Charlottesville Wine & Dine
Two hundred and fifty years ago, a city was founded along a Virginia trade route that led from Richmond ￼to the Great Appalachian Valley. Named after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, it was established as an intersection of industry and natural resources, urbanity and wilderness. As the country evolved, through the throws of war and the expansion of the West, Charlottesville stood as a geographic and philosophical step- pingstone, gently nestled in the eaves of the Blue Ridge Mountains and standing at the forefront of economic, cultural and academic achievement.
Today, Charlottesville continues its legacy, having become a premier destination in the Mid- Atlantic Region. Renowned for its innovation in winemaking, regionally inspired culinary artist- ry, rustic local culture and top-end, often quirky and unique retail, Charlottesville brings its cul- tural and geographic heritage into its daily life.
Only two hours from Washington, the winter months are the perfect time to settle in for a cozy Charlottesville weekend, sitting fireside at a rural inn, dining at one of their classic or contemporary restaurants, or warming up from a wintry vineyard tour in a rustic tasting room. Here is a primer for Charlottesville’s restaurants and vineyards, all perfect places around which to frame a weekend getaway and take the edge off the winter months ahead.
As we stand on the doorstep of winter vineyards may seem low on the list of worthy city was founded along a Virginia discussion topics. Now of course is the time trade route that led from Richmond where vines begin to go barren and production comes to a standstill until the spring thaw. While everyone else with the winter wonderland bug is waiting in line at the ski slopes, Charlottesville’s wineries offer intimate afternoon getaways off the beaten path. With the last of the fall wine festivals and vineyard weddings behind us, tours are down and crowds have dwindled, leaving true wine enthusiasts with a selection of world- class vineyards to explore without the fuss of traffic. With over 20 vineyards to choose from, it is just a matter of knowing where to start.
Early Mountain Vineyards is a great place to begin your Charlottesville wine tour. Relatively new to the community, they are not only produc- ing impressive wines but maintaining their his- toric property with a commitment to biodiversity and sustainable farming. Having learned from wine pioneers in Virginia and around the world, we know that practical organic and biodynamic methods, such as limiting our use of sprays and pesticides, help preserve the natural balance of the vineyards’ ecosystem and yield healthy and expressive grapes. Not that you need to know this to enjoy their delicious wine.
Their tasting room is among the most impressive in Virginia, ranked second out of 220 wineries by Virginia Wine Lover online. Visitors to Early Mountain Vineyards can warm by the fire and enjoy the views after lunch with fare from the tasting room’s ‘eat local’ marketplace featuring cheeses, charcuterie and products from Virginia purveyors. They keep a selection of the best Virginia wines from other vineyards in house along with rotating featured selections. Learn why Virginia is a growing destination for wine enthusiasts.
King Family Vineyards is a family-owned and operated boutique winery located in Crozet, just fifteen minutes from Charlottesville at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winery specializes in small productions of ultra- premium wine that showcase the remarkable qualities of nearly 100% estate grown fruit. Founded in 1998, the winery's first vintage was only 500 cases. Today, the winery produces approximately 5,000 cases of wine per year, and according to owner David King, King Family sells everything they make. During the winter, the winery’s tasting room is home to a warm stone fireplace and rich, family-friendly seating areas. Bring your own goodies or pick from the tasting room’s gourmet assortments of chocolates, cheeses, salamis, spreads, and hot French bread.
Pollak Vineyards, a favorite of this author, was founded by David and Margo Pollak, who first made wine in Napa Valley in the 1970s. With their new viticultural venture, they wanted to explore a new terrain in the winemaking world. Virginia, they decided, was the Napa of the East Coast. They found their current Charlottesville plot in 2001 and started planting fruit in 2003.
“We don’t buy or outsource any fruit for our wine,” says Dovel. “We grow all our own grapes, and even sell to some of our neighbors, which we’re very proud of. It’s rare to find a winery that does all estate grown wines. What you taste in our wines is our true terroir—what Mother Nature has to offer our specific property.”
Today, Pollak is well known for their Viogniers and Petit Verdots. Their red wines are unfined and unfiltered, with a lot of finesse but a still-present power. “If you put France and California together,” says Dovel, “that’s where we sit: big fruit with great structure—and the character of Virginia’s unique climate makes it awesome.”
As hinted at by the wineries, local and region- al produce plays a large part in Charlottesville’s culinary scene. A handful of restaurants are spearheading this movement, delivering innova- tive but comforting American fare, inspired with international flavors and rooted in the surrounding farmland.
Mas was conceived by chef Tomas Rahal as an opportunity to feature slow, organic, artisanal food and wines, inspired by Spain and emphasizing simple, well-handled ingredients served in a casual neighborhood setting.
Featuring a contemporary, tapas-style menu, Mas specializes in bite-sized dishes eaten between larger meals. These snacks are often eaten in groups, sharing dishes communally and without any pretense or formality. Among their mouth-watering menu options this season, try their Medulla, a rich beef marrow blended with Alba truffles, sweet butter, parsley, garlic and bread crumbs, and toasted with Manchego. Los Dos is a pairing of wild King Salmon and Yellowfin tuna tartares with thyme flowers, grey sea salt and garlic crisps. They also have an outstanding selection of Spanish wines for unforgettable pairings.
Judging by its name alone, you can probably guess where The Local cultivates its culinary inspiration and resources. Since it opened in March 2008, The Local has provided a venue to showcase the abundant supply of small farmers, artisan cheese makers, breweries, distilleries and award wining vineyards in the Charlottesville area. They even support local craftsman and artisans, and much of what you see in the restau- rant is fabricated locally. Start your meal with a local Caromont Goat Cheese salad, with roasted local beets and poached local apples, on a bed of mixed greens, which, believe it or not, are sourced locally. For the main event, choose from local trout stuffed with pimento cheese over corn grits and local braised greens, or a (local) local half chicken in a blackberry glaze with poppy seed slaw and potatoes.