ridge region)
  • Monticello AVA (located in the Central Virginia region)
  • George Washington Birthplace AVA (located in the Chesapeake Bay region)
  • Virginia’s Eastern Shore AVA (located in the Eastern Shore region)
  • Virginia Peninsula AVA (located in the Hampton Roads region)
  • Middleburg AVA (located in the Northern Virginia region)
  • Shenandoah Valley AVA (located in the Shenandoah Valley)

There are wineries outside of these AVAs, and they are just as worth visiting as the ones within these areas. 

There’s No Bad Time of Year to Visit

Each season of the year has its advantages at Virginia wineries. 

In winter, the wineries aren’t as crowded, but because it’s cold, the outside seating areas aren’t always open. 

In spring, as the weather warms up, outside seating starts to open up. However, the vineyards aren’t in full bloom yet. If you’re looking to gaze out on full, lush vines bursting with ripe grapes, you won’t find them in the spring. 

In the summer, the vineyards are in full bloom, but it can be very hot in the outdoor areas. 

In the fall, however, temperatures cool off, harvest is in full force, there’s an aroma of fermentation in the air, and the views of the vineyards are gorgeous. 

OK, perhaps fall is the prettiest time to visit Virginia wineries—but the wine will always be excellent any season. 

Research a Winery Before You Go

Each winery will have its own rules and regulations for visitors. There’s one regulation that the Virginia ABC sets for every winery: You cannot bring any outside alcohol, including wine, onto the premises.

What are some of the things you’ll want to know besides hours of operation and the winery’s address before you go?

  • Do they accept or require reservations? 
  • How much is the tasting fee? 
  • Are children welcome? 
  • Can you bring your dog?
  • Do they sell food? 
  • Can you bring your own food? 
  • Can you bring your own chairs if all the outside seating is taken? What about a pop-up tent for shade?
  • Are any special events happening on the day you plan to visit?
  • Do they offer tours of the winery?
  • What type of wines do they produce? (If you have a sweet wine lover in your group and the winery produces only dry wines, that could be a problem.)

Dress for Comfort

Wineries are working farms. Many of them don’t have paved parking lots. They are either dirt or stone parking lots. That—and the fact that the winery’s outside area will likely have uneven grass/dirt—should dictate your shoe choice. And, unless you’re going for a special event, wineries are casual places. Dress casually and comfortably.

It’s OK to Spit

If you’re doing a tasting, you may want to spit the wine. Spitting is acceptable at wineries, and no one will think you’re being rude or that you don’t enjoy the wine when you spit.

Spitting allows you to taste without the alcohol affecting you too much, leaving you to enjoy a glass of your favorite wine later without already having consumed the equivalent of a full glass. If you don’t see a spit bucket, ask for one. Iif spitting into a communal bucket doesn’t appeal to you, you can always bring your own cup and then dump that into the bucket when you’re done. 

Four Virginia Wineries You’ll Want to Check Out

Virginia Wine: 6 Things You Need to Know If You're a Newbie
Vineyards at Barboursville. Image via Robin Shreeves

There are more than 300 wineries in Virginia. If you want to experience some of the best of the best, consider visiting these.

Barboursville Vineyards: Located in the Monticello AVA, Barboursville is considered one of Virginia’s premier wineries. The winery is particularly known for its Octagon wine, a celebrated blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, the wine is a consistent gold medal winner year after year in various wine competitions. There’s also a restaurant on premises.

Linden Vineyards: Tastings at Linden in the Middleburg AVA are by reservation only. The wines come exclusively from their three vineyards, and they are best known for single vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bordeaux variety red blends.

Rosemont Vineyards: Located just north of North Carolina and not part of a designated AVA, Rosemont is a winery offering award-winning dry and off-dry wines in many styles: red, white, rosé, sparkling and sweeter dessert wines, plus a vermouth. 

Williamsburg Winery: Located 15 minutes away from Historical Williamsburg, this winery in the Virginia Peninsula AVA keeps the region’s colonial vibe going. In the 2022 Governor’s Cup, the prestigious awards for Virginia wineries, Williamsburg took home a trio of gold medals: 2019 Petit Manseng, the 2017 Virginia Trianon (Cabernet Franc), and the 2019 Wessex Hundred Petit Verdot. 

Finally, if you’re looking for advice on where to visit depending on your location and what you like to drink, the Virginia Wine Love Facebook page is a friendly, helpful, active space to ask your questions. 

READ MORE: 6 Must-Visit Virginia Destinations You Can Get Into for Free

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