Virginia Wine: Exploring Virginia’s mysterious Northern Neck

The Northern Neck may be the most mysterious part of Virginia, and like the rest of Virginia it’s absolutely infested with wineries!

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By Valerie & Ross Catrow

The Northern Neck may be the most mysterious part of Virginia–excluding Tangier Island and the Eastern Shore, of course. It turns out, though, that just like the rest of Virginia, the Northern Neck is beautiful and well worth your time. Also like the rest of Virginia it’s absolutely infested with wineries! Recently the Catrow Family took a weekend to explore what “Da Neck”1 has to offer wine lovers and wine n00bs alike.

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The Dog and Oyster Vineyard

If you’re headed to the Northern Neck from Richmond, you’re most likely going to get there by way of the Robert O. Norris Bridge. Luckily for those who aren’t huge bridgefans2 there have only been two fatal accidents involving vehicles that have flipped over the side of the bridge and into the Rappahannock River!

Waiting for you on the other side of the bridge, assuming you make it across alive, lies Irvington–or as you may know it “Stars Hollow from the Gilmore Girls.” And once you’ve arrived in town, there’s little chance you’ll miss the turn for The Dog and Oyster Vineyard, what with the pair of 40-foot corkscrews standing guard at the driveway. Sure, some might find them a bit gimmicky, but I found myself charmed by them. In fact, I was charmed by everything The Dog and Oyster (and Irvington/Stars Hollow) had to offer during our visit.

The Hope and Glory in--which is probably where Rory Gilmore will get married.

The Hope and Glory Inn–which is probably where Rory Gilmore will get married.

Owner Dudley Patteson (who is as about as friendly as they come) welcomed us to “The Wine Stand,” their tasting room housed in a humble but lovely building with a screened in porch furnished with rustic tables and mismatched chairs–and amazing views of the vineyard in every direction.

As Mark Hollingsworth, The Dog and Oyster’s wine grower (and Dudley’s stepson, something of which Dudley is very proud) guided us through his selection of wines, it became obvious that this guy really loves his job. Using terms to describe the wine that even n00bs like us could understand (“angular” and “round” were especially helpful), Mark made the wine world feel accessible: an industry focused on craftsmanship and collaboration rather than competition. One of reasons for selling wine is to promote the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail as a whole.

And where do the dogs and oysters come in? Well, The Dog and Oyster is home to several rescue dogs who help guard the grapes from the deer that live around the property–apparently those guys have quite the (annoying and expensive) sweet tooth. As for the oysters, you can’t turn around in a bayside town like Irvington without tripping over a pile of oyster shells.

The Hague Winery

Halfway up the Northern Neck, say, right around the adam’s apple region, is Hague, VA. Located on the historic Buena Vista farm in Westmoreland County, The Hague Winery began operations in 2008 after Stephen and his wife Cynthia completed an eight-year-long restoration and renovation of the property. The Madeys entrusted their 2008 harvest to renowned winemaker Michael Shaps at Virginia Wineworks, and they’ve been working with him ever since.

Tastings at The Hague include wines ranging from the crisp and citrusy Chardonel to their fuller Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”, not “garage”), our favorite wine of the entire trip. You’ll close things out with a sample of the Cynthia Dessert which is named for the lady of the house and is just sweet enough.

Just a heads up: when you walk into the tasting room, a renovated barn, at The Hague Winery, don’t expect much fuss. Owner and grape farmer Stephen Madey is a former naval aviator and very much all business when it comes to his wine. That’s not to say he’s unfriendly; he just seems to prefer to let his wine speak for itself. And, guys, it does.

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If you’re looking for a gushy greeting, the Madeys’ dog Ellie is quite a snuggler. Don’t be surprised if she gives you a nuzzle or two. Or 50.

Ingleside Vineyards

Back in the 1970’s, Carl Flemer Jr., owner and founder of Ingleside Plantation Nurseries, started making his own wine. Eventually his son Doug got involved, and the family started making plans for a winery. 1980 marked Ingleside’s first commercial harvest, and the vineyard and winery has been going strong ever since.3 With that first harvest taking place over 30 years ago, Ingleside Vineyards is one of the oldest wineries in the state (but still 150 years younger than Northern Neck Ginger Ale).

