Orange County’s rolling hills hold lots of history. Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison, brings the Colonial past to life. And there are plenty of reminders of the Civil War, as well as ample railroad heritage.
There’s even cause to boast about the area’s fried chicken history. All are reasons to visit the area.
Those same rolling hills also hold another reason to head to Orange County. The county’s wineries include some of Virginia’s best-known, as well as some smaller ones. And, the county’s fortunate location in Central Virginia’s winemaking region makes it a great hub for exploring a big part of the state’s libation scene.
“Orange County wines are the heart of the Virginia wine industry,” said Leigh Mawyer, who promotes the area. “Barboursville has the history and Horton has the variety of grapes, but each of the five wineries offers a different experience.”
Visiting the vineyards
Barboursville is among the best-known of Virginia’s wineries and is located on one-time Virginia Gov. James Barbour’s estate, which includes the ruins of the mansion Thomas Jefferson designed. The Tuscan Tasting Room is open every day and pours a wide array of current vintages. The Library 1821 experience, available on weekends, offers a changing selection of flights of older vintages from the cellars paired with bite-sized culinary treats. Guests are encouraged to stroll, picnic, or taste the wines throughout the estate.
Guided tours of the winery are offered on Saturday and Sunday, and are a great introduction to the history of the estate and the winemaking process. The Octagon Barrel Room has an exhibit about the estate’s signature wine. Onsite accommodations include the 1804 Inn and Cottages and the Palladio Restaurant completes the experience.
Another well-known Virginia label is that of Horton Vineyards, which opened in its current Gordonsville location in 1988. By 1992 construction began on an underground winery that also included a vaulted ceiling tasting room with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Winemaker Michael Heny credits owner Dennis Horton with studying Virginia’s climate to find the best varieties of grapes to grow in the state. “He took risks in planting grapes that had never been grown between the Rhone Valley in France and California and, fortunately, we’re still growing many of those varieties today.”
The Nov. 5 fall cellar tasting at Horton gives visitors a chance to taste the new 2015 and 2016 wines in the cellar. Regular tastings are available daily.
Chateau MerrillAnne in Orange is an unpretentious boutique winery that combines a working farm’s country atmosphere with the opportunity to talk about wine directly with the owners. The renovated barn, deck, and open meadows enhance the experience. The first wine was released in 2013 and the tasting room opened for business in 2014.
Honah Lee Vineyard in Gordonsville is unusual in that it offers tastings of its own wines plus those from five other vineyards. Tastings are offered daily inside the farm market where jams, jellies, sauces, and baked goods are also available.
Reynard Florence Vineyard and Winery in Barboursville is a small family-owned and -operated winery producing small quantities of handcrafted wines. The tasting room is open weekends and holiday Mondays. The family converted their former sledding hill and driving range into a vineyard driven by the owner’s exacting carpentry background. The winery produces a range of reds and whites.
Central Virginia Wine Tours and Transportation in Orange offers a variety of winery tours in locations throughout Central Virginia that are generally six hours long. The company also offers brewery and distillery tours and a Local’s Favorite Tour.
Orange Co. Tourism: visitorangevirginia.com