Virginia Wine: A taste for adventure

Kayaking, hiking, skiing: all things that pair perfectly with a glass of Virginia wine.

A good glass of wine is one of life’s great rewards for hard work–obviously, the amount of effort required before cashing in varies from person to person. While the mere act of “enduring consciousness as it desperately gropes for meaning in a broken world” may be all the reason I need to open a bottle, some folks prefer a more physical challenge. Well, if that sounds like you, then your’re in luck, as we examine Virginia wine excursions for adventure seekers.

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Whenever the start of your wine tasting looks like this (above), you know you’re not in for a typical lazy day at the vineyard. But this is your point of departure when you sign up for Southeast Expeditions’ Kayak Winery tour to Chatham Vineyards on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Pushing off into Nassawadox Creek, Chatham’s award-winning wines dangled like the carrot at the end of a mile-and-a-half-long stick. I’m not going to sugar coat this one, the sea was a heartless bitch-goddess that day, and we lost some good men. Or…maybe the trip was an unmitigated delight of big skies, glassy waters, and pleasant small talk.

Once ashore our tour continued, with our kayak guide proving herself as skilled with wine-speak as she was with whatever that giant spatula-looking thing that you row with is called. Escorting our group through the vineyard en route to the tasting room, she imparted her knowledge of Chatham’s history and few interesting quirks of international viticulture. For example: because all of the original clippings came from France, this Virginia vineyard had to actually pay taxes to the French government upon their first harvest.

Chatham Vineyards is home to 32,000 high-density, low-yield vines of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. Well-drained, sandy loam soil and a warm maritime climate grace the vineyard with a long growing season and ample fruit to service not only their own label (Church Creek), but other Virginia wineries as well.

After the tasting we parked ourselves by an idle fire pit on the front lawn for an impromptu picnic with a few surprise guests.

In my defense, she assured me that she was “this many” while holding up 21 fingers (but seriously folks, this is my niece and that’s cranberry juice–pease don’t call Social Services).

After an hour or so of chilling in the vineyard we were primed to paddle back. Two glasses of Church Creek’s excellent Cab Franc in my belly provided the added dexterity needed to conquer the now choppier waters and opposing current with ease. Southeast Expedition’s Winery Kayak Tour runs from March through December; $85 per person includes gear rental, kayak training, wine tasting, and a bottle of your choice.


Hidden behind the gorgeous grounds of Delfosse Vineyards in Nelson County lie over five miles of hiking trails. Winding along the mountainside, the trails at Delfosse provide one of the area’s top attractions for bird watchers, nature lovers, hikers, and bikers (this kind, not this kind). Go early enough and you might catch some wildlife in action, including deer, exotic birds, perhaps even some B-B-B-BEARS (sorry, my “B” key keeps jamming). With hunting season now underway, it’s a good idea to wear bright clothes if visiting the trails between now and January. I also recommend the repeated humming of the refrain to “Human” by Human League to really drive the whole “I am not a deer” thing home.

Another word to the wise, try not to confuse the driveway leading to the trail for the trail itself, much like yours truly did. Granted I’m no Bear Grylls, but the near 75-degree ascent up the side of a mountain provided all the exertion I needed before reaping my reward in Delfosse’s beautiful tasting room.

Even greater elevation can be found on the Fortune’s Cove Preserve, also in Nelson County. This 5.5 mile loop is home to all types unusual flora and fauna, as well as diverse wildlife like bobcats, black bears, and wild turkeys. After your hike you can toast your own badassedness at the adjacent Mountain Cove Vineyards, which, in addition to a few vinifera blends, serves an array of fruit wines. If anyone tries to give you a hard time for drinking peach wine, kindly remind them that you just stood eye-to-eye with a bobcat.


Two activities that benefit from good elevation: skiing and growing grapes. So rest assured that, wherever you ski in the state of VA, you’ll likely find a handful of wineries within a 5-15 mile radius. Be it Bryce (Crooked Run, Cave Ridge, Shenandoah), Wintergreen (Flying Fox, Cardinal Point, Veritas), or Massanutten (Cross Keys, Stone Mountain, King Family), you won’t have to go far to find a cozy tasting room in which to sip a glass and slowly convince yourself that, after today’s performance on the bunny slopes, you’re totally ready for that double black diamond run.

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Coming up: With hurricanes, heavy rains, and pests perpetually threatening to wipe out their entire livelihood, it’s the people growing the grapes who are the real thrill seekers. Tales from the front vines, when our series on Virginia wine continues.

Want to learn more? Check out all of Virginia's wine regions and AVAs. And if you're looking for something specific you can search through Virginia's 210 wineries.

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Matt Brehony

When he’s not musing on food for his blog, or working as a server/Minister of Propaganda for Secco Wine Bar, or writing editorial pieces for various media outlets, or starring in sketches and commercials, Matt Brehony doesn’t do much of anything.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Chris German on said:

    This is very neat Matt!

  2. Thanks Chris!

  3. Karen on said:

    Southeast Expedition kayak tours are great! We’re waiting for a kid-free trip so we can do the winery tour.

  4. Barbara on said:

    Try Stinson Vineyards or King Family Vineyard in Crozet on the way to Wintergreeen!

  5. Genevelyn Steele on said:

    Appreciate the Bear Grylls reference..this was a fun read. Thanks, Matt.

  6. Check out when you are heading out to hike, do the ziplines or go to the caves.

  7. When ever you need food vendor visit our web site or call us at(804) 337-5475
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