Libations across the Piedmont offer varied tasting experiences

Gwen Woolf

At Spencer Devon, you can sit at the bar to taste flights of craft beer or dine in the restaurant.

If you visit Fredericksburg, Va., be sure to meet Mary and George. Yes, the famous Washingtons come to mind, but the Bowmans are pretty special, too. “Mary” and “George” are huge copper stills at A. Smith Bowman Distillery, named for the matriarch and patriarch of the 80-year-old company. Mary, in fact, has her own unique design.

The distillery is one of eight stops on the area’s Grapes and Grains Trail, which is special for its diversity — it also includes four wineries and three breweries, with two more sites soon to be added.

You can set your own pace on the self-guided route. The $15 tickets don’t expire until you use them, so you can visit other area attractions over a weekend or on a return visit, punctuated by tastings. The tickets earn you tours, commemorative tasting glasses, discounts on tastings or merchandise, and a chance at a drawing to win a prize pack.

At Spencer Devon, you can sit at the bar to taste flights of craft beer or dine in the restaurant.
At Spencer Devon, you can sit at the bar to taste flights of craft beer or dine in the restaurant.

“This is an experience not only of tasting, but a time to meet owner/operators and learn the story behind their dream of running a winery and brewery,” said Deborah Aylor, who promotes Spotsylvania County.

You’ll encounter everything from a Mediterranean-style villa and a dairy barn to an American Indian lodge and a one-time cellophane plant. Several have dining options, either restaurants or food trucks, and one even includes a river canoe trip option.

If you want to familiarize yourself with all of the trail’s offerings at once, a Nov. 14 festival at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery will feature many vendors and music. Last year’s event attracted 1,000 visitors.

Some of the trail’s wineries will participate in the Fredericksburg Area Wine Festival, Oct. 3–4, at Celebrate Virginia.

Where spirits live

The A. Smith Bowman Distillery is the oldest on the Eastern Seaboard. Known for distilling small-batch Virginia Gentleman bourbon as well as other bourbons, gin, vodka, rum, and a popular crème liqueur, the company offers a thorough tour and free tastings.

The pleasant aroma of bourbon greets you as you enter a massive room that serves as a museum, bottling area, tasting bar, gift shop, and event venue. A knowledgeable guide tells the distillery’s history and shows the ingredients, botanicals, and charred white oak barrels that create the products’ flavors.

In other rooms, you learn how the spirits are made, filtered, tested for alcohol proof, and stored vertically in barrels for aging between five and 15 years. The tour wraps up with samples and advice on tasting techniques.

Within walking distance is the brewpub at Blue & Gray Brewing Co., another trail stop. Two newer additions to the trail are Adventure Brewing Co., in Stafford, and Spencer Devon Brewing in Fredericksburg.

At Spencer Devon, sit at the bar and taste flights of its craft beers, or dine in its restaurant, which emphasizes locally sourced foods. The brewery’s shiny tanks can be seen through a glass wall. Ask owner Shawn Phillips about his background as a Marine, how he learned the principles of beer-making in his back yard, how he believes in community involvement, and to tell you the cute story of how the company got its name.

Take a field trip

Extend your trip even farther into the countryside during fall’s annual foliage show. Neighboring Orange and Greene counties have several wineries, some of which are on the Monticello Wine Trail.

In Orange, Barboursville Vineyards is on the grounds of an 18th-century estate once owned by a Virginia governor. The winery produces Octagon, a renowned Virginia wine, and many other varieties. Its elegant Palladio restaurant has gourmet food, and the mansion’s ruins are the backdrop for Shakespearean plays. Accommodations are available in the estate’s 1804 Inn and cottages. Coming up Oct. 24–25 is the Autumn Vertical Tasting featuring older vintages.

In addition, Horton Vineyards has a Fall Cellar Tasting on Nov. 7 and a Thanksgiving Open House Nov. 27–28. Smaller wineries include Reynard Florence Vineyard, operated by a married couple at their homestead; Honah Lee Vineyards, which also has a farm market; and Chateau Merrill-Anne, located on a working farm.

Two big annual events in Orange County include wine festivals. The Montpelier Wine Festival in early May, held on the grounds of President James Madison’s home, includes tastings from many wineries, arts and crafts, specialty food vendors, live music, and children’s activities. The annual Constitution Day event at Montpelier in mid-September also includes a Taste of Freedom wine festival.

Greene County has Kilaurwen Winery, which originally grew grapes for other producers but has been making its own artisanal wines since 2009. The Kilaurwen Wines and Vines Festival is Oct. 18. Stone Mountain Vineyard, a boutique winery on the side of a scenic mountain, has a gorgeous tasting room and views; it celebrates new-release wines with a fall open house and music, Oct. 24–25. Autumn Hill Vineyard, which is open to the public two weekends a year, has a fall open house Oct. 17–18.

Learn more:

Grapes and Grains Trail:

Greene Co. Tourism:

Orange Co. Tourism:


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