- Distance from Washington, D.C.: 49 miles
- Best time: April to October
- Best for: Girl's GetawayRomanticFood and Wine
Napa, Sonoma, Willamette ... Loudoun? Hard as it can be to believe, the exurban capital of Virginia, where urbanites have fled the stress of nearby D.C. politics to kick back in a slower paradise of locally grown food and Shenandoah breezes, is fast becoming a wine region to stand up to some of the West Coast's finest. The types of tipples you'll find in Loudoun may be less familiar, such as Viognier and Cabernet Franc, but there is a match for every palate and a plate to pair with every glass in the region's top-notch country kitchens. - By Elana Schor
Virginia Wine Country Cheat Sheet
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1Just an hour outside of Washington, D.C., you'll find a riverside paradise at Tarara winery, where the tasting room is banked by country gardens. Take in the sights with a sip of their top-selling white, an alluring fruity blend of varietals.
2Swing into the town of Leesburg, where the historic downtown is truly walkable, to indulge in dessert before dinner. At Mom's Apple Pie Bakery go for the shop's namesake to guarantee satisfaction or try any other of its more than twenty varieties.
3Pause for a pitch-perfect New American dinner, with local wine pairings, at Tuscarora Mill. The smoked duck breast and Moroccan-style chicken are particularly memorable.
1Pick up coffee and homemade pastries from the Tuscarora Mill spinoff South Street Under. This is also a great spot to stock up on picnic supplies like wild rice and pecan salad and upmarket deli sandwiches (tarragon chicken salad, turkey with shallot mayo) before setting off through Loudoun County's horse and grape country.
2Head a few miles north to Hidden Brook Winery, a log cabin built from the ground up by its owners. The Rose pairs well with fruit from roadside farm stands, and the tasting room features paintings and jewelry from nearby artists.
3Raise a green glass at family-run Fabbioli Cellars, where organic and sustainable practices are used to grow the grapes behind the unique raspberry and Asian pear wines.
4Head back on the road for a bit south to Delaplane, where you can find more ingredients for a picnic lunch as well as small-plate food pairings during a tasting trip to the dog-friendly Barrel Oak Winery. Don't miss the gorgeous views from its outdoor patio.
5Move on to Three Fox Vineyards, which proclaims itself "Tuscany in Virginia" and does not disappoint in the Sangiovese department. A rollicking game of bocce ball on the lawn might tempt you away from the wine tasting table.
6Dining at The Inn at Little Washington is a life-changing experience for foodies, thanks to the stellar service and multi-course delights dished out by legendary chef Patrick O'Connell. If you can nail down a reservation here in advance, set aside several hours and about $350 per person as a minimum. But don't try to stop by without a table already booked.
7If you're shut out at the inn, don't despair—continue on to Winchester for a brief break from the vino with a cold beer and a creamy bite of the inventive fried avocado roll at Awabi Sushi (111 S. Loudoun St.; 540-686-7432), located on the highly strollable downtown promenade of Old Town.
1Stop for a three-course prix fixe brunch at the Ashby Inn in Paris, where you will face the most unenviable choice in wine country: the hand-battered buttermilk fried chicken on top of a parmesan waffle or the creamy pork with poached egg?
2Work off the stellar meal with a ride along the C&O Canal trail after taking a short drive north to the Maryland side of the Potomac to rent bikes from River Trail Outfitters. (If you bring a bottle of wine in your backpack for an al fresco glass, we won't tell.)
Where to Stay
It's closer to the far-flung Little Washington than the wineries of Delaplane and Leesburg, but the Fountain Hall Bed & Breakfast (rooms from $145/night) is worth the extra driving for the welcoming ambience—flowers and dessert packages can be added onto rooms, and the parlor offers games as well as books to borrow.
A more stately taste of the Old Dominion's riding culture comes courtesy of The Red Fox Inn and Tavern (rooms from $235/night), where antique four-poster beds fit in perfectly at this 1728-built property.
When to Go
Winter tends to be mild in Loudoun County and its environs, but most wineries will close or limit their hours as the hours grow shorter in late October to early November.
Before that cold weather wind-down, the early fall Wine & Garlic Festival offers a pungent treat for gourmands. The region also is home to multiple fall and harvest festivals during this season.
In late spring, the Oatlands Point-to-Point horse race in Leesburg marks the beginning of a season that peaks with the Gold Cup, the premier riding event for Virginia's hunt country denizens. Think big hats and big smiles, the American version of a British polo match.
How to Get There
By car from Washington, D.C.: Virginia Wine Country is about an hour and a half from Washington, D.C. To reach Loudoun County, take I-66 West to I-267 West, the Dulles Toll Road, and exit onto Route 15 South. In order to reach Delaplane, continue back on Route 15 South until you reach Route 50 West. Take that road to Route 17 South, which brings you into town.