May 28, 2014
Warm weather means it's time to explore the highways and byways as we create our own wine trails. We gave serious consideration to taking one of the guided bus tours but as we still enjoy each other's company after more than twenty years, we know we do better on our own.
Today's wine trail took us to five places. We laid out a driving loop and headed for Harper's Ferry. We knew of three vineyards we wanted to visit in that area last year but we ran out of time. This year we put them on the top of our list. In the order in which we visited them they were Breaux, Doukenie, Hillsborough, Loudoun Valley, and Sunset Hills. Sunset Hills proved to be our find of the day.
We have several pet peeves about about wineries, the lack of paved driveways and handrails for those with physical limitations being the main two. Other folks may not notice, but we do so I mention them as they apply.
Loudon Valley Vineyard wasn't open today but we were right there so we decided to drive in and check it out. Not a good move. I drove on the grass because the grass was smoother than the gravel lane. Sorry, folks. My car does not do potholes. You really need to fix the potholes. People notice potholes. Potholes are not a good thing.
Doukenie Winery - another long and not so smooth lane but no potholes and not too bad at 5mph. The staff was very pleasant and friendly and that sort of offset the nasty lane. They do a lot of events and there was a group there planning a wedding reception. We bought a bottle of their "every day" wine but even if it turns out we enjoy it, it's unlikely we'll make the drive back the half-mile lane again if they don't pave. Just because I have sturdy suspension on my Charger doesn't mean I plan to abuse it.
**UPDATE** We opened the bottle and each took a sip. As we never planned to go back, neither of us was sad to pour the entire bottle down the drain.
Breaux Vineyards - wow! WOW! What a beautiful place. Paved driveway! Paved parking! Handicapped accessible - not so much. There's a lack of handrails and the patio was very uneven which was a bit surprising given the general quality of everything. I'm guessing this past winter caused the tiles to heave and crack. But all-in-all a beautiful, beautiful facility. Definitely the most pricey vineyard I've ever visited and priced well above the per-bottle limit we set for ourselves when we began our wine odyssey. But did I mention the 'wow' factor the place has?
Hillsborough Vineyards - again not too good in the handicapped accessible department. They didn't even have marked handicapped parking. My partner stayed in the car while I went inside and called him on the cell phone and read the entire wine list to him. The young man behind the counter was very helpful and offered to help my partner make it inside. But the problem was not getting him down the slope, but back up it to the car. I bought a bottle of Carnelian because the nice young man said it was his favorite. I hope it does turn out to be good as it was also the most affordable of our purchases today. Again, I doubt we go back because my partner would be unable to share in a tasting with me. Perhaps if they improve access for the handicapped they'll put that on their website.
We opened the bottle of Carnelian to have with grilled chicken - very simple chicken with just salt and pepper and a touch of honey - and the wine was very good. We sampled half a glass before our meal was ready and it's definitely better with a meal than just sipped.
And that brings us to Sunset Hills and the lovely Jan. The driveway was not paved but it was firm and smooth with signs of regular maintenance. They not only had plenty of parking but handicapped parking and a drop-off point at a handicap access ramp. The steps were more like landings with short rises and good handrails. We stepped inside and Jan immediately - immediately - brought a chair to my partner.
The "storefront" is in a rustic barn. It's difficult to tell if it's an old barn that was meticulously restored or a new construction. Either way, very nicely done.
Since we knew this was our last stop of the day, we decided to share a glass of Sunset Rose. It's described as fruity with cherry, raspberry, lemon and melon, mid-palate, and off-dry. I would add there is no aftertaste at all which puts it high on my list of good wines. We asked for a bottle. Then in conversation with Jan we mentioned some of the other wineries we'd been to and some of the things we liked. Jan asked if I'd like a sip of the Cabernet Franc. It's a bold wine with a peppery bite that hits your tongue in a wonderful way and doesn't linger over long. We looked at each other and agreed it would be great with steak and a bottle of that went into the bag. We walked out of Sunset Hills with two bottles and a plan to return.
**UPDATE** We enjoyed the Rose but decided the Cabernet Franc, while very, very good, wasn't a wine we'd like to sip by itself while relaxing on the patio. But it was good with steak. The Sunset Rose is something we would sip without food.
We had a great day on our personal wine trail. Sunset Hills isn't exactly nearby, and not even remotely close to Knob Hall or Elk Run, but the next time we have the desire for a Sunday drive in the Shenandoah Valley, it's not too far to go.