The rural two-lane roads of Loudoun County, Virginia, make for an idyllic Sunday drive. With the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop, the byways carry you past historic churches and small-town Main Streets lined with American flags and antiques stores. Quaint family farms advertise fresh vegetables, eggs and honey, grass-fed beef, and “fat sheep” for sale. But there’s one crop that seems to be sprouting faster than anything else in these parts: grapes. Around every bend you pass row upon row of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, and Viognier, the official state grape.
In the past few decades, the Virginia wine industry has exploded and now boasts a whopping 356 vineyards (where grapes are grown) and some 280 wineries (where wine is made), the fifth most of any state in America. Loudoun County harbors 41 wineries, the most of any Virginia county. (Maryland, by comparison, has just about 80 wineries statewide.) The quality of Virginia wines has been improving, too. Food & Wine magazine recently compared a half-dozen Virginia vintages with wines from France, and declared the Old Dominion wines very much their equal.
Lucky for Charm City wine lovers, Loudoun County and its myriad vineyards and attractions can be reached in just an hour and 20 minutes. And while we absolutely endorse checking out Maryland’s ever expanding selection of wineries and vineyards, the following five Virginia vino ventures make for an awfully alluring weekend escape, especially since October just happens to be Virginia Wine Month.
36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Purcellville, 800-492-9961
Top Notes: Breaux is one of Loudoun County’s largest wineries, and its setting on 400-plus acres between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Short Hills makes it one of the prettiest. As the story goes, a hobby—and then a business—was born after founder Paul Breaux uncovered three acres of grapes while clearing a field. The cheery yellow tasting room with its orange-tiled roof looks like something out of the Mediterranean, while the building’s interior wrought-iron railings—and the winery’s crawfish logo—reflect the Breaux family’s Louisiana roots.
Vintages: These days, the vineyard grows 17 varietals, including an unusual Italian Nebbiolo grape that produces a dry, complex red. Tastings cost $10 for six wines.
The Grapevine: Because October is Virginia Wine Month, expect area wineries, including Breaux, to roll out new vintages and host live entertainment on weekends. Tours at Breaux cost $5 and are available between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekends (and by request weekdays). The usual charcuterie platters are available on-site, plus light fare, fresh-baked bread, and a decadent selection of homemade truffles.
The Finish: For an off-site lunch or dinner, head down the road to Grandale Vintner’s Table, part of 868 Estate Vineyards (14001 Harpers Ferry Road, Neersville, 540-668-6000), for plates of “cashew-lacquered salmon” and crab cakes. Starting at $140 per night, Stone Manor Bed & Breakfast (13193 Mountain Road, Lovettsville, 540-822-3032) has a half-dozen period-decorated rooms in a historic home with mountain views through many of its stained-glass windows. From there, head 15 minutes north to explore the hallowed hamlet of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which changed hands eight times during the Civil War.
15669 Limestone School Road, Leesburg, 703-771-1197
Top Notes: Located on the eastern side of Loudoun County, where you can feel the pressure of D.C.’s suburbs creeping in, the winery is well-concealed a mile-and-a-half down a gravel road past horse farms and thick woods. Tastings take place in a funky three-story, prefab circular building with an outdoor seating area out back. Co-owner Doug Fabbioli has been tinkering in the fields for more than 35 years, making him one of Loudoun’s most experienced vintners.
Vintages: Fabbioli is a relatively small operation, but it produces some interesting wines, including an apéritif pear wine with an Asian pear grown inside the bottle. Fabbioli also has been experimenting with hard ciders and recently planted three acres of hops. The winery has won its share of awards over the years—try the lemony 2014 Chardonnay and the earthy 2012 Tannat.
The Grapevine: The tastings start at $15 and come with complimentary, bite-size morsels to allow tasters to see how the wines pair with different foods. The winery also offers its Something Special package that, for $30, includes the standard tasting at a private table, a guided tour, a free glass of wine, and a souvenir take-home glass.
The Finish: For lunch or dinner, your best bet is one of the numerous restaurants in Leesburg. Particularly worth a try is the bistro-style menu at the Tuscarora Mill Restaurant (203 Harrison St., 703-771-9300), about 15 minutes away. Before heading out, make a pit stop at the annual Temple Hall Fall Festival at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park (15855 Limestone School Road) for live music, pig races, corn mazes, and pumpkins galore.