When I sat down to make my list, I really struggled to limit it to ten. There are many others that could easily make the cut, but nobody publishes a top twelve, fourteen or twenty list. So I agonized and deliberated at length. In the end, I decided to go with some real top-tier wineries that may be flying just a little below the radar.
Ankida Ridge Vineyards
This has long been one of my favorite wineries and the only one in Virginia that consistently produces a quality single-varietal Pinot Noir. In a state that is simply not known for Pinot, Ankida’s location at eighteen hundred feet on the western slope of the Blue Ridge seems to make the difference. The tasting room and vineyard are, by most standards, out of the way and they are only open one weekend a month. Nevertheless, the property and the mountain views are breathtakingly beautiful and infinitely worth a visit.
Gabriele Rausse Vineyards and Winery
If you have not heard the name Gabriele Rausse, it is high time you did. He helped plant the state's first vinifera (international varietals) and he has been making wine in the Commonwealth since the early days of Virginia wine. Gabriele is among the most experienced winemakers in the state and does not compromise on the quality of his fruit. His wines are the ones I typically open with friends from out of state. I strongly recommend his Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, but all of his wines are excellent. Until recently, he sold his wine primarily at wine festivals, but in 2015 he opened a tasting room on his Carter’s Mountain property.
This is a fairly new addition to the Monticello AVA, but Moss has quickly established a reputation for quality wine. I particularly like the Architettura Reserva, which is their Bordeaux blend. Plan to park there for a while and enjoy a glass of wine while looking out at the amazing view of the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah National Park. You need to see it to believe it.
This is the oldest winery on my list and one of the oldest in Virginia. I am not exactly certain that Ingleside Vineyards is exactly “flying under the radar,” but it is one of the state’s premier wineries. Unlike most of the others on my list it is not pressed up against the Blue Ridge Mountains. Winemaker Dominick Fioresi is making award-wining wines from the estate grapes. of particular note are the whites. I will point specifically to the Albariño, which will pair well with the local seafood. I will also say that I did a barrel tasting of the 2013 Cabernet Franc, which is definitely world class and I imagine it has been bottled by now.
Most people don’t know Hiddencroft, but it is easily one of the best wineries in Loudoun County. Clyde Housel was a farmer before he started growing grapes and making wine. His is a very small-batch boutique operation, but he makes no wines that are less than excellent. A couple of his reds spend a lot of time in oak and big, bold reds are something of a specialty. His Tannat is simply over the top and he makes a Chambourcin to write home about. The Hiddencroft 2012 Petit Verdot won gold in the Governor’s Cup and is an absolutely fabulous wine.
Zephaniah Farm Vineyard
This is another Loudoun County winery located not far from Leesburg. The tastings are done in a downstairs room of the early 19th-century manor house and everything about the experience is first rate. With regard to wine, I thought all of the white offerings were extraordinary, but the Cabernet Franc is stellar. Zephaniah places emphasis on properly ripening their fruit and it shows in the quality of their wines.
This winery was a great discovery. It is on the western side of the Shenandoah facing the Allegheny Mountains and it is one of Virginia’s more remote wineries (or it seems that way when driving up from the south). In any case, this is one to visit. Ron Schmidt grows only Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay and began this second career with the intention of just selling his fruit. Lucky for us that the decided to make wine. His total yield is only 500 cases per year, but his is making the best Cabernet Franc in the Commonwealth and that’s saying something. Take a picnic and linger, because the mountain views from the top of the vineyard are sensational.
Glen Manor Vineyards
It is impossible to say enough good things about Glen Manor. The tasting room looks east at the Shenandoah National Park and one of the best winery views in the state. That panorama, however, pales in comparison to the wine. Jeff White apprenticed under Jim Law at Linden. He learned the craft well. His terroir-driven wines demonstrate what is possible for Virginia wine. There are nine wines produced and every one of them is world class. You just can’t go wrong at Glen Manor.
Jump Mountain Vineyard
This was another great recent discovery and the drive to Jump Mountain is part of the experience. Its location in Rockbridge County is one of the most beautiful parts of Virginia. They have been on the scene a short time, but Mary Hughes and David Vermillion brought in Mathieu Finot from King Family as a consultant. It has paid off. This is one to keep your eye on, but the Cabernet Sauvignon will eventually be some of the best in the state.
This is another winery that took me by surprise. If I had known that Gabriele Rausse purchases fruit from them, that would have been a clue. The 2009 Muse Bordeaux blend took best of show in the 2015 Governor’s Cup, but there are other wines that are just as impressive. Aside from Bordeaux varietals, there are Rhones like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne. There are also a couple Italian varietals. Frankly, I found the Bordeaux blend to be remarkable, but the Roussanne was the main story. They are currently open by appointment, but they are in the process of building a tasting room, so look for regular hours in the near future.
If you have not been to any of these wineries, then you have a mission. If you should happen to cycle through my list, I think you will agree with my assessment. As I said, of course, there are plenty of other great wineries in Virginia, but I am sure that there are a few on this list that you have not considered. Give them a shot and let me know what you think