Picturesque Nelson County, Va., three hours south of Washington, D.C., is a magnet for brewers, distillers, winemakers — and folks who enjoy the fruits of their labors. With 10 wineries, five breweries, two cideries, a kombucha maker, and four distilleries, this rural district offers more variety of locally produced beverages per square mile than any other Mid-Atlantic county.
Despite the burgeoning growth of the craft beverage industry, this region south of Charlottesville remains beautifully rural; county roads spool out mile after mile of pastoral scenery. With excellent local beverages and produce in abundance, new tasting, dining, and lodging opportunities are popping up like mushrooms after a rain.
Some of biggest and best breweries
Devils Backbone, the state’s largest and most award-winning craft brewery, can turn out 60,000 barrels of craft beer a year at its two locations. Located on 100 acres tucked into a Blue Ridge Mountain valley off Route 151, the original Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub & Meadows draws throngs patrons to its 400-seat beer garden. Those patrons include fans of live music, mountain bikers, Appalachian Trail hikers, and, of course, beer aficionados, who quaff Vienna Lager, Kilt Flasher, Skull Crushing Ape, tart Cran-Gose beer, and other Devils Backbone brews.
Bold Rock Hard Cider, also located on Route 151, is one of the largest cider makers on the East Coast, turning out upward of 250,000 cases a year. Open daily for sales and free tastings, the pub offers light fare and welcomes picnickers with their own baskets as well. Visitors can learn about the production process through self-guided tours of the facility and at the Cider Museum.
Virginia’s oldest and newest
Nelson County’s Mountain Cove Winery near Lovingston is Virginia’s oldest continuously operated winery, producing cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chambourcin, and other fine wines since 1973.
Virginia’s newest distillery, Woods Mill Distillery, opened in September in Faber, Va. The distillery features corn whiskey made from locally grown corn, as well as bourbon and apple brandy from local fruit and grains. Colloquially, Woods Mill’s product is “moonshine,” although technically, its whiskey doesn’t quite fit that description.
Lodging near the vines
A stay at the wineries is the perfect romantic weekend or relaxing getaway.
With easy access to the Route 29 corridor,
DelFosse Vineyards and Winery offers a hideaway cottage on the property. Along Route 151 are Veritas Vineyard and Winery, with a cottage and farmhouse, Cardinal Point Winery’s lovely farmhouse, and Afton Mountain Vineyards retreat. Here you can sip an evening glass of wine made from the grapes off the vines that fill your view.
Finding one’s way among these breweries, wineries, and distilleries is no problem, thanks to Nelson County’s beverage trails.
For designer beers, the Brew Ridge Trail (brewridgetrail.com) is the road most taken. The route winds through Blue Ridge Mountain backdrops from Afton, home of Blue Mountain Brewery, south along Route 151 to Wild Wolf Brewing Company in Nellysford and Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Wintergreen.
Or, mix it up on the Red, White, & Brew Tour of wineries, breweries, distilleries, and some cideries. Some visitors begin at Afton Mountain Vineyards, where wine is stored in a cave, then head to Silverback Distillery, where premium vodka, gin, whiskey, and bourbon are the fare.
For those who want to stay in western Nelson County, there’s the Nelson 151 Trail. And, if you’d rather let someone else do the driving and navigation, check out the limo and bus companies offering beverage tours in Nelson County for a combo of beverages, cuisine, and scenic beauty that turn a perfectly ordinary day into a party.
Nelson Co. Tourism: nelsoncounty.com