Sample the fruits of the bay, rivers, and vines in a region lost in time

Sue Bland

Boats on Monroe Bay at Colonial Beach.

Taste the heritage of America at Northern Neck oyster and wine fests

16-09 NorthNeck Colonial
Colonial Beach provides fun on the Potomac River.

If you haven’t heard, Virginians are harvesting oysters again in such huge numbers that you’d think you were living during the days when our founding fathers were born. To reclaim the oystering tradition, Chesapeake Bay area natives have found a way to de-sex oysters and grow them for annual harvest.

Virginia has become the oyster capital of the East Coast, while its wineries have risen in popularity to superior critical acclaim. Joining one of the granddaddies of Virginia’s wine industry on the Northern Neck peninsula, Ingleside, are several wineries and oyster purveyors who want visitors to taste what they call the “merroir” and “terroir” affecting the tasty coupling of oysters and wines. They’ve created several fun-filled events beginning in September and are hosting them at fascinating historical sites.

According to Lisa Hull, who leads tourism promotion for the Northern Neck, “in my personal opinion, once an oyster is fried, it tastes the same as other oysters, but if you eat it raw or sautéed, you’re able to taste the difference in the salinity of the water it came from.”

Boats on Monroe Bay at Colonial Beach.
Boats on Monroe Bay at Colonial Beach.

The waters of Virginia’s Northern Neck have long been known as “brackish.” The neck is bound by both the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers, and both feed into the storied Chesapeake Bay. While the region is still very rural, it has a quiet sophistication and a history that’s palpable. Here, three of our first five presidents were born. Here, they learned to enjoy Virginia oysters, and once you visit, you will too.

There’s enough to do in this one peninsula, less than 1-1/2 hours from Washington, D.C., that you wouldn’t see it all if you stayed a week. Virginians have been vacationing here in summer homes for centuries and retirees from all over are now calling the area home.

Insider tip: In addition to its terrific food and wine events, the Northern Neck has one of the largest number of participants on an artist and craft trail of any place in Virginia.

 

Eating oysters in historic sites

Oysters and wine combine to attract visitors to the Stratford Hall Wine and Oyster Festival, Sept. 17–18.
Oysters and wine combine to attract visitors to the Stratford Hall Wine and Oyster Festival, Sept. 17–18.

Stratford Hall is where Robert E. Lee was born. It boasts a history of brother against brother in the 18th-century political intrigue that created the U.S. Constitution. Lee’s ancestors were people who signed the Declaration of Independence, but didn’t agree when it came to the U.S. Constitution. Free, self-guided house tours are available with the purchase of an event ticket.

Oct. 8, the Oyster and Art Fest kicks off at Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern, a fascinating place in Heathsville on the Bay that dates to 1795. The tavern, located directly behind the Old Court House, is one of the oldest surviving wood structures on the Northern Neck. Named after John Hughlett, its builder, the tavern is on the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places.

Virginia has named November the month of the oyster in a nod to the traditional thought that oysters are better consumed after their breeding time. Now that the oyster catch is not as reliant on breeding, they can be consumed any time and restaurants serving oysters have popped up everywhere.

“You can’t see everything on the Northern Neck if you stay a week, but if you only have a weekend, be sure to take a look at the itineraries we have on our website,” Hull said.

For more information:

Northern Neck Tourism: northernneck.org

 

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