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Blenheim Vineyards

Nov 10, 2010 10:08PM ● By Anonymous

Looking for a great romantic getaway or just a relaxing weekend? Want to travel to a picturesque region that is home to world-class wineries? Forget booking a ticket to the West Coast. Instead consider the three-hour drive to Charlottesville, Virginia. If Virginia is for lovers, then Charlottesville is definitely for wine lovers. With more than 100 wineries, a plethora of upscale hotels, and great restaurants, the region is a "must visit." Having been to Charlottesville twice this year I can't resist sharing the highlights with you.

Start at the Beginning
To truly understand the history of winemaking in the Charlottesville area you must start with Thomas Jefferson. Author of the Declaration of Independence and the country's third president, Jefferson dined at some of the best restaurants in Europe and even traveled to wineries in France, Germany, and Northern Italy. His love of wine and understanding of its importance in European culture drove him to advocate the development the U.S. wine industry. Around his home at Monticello he began planting vineyards in 1774, with the help of Italian winemaker Filippo Mazzei. While success in his vineyards was sidetracked by the Revolutionary War, the seeds of his work have finally come to fruition in Virginia.

Located on 20 acres of Jefferson's original vineyards is Jefferson Vineyards. Replanted in 1981, Jefferson Vineyards now make a variety of award-winning wines, including Chardonnay, Viognier, and a red Meritage. I had the pleasure of spending time with General Manager Chad Zakaib, whose obvious passion for the winery complements his strategic and business insight. During our tastings he freely discussed how Jefferson develops long-lasting relationships with growers, how shipping laws handicap Virginia wineries, and how he went from being an executive at the Fox News Channel in New York City to running a winery. Not only is there great wine and conversation at Jefferson, the view is wonderful, too. Looking east over Monticello you'll see the majestic peak of Montalto. Amazingly, the next place to the east where you hit that same elevation is the coast of Portugal.

Rock and Roll
Blenheim Vineyards is another winery not to miss. In contrast to the organized tasting room at Jefferson, Blenheim has a hip, laid-back atmosphere that makes you want to stay awhile. Winemaker and Managing Partner Brad McCarthy has been making wine for almost 20 years, with wineries in Virginia as well as a stint in California. McCarthy fell in love with wine during a job as a cook at a restaurant in Charlottesville. After answering an ad in the newspaper for help at a local winery, he got the job and never looked back. On-the-job training as well as an artistic flair for winemaking have made McCarthy one of the East Coast's hottest winemakers. His silent partner is none other than high school friend and major rock star Dave Matthews. The winery is designed to take advantage of gravity, with organic and sustainable practices as the priority. Blenheim makes a full line of wines, including Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and a red Meritage, that are some of the best I have tasted from the area. If you decide to visit Blenheim, remember to call ahead. Tastings are by appointment only.

Little Italy
An architect in his own right, Jefferson not only designed his own home at Monticello but he also designed homes for a few of his close friends. Barboursville Vineyards is on the grounds of the grand estate that Jefferson designed for his friend James Barbour, who was governor of Virginia. Against all advice to the contrary, the Zonin family, from Veneto, Italy, decided to found a winery here in 1976. They were convinced that the conditions at Barboursville were right for making great wine. Today Barboursville stands as one of the region's best wineries and the home to a James Beard award-winning restaurant, Palladio. Luca Paschina, a native of Piedmont, Italy, is head winemaker and general manager at Barboursville, where you can feel the Italian influence. Barboursville makes a lineup of traditional wines of the area, such as Chardonnay, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc, with native Italian varietals like Barbera and Nebbiolo as well as a great sparkling wine. I can't imagine touring the area without stopping for a tour, tasting, and, of course, dining at Palladio, where each course is masterfully paired with Barboursville wines. Make sure to call ahead for reservations at Palladio-it fills up, sometimes months in advance.

It was Jefferson's love of wine more than 200 years ago that became the driving force behind the great wines we enjoy from Virginia and all over the United States. So whether you are looking for a getaway with someone you love or just a weekend to indulge in your love of fine wine, Charlottesville is a perfect destination.

Travel to Charlottesville by glass with these wines:

Barboursville Brut NV

Jefferson Vineyards Viognier

Blenheim Meritage

Professional wine coach Laurie Forster studied with the American Sommelier Association in Manhattan and earned a certificate in viticulture and vinification. For more information on Ms. Forster, visit .