My neighbor’s speech slows. She dips her tongue to the corners of her mouth, reeling, and says: “It’s the best pork I’ve ever eaten. I brown and serve the chops to friends.” Her pace quickens. “They cut off the fat and push it to the sides of their plates. When my son and I clear the table, we fight for those scraps,” she says indignantly — the picture of a recovering addict remembering a high.
Intrigued and armed with a name, number and holiday weekend, I light out for Nelson County; home to three brew pubs, Silverback Distillery, seven wineries, six apple orchards, Bold Rock Cidery and the mouthwatering pork of John and Jade Sonne at Spruce Creek Farms. There’s plenty of country taste.
A latte stop at Greenwood Gourmet Grocery amps up the ride and supplies Virginia meats and cheeses, JAM According to Daniel seasonal spreads and C-ville Candy Co. chocolates. I turn onto Route 151, weaving through a patchwork of fields. Also known as Rockfish Valley Highway, this road buttresses the Blue Ridge Mountains, stitching together beverage and bucolic interests with nary a stoplight. Thirsty, I hit up the bustling, tour-bus-filled Blue Mountain Brewery for a patio beer. Cottony clouds fill the blue and white tie-died sky but a few sips later, I press on to Veritas Vineyard & Winery.
Food Getaways: Nelson County
Looking for an oasis where you can reflect quietly while sipping stellar wine? Veritas Vineyard & Winery is the place for you. (Photo courtesy: Cameron Davidson/Virginia Tourism Corp.)
A stone fireplace warms Veritas’ ritzy tasting room. The manicured setting and impressively built wines could substitute for some of Napa Valley’s finest, but they’re affordable in comparison. Skipping the guided wine cellar tour with lunch, I zigzag further off the main road to visit Afton Mountain Vineyards, where scaled-down elegance means no waiting to taste their lighter-style Cabernet Sauvignon brimming with cherry flavors. I hate to spit out the wine, but I’m driving.
I double back to Route 151 for Virginia vodka, gin and white lightening at Silverback Distillery, where I learn of a secret Thai take-out place farther afield. But there are rules attached to the secluded Thai Siam restaurant: Call ahead; be polite to Ms. Mae, the outspoken chef/owner; know that you’ll be turned away if she’s too busy; order the Tom Yum soup and drunken noodles. In Nellysford, barbecue lovers should seek out the smoky, peppery ’cue at the cash-only Blue Ridge Pig. Brunch at Basic Necessities tucks brioche into Cointreau syrup, frangipane and baked almonds, serving it all up with sides of Rock Barn sausage and fresh fruit in brown sugar crème fraîche. Stock up here for wine, cheese and smoked salmon spread to-go.
Food Getaways: Nelson County
A pretty brunch spread at Basic Necessities. (Photo courtesy: Stephanie Gross)
Finally, that pork! My neighbor’s favorite, Spruce Creek Farms, hews richly marbled pig and flavorful, humanely raised chicken. (You can find their chicken on the menu at Wild Wolf Brewing Co.). Order online via the farm’s website, sprucecreek farms.com, and note that two days’ notice is required for pick-up. The Rock Barn in Arrington, Basic Necessities’ sausage purveyor, can stock your cooler with porky parts faster than you can oink. Smoked Cajun tasso, maple rashers and pork ribs await in an historic stone barn on the grounds of the Oak Ridge Estate. Find the Rock Barn’s whole-hog shares and individual cut pricing online.
Cider flights are free in Bold Rock’s Nellysford tasting room. Swoon over their glossy production line, sit by the fire or enjoy snacks on a patio that overlooks nearly 60 acres of farmland. I loved the drier ciders available by glass or growler, or bottle in the gift shop. A hop, skip and a jump away, the kid-friendly Wild Wolf Brewing Co. is equipped with a toddler play area, gazing ponds and live music. Share their flight of 11 beers — including seasonal and signature brews — such as the hoppy, hibiscus-scented Exquisitely Evil Ale. The sporty set rides the bar at Nelson’s third brewpub, Devils Backbone Brewing Co., where a stuffed mountain lion and other big game watch over skiers drinking in their pajama bottoms.
In the summer, find organically raised produce, meat and lavender; hickory nuts; and native paw paws at the producer-only Nelson Farmers Market Cooperative, voted third best on the East Coast.
-Visit Swannanoa Palace, the abandoned, desolate Italian Renaissance Revival summer home commissioned by Maymont’s James H. Dooley. Though it hangs in stages of early decay and is rarely open to the public, wandering this site merits the one-and-a-half-hour drive from Richmond alone. (Tip: There is an open house on May 2, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
-Check out the annual, four-day Lockn’ Music Festival in September (Robert Plant is set to perform) and get a preview April 18, when festival regular the Tedeschi Trucks Band is set to play at Lockn’ Farm’s new Blue Ridge Bowl amphitheater.
-In early spring, shop at the Rockville Community Center on Route 151 with a cup of locally roasted Trager Brothers Coffee in hand. If antiques are your bag, try Covesville Store Antiques.
-Blue Haven Farm 151 B&B is in the process of lovingly restoring nine American travel trailers for guest stays. A tricked-out 1990s Airstream Excella with a queen bedroom and pink-accented salon caught my eye. But the main house proffers five bedrooms and jaw-dropping sunrises in the great room facing DePriest Mountain, whose 4,063-foot summit is accessible from the Appalachian Trail.