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As Ingleside is a vineyard and a winery, their wines are made on the premises. Chris Flemer, the youngest of the five Flemer kids, gave us the grand tour of the place, walking us through the entire wine-making process, explaining the different steps required when making a white versus a red (tannins, y’all!), and so on. We peeked into the wine-makers lab (it totally is a lab; I saw beakers and test tubes and…other science-looking things!), stared in amazement at the massive steel barrels housing some of their wines-in-process, and got a glimpse of the bottling line. Chris also gave us a quick lesson on how the grain of a wooden barrel affects the taste of the wine4 which made us feel very smart.

We were Ingleside’s last tasting of the day, but Chris took his time walking us through their selection, even throwing in some off-menu favorites like the Pinot Grigio. All of their wines were delicious with my favorite being the Syrah. We also walked away with a bottle of their Chesapeake Chardonnay which disappeared rather quickly; I miss it very much.

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Footnotes

  1. Definitely not what the locals call it. 
  2. The fear of bridges is called gephyrophobia. Did you know that several bridges have employees that will drive your car across the bridge for you? 
  3. A lot of Virginia’s wineries are family-run, small businesses, run by normal folk. What’s not to love about that? 
  4. In case you’re wondering, wider grains–like those found in American oak–produce a bolder flavor while thinner grains on French oak barrels keep things subtle. <mic drop> 
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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is managing editor of RVAFamily. When she’s not oversharing her parenting struggles and successes, you can find her raising a preschool-aged boy and watching 90s television shows.

6 comments on Virginia Wine: Exploring Virginia’s mysterious Northern Neck

  1. Glad you enjoyed your trip. I grew up out there and Ingleside was our church wine! You’ll have to go back to visit the Coke factory where they may Northern Neck Ginger Ale.

  2. JRsgrma on said:

    A note about the Ingleside Vineyards…Tangier Rappahannock Cruises offers a boat ride tour of the Rappahannock River that runs through the nesting grounds of the local Bald Eagle population and other water fowl. The trip ends up at the Ingleside Plantation where you can enjoy a catered buffet lunch (for an additional fee) or you can bring you own picnic lunch to enjoy. After lunch there is a tour of the winery. The boat leaves Hoskins Creek in Tappahannock at 10:00AM (Wednesday – Sundays) and returns at approximately 4:30PM. For ticket information and further details, I have included the website (http://www.tangiercruise.com/rappahannock-island-cruises.asp).

  3. Jenniffer Landon Combs on said:

    I really enjoed your article. you missed a wonderful vineyard and winery just a few miles down the road from Hague winery. it is called General’s Ridge and it is owned by Rick and Linda Philips. i live in Hague and am fortunate to be surrounde by three vineyards and wineries.

  4. Ken Edwards on said:

    We have developed a warm spot for NN wineries, and, like the pace of life, the wine just settles the frazzeled nerves. The wines are good – the Hague (and Ellie) our favorite. Don’t let the article fool you – not finer gentlemen vintner than Steve, and all of the staff make it a fantastic spot to sit out with a glass or bottle. Do it – you will have found your spot. Beside Ellie.

  5. The wineries on the Northern Neck are surely the best kind of infestation :-) in addition to those mentioned, kudos to the intimate (add Vault Field to this group), quirky (definitely the camper’s haven, Belle Mount), friendly (Athena and Oak Hill), and impressive wine (Good Luck Cellars and Jacey Vineyards). .

  6. Rachel Dewey on said:

    The Dog and Oyster is amazing! My husband and I were lucky enough to be married among the vines; gorgeous views in every direction. The owners are wonderful people that anyone would be lucky to meet! The rescue dogs waited until the end of our ceremony to make their grand entrance, tails wagging and all. Its going to be hard to wait for our first anniversary to drink the wine we brought home! Charming and well worth the trip!

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