In case the stunning mountain views and beautiful country roads weren’t enough, the Shenandoah Valley offers up some great wine to boot.
Located in the Historic Wharf District of Downtown Staunton, “The Little Yellow Building” served as a scale house for coal and lumber in the early 1900s. Now it serves as the Ox-Eye Vineyards tasting room, a spot where visitors can grab a seat, soak up Staunton’s serious small-town charm, and enjoy a glass (or many glasses) of delicious, Shenandoah Valley wine.
Ox-Eye Vineyards (named for the wild daisies that grow like crazy there in the springtime) is a family business, owned and operated by John and Susan Kiers. The farm sits about seven miles southwest of the tasting room, boasting over 20 acres of grapes. John and Susan bought the land in 1996, planted their first vines in 1999, and built their own winery in 2010. While some wineries purchase fruit from neighboring vineyards, Ox-Eye sells 100 percent estate wines–meaning it all comes from grapes grown right there on their farm.
Susan guided us through our tasting, giving background on each of the wines as we sampled them. Ox-Eye tasting currently offers eight wines for you to sample. Standouts were the 2011 Chardonnay, a stainless steel fermented wine with that light butter finish that some folks (including me) love; the light-bodied-yet-smoky 2011 Pinot Noir; and the 2012 Shy Ox Blush, a Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir blend that my husband could not go home without.1
And because Ox-Eye sits at a higher elevation in the cooler, semi-arid (i.e. not insanely humid) Shenandoah Valley, John and Susan are also able to offer certain varieties of grape that don’t do as well in other parts of Virginia, including Gewürztraminer and Lemberger. Ox-Eye’s robust 2010 Lemberger is a staff favorite and certainly one I’d be on the lookout for when it’s time to switch out light summertime meals for heavier fall fare like steaks and stews.
Barren Ridge Vineyards
Drive about 40 minutes southeast of Staunton and you’ll find yourself in Fishersville, home of Barren Ridge Vineyards, owned by the hilarious and adorable John and Shelby Higgs.2 Located on a high ridge between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the land now known as Barren Ridge was once St. James Orchard, an apple orchard owned and operated by John’s father. John grew up working on the orchard, hated it, and eventually went so far as to join the military to avoid a life spent as an apple farmer. But in 2004, John and his wife Shelby ended up purchasing the then-overgrown farm from John’s sister and decided to repurpose it. They cleared the land, planted vines, and converted the 1890s apple barn into a state-of-the-art winery and tasting room.
Barren Ridge offers over a dozen wines made on-site (with consultation from Virginia wine superstar Michael Shaps). While we enjoyed the 2010 Merlot, the sweeter white wines were our favorites–possibly due in part to the fact that we visited on a typical (read: HOT) day in August. The 2011 Tinkling Spring is bright and citrus-y (sure, it could be a word) while the 2011 Harmony is a great sipper and delicious when served ice cold.
Barren Ridge’s tasting room also offers plenty of outdoor space for you to enjoy the rid_ic_ulously beautiful surroundings the Shenandoah Valley has to offer. It’s all about the views at Barren Ridge, even in the dogs days of summer. I can’t even imagine what it’s like once Virginia’s fall foliage starts doing its thang–definitely worthy of a spot on your day trip short list.
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