Planes, Trains & Automobiles
Virginia has ten tourism regions, supporting many lifestyles: urban, suburban, rural, coastal, mountain. The largest groups of wineries are in Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County and Fauquier County, and around Charlottesville in Central Virginia. Another large group—the Shenandoah Region—stretches out along the mountain ranges about 90 minutes west of DC.
A Sampling of
About a third of all Virginia wineries are in Northern Virginia, within about 90 minutes of the Washington Monument. Generally speaking, the wineries closer to DC will have higher tasting fees and bigger crowds, but even there you can find smaller mom-and-pop wineries where you’ll be warmly welcomed, and plenty of scenic drives, Civil War history, and top-notch lodging and dining (including several world-class spots). Lodging is plentiful, especially near the airport.
The twenty percent of wineries clustered around Charlottesville have received the most accolades in recent years for wine quality. Lodging is plentiful in Charlottesville itself, but there are no chain hotels outside the city and the many inns surrounding it tend to book up early, so plan ahead.
Attention has recently shifted to the Blue Ridge mountains as Virginia’s next great vineyard opportunity, due to the elevation's cooler climate, soil composition and slope, and lower land costs. The wineries around Shenandoah National Park and farther south are where you’ll find some of the best views—Skyline Drive, along the mountains’ ridgeline, is known as one of the most scenic drives in the country. Lodging is sparse but often fascinating; many of the small towns have at least one inn that served as a camp hospital during the wars, and which now harbors the spirits of the dead. About twenty percent of the state’s wineries are strung along the Blue Ridge range, most within fifteen miles of either side. Like pearls on a string. Now that’s a great idea for a wine trek!
The wineries of Virginia’s Northern Neck peninsula are your best bet if you’re looking for peace and quiet and crabcakes (with actual Virginia blue crab, not <<shudder>> krab). This is the flat, flat land of corn and soy and deadrise boats and oystermen and glimpses of the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, or the Rappahannock. If you love crabbing and antique-ing, this is your spot.
Richmond is better known for its craft beer than its wineries, but now with ten or so wineries within thirty miles, the city’s become a good hub for a day trip or two. And Richmond’s noteworthy restaurant scene is a great follow up after a day of wine tasting.
Driving south and southwest from Roanoke, you’ll find a very different wine country. Plan on forty-five minutes between wineries, and at least one tiny white church every couple of miles. The feel of the road changes, with long, rolling hills. The mountains get rockier and more dramatic, especially once you get into the craggy shale territory of far southwest Virginia. The beauty of the area is astounding, but in a different way than the tranquility of the Northern Neck or the enveloping green of the Shenandoah mountains. It feels more rugged, less refined, in a good way. Here, you’ll find smaller tasting rooms, lots of sweeter wines, and winemakers who are very happy to see you.
The main airports are Washington Dulles (IAD), which is actually in Virginia, and Reagan National (DCA), which is three miles from Washington, D.C. Dulles is closest to wine country.
The best way to get to the Central Virginia wineries quickly is the Charlottesville Airport (CHO), about 15 minutes north of downtown Charlottesville. Richmond International Airport (RIC) is another option, though not as close to the main cluster of wineries. Richmond is 80 miles from Charlottesville.
Smaller regional airports can deliver you to other spots around the state, depending on where you’re flying in from. Here’s a good overview of each.
Driving, Renting a Car,
Getting to Virginia Wine Country is easy, and getting around is where the fun happens. Virginia is a driver’s paradise. Around every bend is a photo waiting to be taken. You won’t meet a more beautiful state.
Virginia is generally easy to navigate. Outside of the Beltway and other highways around D.C., the roads are typically two-lane divided highways that give over quickly to two-lane roads as you navigate to the wineries. Even wineries in populated areas may have long (long) gravel or dirt driveways. Motorcyclists should call ahead; many driveways aren’t passable for bikes.
Rush hour around D.C. begins at 3:30 and it's awful. Traffic can now extend as far out as the wineries on roads including the Dulles Toll Road (SR 267), I-66, Rt. 50, Rt. 29 and, worst of all, I-95 (though there aren’t many wineries along that north/south corridor.) Go early.
I-81 down through the mountains can also be bad—it’s a major north/south truck route, and one accident can back things up for miles. Use Rt. 11 instead if you can; it parallels I-81 nearly its entire length and is much more scenic. Cool tip: It's also the road that Route 11 potato chips were named after. You can visit the factory Mon-Sat.
Cell service can be spotty out near wineries, so don’t count on your GPS. Print maps ahead of time, or get directions from your phone before you head from one winery to the next (nearly all wineries have free wifi). You can download a guide or request a paper map here.
Airports are your best bet for finding rental cars. Expedia is a good resource for exploring what’s available.
In heavily-populated Northern Virginia, you’ll find plenty of toll roads, most of which are optional express-lane tolls; stay on the main road for a cheaper (and slower) drive. Outside of Northern Virginia, there are no toll roads, with the exception of a bridge or two. Virginia uses E-ZPass.
A handful of wineries have charging stations, including 50 West Vineyard, Pearmund Cellars, Stone Tower Winery, Sunset Hills Winery in Northern Virginia, and DuCard Vineyards and Knight’s Gambit Vineyard in Central Virginia.
Here’s a full list of stations in Virginia.
Take the Train
Local winery tour companies have sprung up all over the state, making train travel an option. Now instead of finding your own way around, you can catch a train from DC’s Union Station or points north or south and then hire a driver or join a tour when you get there.
Most of the Amtrak routes stop in Charlottesville, which has the greatest concentration of wineries—and it’s right downtown, within easy walking distance of hotels and inns. But Manassas, Culpeper, Richmond, Staunton, Lynchburg, and Williamsburg all have enough tasting rooms nearby to make for a weekend of wine tasting.
You can board any of these routes in DC or Old Town Alexandria (itself an ultra-charming, walkable town). Here’s where each route stops:
Crescent Route – Manassas, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Lynchburg.
Cardinal Route – Manassas, Charlottesville, Charlottesville, Staunton.
Carolinian Route – Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg
Northeast Regional – Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Fredericksburg, Ashland, Williamsburg, Newport News and Norfolk.
Take a Tour
Winery Tour Companies
Virginia has plenty of tour operators who are happy to be your designated driver. You’ll find everything from one-guy-in-a-car who works with you to create an itinerary to large companies that run public tours to two or three wineries a day from D.C. or Northern Virginia. Hop-on tours around Charlottesville run a regular route and let you jump on and off as you like.
If you’re looking for a personalized tour and have a particular winery/ies in mind, contact the winery ahead of time and ask for their recommendation for a tour company. Some are more welcome than others, and you’ll have a better chance at scoring perks like behind-the-scenes tours if you go with the right company.
For more information about traveling in and through the U.S., see visa entry requirements and more here.