The hollows of Smyth and Wythe counties of Southwest Virginia were legendary for the making of illicit brews. Now this region, about five hours south of Washington, D.C., is fermenting and distilling legal beverages and doing it well. Mountain scenery, music, live theater, and outdoor recreation add to the mix that brings folks to this accessible area where I-81 and I-77 intersect.
Appalachian Mountain Spirits Revelations, America’s first single-malt corn whiskey, was judged one of the nation’s 12 best whiskeys. The Marion-based distillery has garnered so many awards and grown so quickly that its farm distillery can’t keep up. Owner Scott Schumaker is starting a $1 million expansion. He’s also building “Virginia’s longest, highest, and fastest zip line,” part of Schumaker’s plan to become a destination distillery.
At West Wind Winery, virtually every wine produced has been recognized in regional and national competitions. Rural Retreat Winery has generated on-premises lodging, as well as a deli featuring its wines in the ingredient list. Nearby Davis Valley Winery has spun off a distillery featuring moonshiner’s recipes.
No one is more aware of the allure of Southwest Virginia spirits than Appalachian Mountain Spirit owner Schumaker, who revived a downtown department store with barn boards and a small operating still to serve the traveling crowd. Schumaker buys his corn, barley, and rye from Virginia farmers; their quality is higher, he says. In addition to Revelations, Appalachian Spirits distills Sweetwater Moonshine and War Horn Whiskey.
Perched atop a grassy hill with 360-degree views, Davis Valley Winery and Distillery, off I-81, Exit 54, gives visitors the sense of getting away from it all. Sample the celebrated Davis Valley cabernet franc, as well as chardonnay and other fine wines, at the tasting room’s aged oak bar. On the distillery side, visitors sip vodka, bourbon, and original-recipe moonshine, as well as fruity ‘shines with pie names: Apple Pie, Peach Pie, Strawberry Pie, and Cherry Pie. The tasting rooms are open seven days a week, except for major holidays.
The village of Rural Retreat, off Exit 60, is just that. The barber shop doubles as bluegrass venue and musical instrument museum, and the old train depot can be recognized in a classic Winston Link steam locomotive photograph. Rural Retreat Winery and its tasting room are located in two historic downtown buildings with a view of distant mountains. What better place to sip citrusy viognier or a dry white chardonnay?
Winery owners Scott and Linda Mecimore have started a deli featuring homemade light lunches and desserts, such as their killer chambourcin chocolate cupcakes. And. if you don’t want to go home, you’re in luck — the winery rents a fully furnished suite over the tasting room.
West Wind Farm Winery, a few miles off I-81, Exit 80, uses age-old methods to craft small batches of wine that win awards every year. The combination of soil, climate, and drainage makes it an excellent spot for pinot gris and cabernet sauvignon, but their white riesling is what the crowds ask for most. They also sell sweeter wines, a blackberry and a peach.
“We try to cater to everyone, from those trying their first wine to connoisseurs,” says owner Paul Hric. The winery is open daily for tastings and lists concerts or cooking demonstrations occasionally on its website.
For more information:
Smyth Co. Tourism: visitvirginiamountains.com
Wythe Co. Tourism: visitwytheville.com