1 of 4
Photo courtesy Mark Addy Inn
2 of 4
Photo courtesy Starr Hill Brewery
3 of 4
Photo courtesy Blue Mountain Brewery
4 of 4
Photo courtesy Pippin Hill Farm
I love Virginia wines, especially those from the Blue Ridge Mountains, but sometimes it's time for beer and cider. If that avenue sounds pleasant to you, Nellysford is a great home base. Settled near Wintergreen in Nelson County, this small town is scenic, easy to reach from Richmond (no winding country roads, unless you want to drive some), and close to beer breweries, cider makers and restaurants.
The Mark Addy Inn (434-361-1101 or mark-addy.com ) is a bed-and-breakfast inn that also serves dinner, prepared by co-owner Rafael Tal. My boyfriend and I were in the mood for something a little more casual, but I can attest to the fine breakfast Tal cooked: a savory meat-and-vegetable quiche, maple syrup-glazed sausage patties, and Greenberry coffee. We took advantage of a $99 special in January, which was great; if you're looking for a discount anytime, check the inn's weeknight specials. We enjoyed a suite that had a gas-log fireplace, a must during a brisk winter weekend. The décor is on the antique side but not overly precious, and our room had a flat-screen television. Perfect for watching basketball.
If you prefer to sip beer and also eat well, Blue Mountain Brewery (434-456-8020 or bluemountainbrewery.com ) is the best bet. We loved the pizzas, which have thin, herbed crusts piled with locally sourced ingredients. The Local Sausage pie gets its meat from Nelson's Double H Farms, and it's combined with red and green bell peppers, mozzarella and marinara sauce. One pizza is more than enough for two. We also chose to share a flight of beers, a fun way to make an informed decision on a pint. Most of the brews change with the seasons, and about 20 are draft-only. For spring and summer, however, I strongly recommend the Rockfish Wheat. For hops lovers, the Full Nelson Pale Ale is popular.
For light bites, plus intriguing wines, Pippin Hill Farm (434-202-8063 or pippinhillfarm.com ) is the ultra-popular new kid in Albemarle. Its wines, which range from a floral Viognier to a dry Merlot, were made under the authority of consultant Michael Shaps, who has overseen winemaking at Jefferson Vineyards and other Virginia wineries. What sets Pippin Hill apart from the rest is its cuisine, which is paired with the house wines. Already the vineyard is seeing a lot of wedding business, catered by the chef, our server said.
Wild Wolf Brewing Co. (434-361-0088 or wildwolfbeer.com ) has a lively bar scene — think Wintergreen skiers — and offers several ales and stouts. I stuck with the Blonde Hunny Ale, which is an easy and light beer. The Smoked Scottish brew, available during warm weather, is also well-liked.
Dry and sparkling ciders are all the rage in Albemarle and Nelson, and for good reason. They are made from apples, which are plentiful there, and the ciders are quick to mature — much faster than wines, especially complex reds. If you haven't had the pleasure of drinking one of these ciders, allow me to tell you what they aren't: thick, sweet apple cider, or the sparkling non-alcoholic cider you serve the kids on New Year's Eve.
Albemarle CiderWorks (297-2326 or albemarleciderworks.com ) is one of a few cider makers in the region. Just off U.S. 29 in North Garden, this cidery is at Rural Ridge Orchard, which has long produced apples of all varieties, including my favorite, the tart Albemarle Pippin. For $5, you can have a tasting of four ciders. Jupiter's Legacy is very dry and fizzy, while Royal Pippin is a tad sweeter but still dry. Ragged Mountain, named for the beloved hiking location, is closer to the sweetness of non-alcoholic cider. All bottles are priced at $16.
Beer breweries have been around Charlottesville and its surroundings for a while now, most prominently in Crozet, where Starr Hill Brewery (434-823-5671 or starrhill.com ) is based. We toured Starr Hill on another visit to Albemarle County and found that the tasting bar was quite the hot spot. Amid stacks of aluminum cans (the latest trend in craft beer, so customers can still drink if glass bottles are forbidden) and assembly-line technology, young men and women crowded around a bar serving many of Starr Hill's beers on tap. Occasionally the brewery hosts live music, too.
It's not open yet, but I'm breathlessly awaiting a new cidery and restaurant, Bold Rock ( boldrock.com ) near Nellysford. Ground was broken in January, with two buildings planned, and the fermenting tanks are already there. Bold Rock will produce three kinds of hard cider, which is more like beer than Albemarle CiderWorks' fizzy ciders. Tastings should be available by May, with a swank pub opening about a year later.