Bordeaux—beautiful! Napa Valley, what a place. Loudoun County… where?
If that last destination hasn’t yet made it onto your traveling wine lover’s bucket list, you’re forgiven. But Virginia is America’s fifth-largest producer of wine grapes—and Loudoun County, though it sounds like the setting for a particularly painful suburban high school reunion (“Let’s go, Loudoun Wildcats’88!”), is leading the charge in the Old Dominion State. Host to last year’s international Wine Tourism Conference, Loudoun boasts more than 40 wineries, more than any other Virginia county, set amid rolling verdant hills just outside of Washington, DC.
Moral of the story: If you’re a roving oenophile who wants to sip through a top-notch selection of New World grapes, this picturesque ’burb is a 90-minute flight away—much closer, and more cost-effective, than a sojourn through Sonoma.
Unpack and uncork at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa, a Four Diamond property that sits on 476 acres overlooking the Potomac River in Loudoun’s county seat of Leesburg. That’s quite the backyard view to enjoy from one of the 296 recently renovated guestrooms and suites, all appropriately outfitted with vineyard photography on the walls, desk chair upholstery that recalls the look of wine cork and shelves stocked with books on food and wine.
Granted, you don’t need to be a wino to unwind here. Fresh-air fans will appreciate that the expansive resort offers pro-designed courses with 45 holes of championship golf, plus “FootGolf,” which is basically a soccer-style version of the sport, along with five pools, three tennis courts and hiking and biking trails. But the Lansdowne definitely makes the most of Loudoun’s wine offerings. Bottle lists run deep at the resort’s several restaurants, including the just-opened gastropub Coton & Rye, named for the 18th-century farm that once stood on the property, where locally produced wines wash down contemporized takes on traditional mid-Atlantic dishes like fried chicken platters and pot pies. Lansdowne’s spa offerings include a body wrap that paints guests with crushed cabernet grapes and mani-pedis paired with malbec and chardonnay. And unsurprisingly, the resort organizes weekend excursions to area wineries.
If you’d rather sip un-chaperoned, we have a few suggestions for a self-guided tour. Visit Leesburg’s family-owned Stone Tower Winery, a postcard-pretty plot that covers 60 acres with grape varieties ranging from viognier to pinot noir. Only a few years old, the property is open to tours—behold fermentation tanks of oak, concrete and steel, each imbuing wines with different characteristics—and of course, Stone Tower offers tastings inside the requisite barn.
More aged, yet still on the cutting edge, is neighboring Middleburg’s 19-year-old Chrysalis Vineyards, where Loudoun County’s beautiful Bull Run Mountains are a backdrop to several hundred acres’ worth of award-winning wine production. Enjoy the fruits of that labor on the spacious patio or inside a modern-rustic tasting room that is trending in a high-tech direction: Soon guests will be able to purchase tasting cards worth varying quantities of pours at automated stations. Chrysalis especially celebrates the Norton grape, a crossbred variety introduced by Daniel Norton in Virginia in the early 19th century. It is now considered America’s oldest native grape.
Other standouts on your sip trip include Bluemont Vineyard, where the tasting room, elevated 951 feet above sea level, offers panoramic views of Loudoun County—and plays host to live music and visiting food trucks. And hop heads can take heart: Though it’s best known for its wineries, the region also has a fast-growing craft beer scene, with about 20 brewers scattered across the area’s drivable “LoCo Ale Trail.” Among our favorites is Old Ox Brewery, where the taproom pours signature pints like Black Ox, a coffee- and chocolate-accented rye porter, and rotating experiments like Transfusion, a farmhouse lager made with apricot.
Old Ox is also one of the local beers you’re most likely to find on tap at area bars and restaurants. So keep an eye peeled when poking around historic downtown Leesburg, a charming enclave of colonial-era architecture that now serves as a major bedroom community for DC commuters. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the concentration of politicos, Loudoun is the wealthiest county in the country—and you’ll find some of the hipper well-heeled 30-somethings stuffing themselves at the Wine Kitchen, where the seasonal New American menu encompasses everything from low country seafood boils to cheese and charcuterie platters sourced from local farms. The smart wine list arranges flights, which include hard-to-find selections, by varietal and geographic themes like “Pinot Envy” and “The Plains of Spain.” Afterward, shake it off at Chimole, a Honduran art gallery slash tapas joint that hosts live music and a boisterous late-night scene that sees mojito-soaked hip shaking in the midst of the restaurant’s makeshift dance floor. We’ll drink to that.
-Pay a visit to Morven Park, a historic 1,000-acre estate that was once home to Virginia’s governor; now it’s a world-renowned horse park. Tour the mansion, mosey trails and indulge your equestrian interests.
-Leesburg’s Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers goes wild with toppings. Think patties like the Paris, laden with melted French brie and balsamic-glazed onions, and the Blue Plate Special, topped with fried egg and pimento cheese.
Bluemont Vineyard, 18755 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont (540-554-8439) bluemontvineyard.com; Chimole, 10 S. King St., Leesburg (703-777-7011); Chrysalis Vineyards, 39025 John Mosby Highway, Middleburg (540-687-8222) chrysaliswine.com; Lansdowne Resort and Spa, 44050 Woodridge Parkway, Leesburg (703-729-8400) lansdowneresort.com; Old Ox Brewery, 44652 Guilford Drive, Ashburn (703-729-8375) oldoxbrewery.com; Stone Tower Winery, 19925 Hogback Mountain Road, Leesburg (703-777-2797) stonetowerwinery.com; The Wine Kitchen, 7 S. King St., Leesburg (703-777-9463) thewinekitchen.com