While most people camped out next to their BBQ over Memorial Day weekend, I joined my sister and a friend for a tour of Central Virginia wine country. On the way to Charlottesville, we hit Keswick, Horton and Barboursville Vineyards and had completely different experiences at each one.
Keswick offered one-on-one pours from one of the winery’s employees. We didn’t have to battle for attention or space at the tasting room. The employee knew his wines and the vineyards, giving us background on the owners and the site’s history. The vineyard also managed to keep its wines unique in flavor, focusing on quality rather than quantity. I purchased the Verdejo for its crisp, citrus flavor; the Trevillian for the smooth, berry finish; and the Norton wine, featuring a native Virginian grape in a deep red color and fresh taste.
And then there was Horton. My advice… stay away! We walked in, not to the sweet smell of wine, but to the owner’s cigarette smoke wafting from his ashtray next to the tasting room. While there was no charge for the wines, we quickly learned why… they all tasted the same. With 25 or so wines, nothing separated the first white from the second, third or even tenth wine. And the winery had absolutely no consistency in the labels. Every single one looked completely different, giving you no indication that the labels came from the same place. We kept tasting, hoping to find a gem in the mix, but the search yielded nothing that made us smile or want to buy. We walked out and didn’t look back.
We got to Barboursville Vineyards as soon as possible, hoping to remedy the bad experience at Horton. We found another gem, but while the wines tasted delicious, the crowds were a bit frustrating. The first employee, who poured the whites, kept asking us to step away from the bar so that others could walk up. This did not allow for any type of conversation or interaction with her. When we did try to engage her, she did not seem to be especially knowledgeable. In fact, she admitted that she really does not drink wine. Despite this, I must say that the Riesling was delicious, the right mix of citrus flavors and natural sweetness. The Phileo dessert wine was also a treat!
When we visited the second employee, who manned the red wines, she welcomed conversation and questions about the wines. She did not mind if we stayed by the bar, sipping and talking. Given that the winery’s winemaker and owner are Italian, I enjoyed the Barbera that she served and appreciated the Nebbiolo. Again, I walked out as the proud owner of three new wines for my collection. Barboursville helped end our day on a high note!
On Sunday, we visited Jefferson Vineyards, a nice winery nestled in the farmland near Jefferson’s home of Monticello. We had to wait for a spot at the bar, which took some time. Overall, the wines tasted nice, but nothing as distinct as our favorites at Keswick and Barboursville. We did not purchase any, but I would return and would happily purchase bottles at a wine store. A good end to the weekend…
To sum up:
1. My favorite – Keswick, for the overall experience and wine quality
2. Barboursville – great wines, but crowds and one inexperienced employee put this vineyard in second place
3. Jefferson – solid, overall pleasing wines
A very distant 4. Horton – if you like good wine, I advise you to skip this winery and spend more time at the other vineyards.
In the end, the weekend lived up to its promise… beautiful scenery, good friends and family, tasty food, and delicious wine! Cheers!