This summer is rapidly coming to an end in Central New York. When the New York State Fair commercials begin in earnest, that’s when you know. Or, if you ask my son, you know when the cicadas (or “summer sounds,” as he calls them) reach their fever pitch decibel levels. Whatever the sign, it’s now the latter half of August, and back to school is only weeks away.
Every summer we go on a family vacation. Most of the time we head south to Delaware to visit family. While there, we try to do a few other sightseeing activities, picking different things to do each year. This past year, the husband and I escaped for an overnight in Frederick, Maryland, a location chosen for its close proximity to Maryland and Virginia wine country.
The Frederick Wine Trail includes about a dozen or so wineries nestled among horse farms and countryside. We visited on a Wednesday and quickly realized that in Maryland, many vineyards are closed for tastings during the week. We did manage to make two stops, however, and they were both well worth the time.
Elk Run Vineyard and Winery
Elk Run was our first stop, mainly because it was the first one we came to along the route. Thankfully, they were open! It was a casual, friendly atmosphere. Someone was actually replacing ceiling tiles and someone also was doing office work at a table just near the tasting bar. I got the impression the winery didn’t get many weekday visitors, particularly on a hot summer day in early August! Carol Wilson was a wonderful hostess pouring wines, explaining how they were derived and patiently answering our questions. She even provided us with a wine trail map and a few suggestions for other places to visit. Her friendly dog laid at our feet the whole time.
We enjoyed a couple of the wines we tried and were pleased to hear that the vineyard can ship to New York State. But, we did purchase a few bottles to take home. Among our selections: Annapolis Sunset, a sweet, off dry white wine perfect for easy drinking on the back deck at sunset. In fact, we purchased two bottles of that and have already enjoyed one with friends. At nearly $15, the price point is reasonable and well worth it for the taste. We also purchased a Chardonnay, as well as
Travel five more minutes down a couple of old country backroads and you land in the driveway of Linganore Winecellars, another vineyard open for tasting during the week. We were immediately greeted at the door and brought to the tasting bar where we tried some excellent wines and learned of a few wonderful places to eat in Frederick, too. One of the winery’s staff members spent time in the Finger Lakes at a vineyard we knew well so we were curious to try the wines here to see if any reflected the New York style.
In fact, there was a Cayuga White blend that we tried to see if it tasted like the wines we know and love in Central New York. We definitely could taste the Cayuga grape but the tell-tale green apple taste and smell was missing. It always fascinates me how different soils and weather environments can completely reimagine how a grape tastes and how the wine will turn out. Their reds were very good, which surprised me a bit. I tend not to like red wines from the east coast, at least so far in my travels. But, these were really yummy and interesting. Among our selections: Seventh, Retriever Red, Revolution and a port/dessert wine, Abisso.
America’s Oldest Vineyards
Since we were in Frederick, only about 30 minutes from the Virginia wine country, we decided to try to venture over and hit a few wineries there before heading back to Delaware. We probably could have spent a week there, there were so many vineyards. We ended up taking a few tips from our bed and breakfast hostess, as well as the first winery we visited and jumped around to hit three vineyards, all with unique wines and styles. In Virginia, wineries are organized into clusters by geographic area. Each has its own “personality” and growing characteristics. We strategically hit a vineyard from three of the six.
On the recommendation of our bed and breakfast hostess, we started our next day’s adventure at Otium Cellars in Purcellville, Virginia, part of the Snickers Gap Wine Cluster. What a great vineyard and winery! Tucked back with a horse farm adjacent to the tasting room, it was a beautiful place with a knowledgable hostess at the tasting bar. We t
ried many different wines made in the German tradition, which is one with which I am familiar. We purchased a few of our favorites, including: Dornfelder and Merlot, and we left with a pair of glasses, too, which have become our go to for our evening wine selections.
8 Chains North
Next up was 8 Chains North, along the Waterford Cluster, and another recommendation from both Otium Cellars and our bed and breakfast hostess. This one didn’t disappoint either, however I felt it was challenging trying to learn more about the wines, their background and origin. In fact, the wine that was listed as the most “famous” from this vineyard was not included on the tasting list. Luckily, when I mentioned it, we were allowed to try it. We ended up purchasing two bottles! This vineyard was interesting in that it was importing grapes from Washington State and making wine that otherwise would not be available from a Virginia vineyard. We left with: Loco Vino and Pink Link Rose. Another interesting fact about this winery? Every year, members of the wine club come together to create a unique blended wine. They try a bunch of different wines and then make a collective suggestion to the winemaker, who then creates the wine exclusively for the club. Very cool!
Hillsborough Vineyards, part of the Loudoun Heights Wine Cluster, was not on our original list but its website said it offered light fare and as it was after noon, we were starving. Alas, when we arrived, we were told that the food is only offered on weekends. Still, as long as we were there, we tried their wines. Many of the reds were a bit too much for me but my husband really enjoyed them. We did end up purchasing a few here so it wasn’t a wasted stop, despite the lack of food! Many of their wines are named after gemstones. Among our selections: Opal, Bloodstone, Moonstone and a White Merlot that I felt rivaled those from California. We also received a set of glasses, which was a nice touch.
Although we were not able to truly delve into all that Virginia wine country has to offer, we learned a lot from the ones we were able to visit. For example, most, if not all, vineyards in Virginia do not distribute their wines beyond their region, preferring instead to make just enough for the annual visitors who venture through the wine clusters. In Maryland, we learned that while those vineyards don’t tend to distribute to retailers outside the area, they are able to ship their wines and New York is one of the states to which they are allowed to ship, which is a bonus for us!
If you ever find yourself in this part of the country, I encourage you to visit a few of the vineyards. The wines are delicious; the drive is gorgeous and the hospitality can’t be beat. Cheers!