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Photo courtesy Visit Loudoun
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Photo courtesy Visit Loudoun
There's more to the rolling hills of Loudoun County than blood-soaked Civil War battlefields and skirmish sites. Mosby's Raiders all but made their name here, starting more than a dozen spats with Union troops and besting or fighting them to a draw in all but one contest. Today the scenic countryside is an ideal place to observe a contest of a very different kind, and once again victory is sweet — and pleasantly dry, with flavors of honey and apricot and an unexpectedly spicy finish. As my wife, Becca, and I found on a recent visit to the region, that's just the very enjoyable 2011 Traminette at Loudoun Valley Vineyards ( loudounvalleyvineyards.com ) off Charles Town Pike
A winding roadway dotted with horse farms and old houses, Charles Town Pike boasts nearly as many vineyards as whispered legends about Col. John S. Mosby's local exploits. But the modern-day activities there are equally worthy of commemoration — and a weekend wine and history-tasting getaway. While Virginia wines typically are associated with the Shenandoah Valley and the verdant Piedmont region around Charlottesville, Northern Virginia is quickly making its own name as Virginia wine country.
Loudoun Valley Vineyards is home to Sonoma County native and UC Davis-trained winemaker Bree Ann Moore and her husband, Cameron, who arrived in the state in 2002 with a mind to participate in Virginia's winemaking renaissance. With the help of a few investors, the couple bought the vineyard in 2008.
"Making wine in California is easy; making wine in Virginia is a little bit more of a challenge," Moore explains to my tour group, made up mostly of travel writers and arranged through a partnership between Loudoun and Prince William counties and Manassas and Alexandria.
As challenging as it may be — the weather is uneven, the soil temperamental — Moore gets it. Our tasting included eight recent vintages (her wines range from $14 to $26 per bottle). Each was distinctive, drinkable but complex. Particularly good, and a regional smash among D.C.-area wine aficionados, is the Route 8 Red. This "happy accident" — Moore's description — is a red table wine that pairs well with everything. We also sampled Vin de Pomme, her foray into fruit wines, which can be dangerous territory if not handled deftly. As a lover of cider, I was blown away by how she captured delicate notes of both Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples.
"I'm not going to be able to make the same wines every year using the same yeasts," says Moore, who instead works hard to match her grapes to yeast varieties that bring out different subtleties depending on the ever-shifting flavor profile of grapes grown here. The result is a unique experience from year to year.
Our trip took us to the quaint hamlet of Purcellville, a whistle-stop village with a circa late-1800s train station that's every bit as picturesque as the one in Ashland. Like Ashland's, Purcellville's station today serves as a visitors center.
For the recreational shopper, the town is packed to the gills with antique and curio stores and boutique consignment shops. But it's also a good place for a bite to eat before hitting the wine-tour trail.
Our tour included lunch at Magnolias at the Mill ( magnoliasmill.com ), a sprawling restaurant located in a beautifully restored circa-1905 mill (entrées run from $12 to $17). The diverse menu ranges from wood-fired pizza and gourmet burgers to a lacquered salmon with wasabi mashed potatoes.
Loudoun alone boasts about 40 wineries and bills itself as "DC's Wine Country." Those wineries, for the purpose of tasting tours, are plentiful within short driving distances down scenic byways. Or you can hitch onto one of the five semi-official wine and food guided- tour companies that dot the region (visit
The county divides itself conveniently into five major "clusters" of wineries; Loudoun Valley Vineyards is part of the Waterford cluster. There are also the Loudoun Heights, Potomac and Harmony clusters. And of course, fittingly for those more interested in Civil War battlefields, there's also the Mosby cluster
For a break from the grape trail, visit the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park ( nvrpa.org/park/w_od_railroad ). The most distinctive feature of the 100-foot-wide park is a 45-mile paved trail for biking, running, walking and skating that runs from Purcellville to Arlington. Built on a
former railroad bed, the trail passes several old stations, as well as historic homes and churches. To rent bicycles or join a group ride, check out Trail's End Cycling Co. ( trailsendcycling.com ) at the trail's western end in Purcellville. For other information, including nearby hotels and B&Bs, visit wodfriends.org.