It had been a couple years (or possibly more) since I last visited Little Washington Winery. They do have a satellite tasting room here in Charlottesville and I have been there a few times, but I really needed to get back to the Rappahannock County tasting room. If you are unfamiliar with the Little Washington operation, let me fill you in.
You don’t really notice the view as you are driving up the winding lane that leads to the winery. You might catch a glimpse in your rear view mirror, but you have got to park and get out of the car to really appreciate the panorama. If you have ever traveled along route 231 from Madison to Sperryville, you know what a stunning drive that can be. But when you look back at it from the perspective of the hillside below the Little Washington tasting room, it is infinitely more stunning. You take in the whole of the valley that is framed by the Blue Ridge and see the rocky crags of Old Rag Mountain in the distance. I have not stayed to watch the sunset, but I am told that it is spectacular. While the vista is pretty amazing, however, It is not really the thing I want to tell you about.
Carl and Donna Henrickson are the owners and they have put together a wine education program that is fairly unique. In fact, I know of nothing else like it in the state of Virginia. There are two primary elements to the program. The first takes place at the tasting bar and it is call the “Dirt Road Wine Tour.” In addition to wines bearing the Little Washington label, there will be a second menu of offerings from around the globe. It is designed contain winemakers and even grapes that will be unfamiliar to the average wine drinker. Carl works with Andrew, a DC-based somm, who travels the world looking for exceptional wines from small boutique wineries. You simply will not find them in our average wine shop. During my recent visit, Carl was pouring a pair of Austrian Gruner Veltliners, an old-vine blend from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains and a sparkling Riesling from Germany’s Mosel Valley. The tasting menu calls them “the most incredible wines you’ll never find without us.” It really is an exciting lineup and if this were the only thing happening at Little Washington it would still be worth a visit.
Little Washington is also a wine school of sorts. There are a range of wine education classes available. The most basic is “Wine Boot Camp,” which attempts to make attendees into wine snobs, but approaches the topics in plain English and covers topics like “How to behave in a restaurant,” “aeration,” and some of the finer points of food and wine pairing. There are a range of other seminars that include things like pairing with cheese, chocolate or dessert, country or region-specific wine tastings and overviews, and “Aromas of Wine.” This is really just a sampling. You will need to check the website for more up-to-date information.
As I mentioned earlier, Little Washington is pouring several of their own wines. The vines on the property are a tale of woe, but will eventually produce fruit. In the meantime, Carl is sourcing fruit from Southern Virginia and producing about 800 cases annually. There are plans to eventually increase output to 1200 cases. In any event, the wines are expertly crafted and quite good. I tasted a pair of Chardonnays, a dry-style Rosé, a red blend, a Cabernet Franc and a Syrah. All were worthy of comment, but the Syrah was special. You simply do not find much Syrah in Virginia. This one was full of dark fruit, tobacco notes and spice. It is a cellar-worthy wine.
So there are a multitude of reasons to visit Little Washington Winery. Whether you are interested in education, unusual wines or a great vineyard view in a picnic-worthy location, this is the place. Make an effort to check them out and definitely let me know what you think.