Convenience is a selling point for the 50-plus wineries and tasting rooms in Loudoun County, Virginia—after all, the county is only about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. and is home to Dulles International Airport. Now, the recent expansion of the Washington Metro Silver Line to the airport and beyond has made it even easier to explore “D.C.’s Wine Country.”
Local tour operators are taking advantage, with some picking up groups at the airport and at Metro stations. Today, I’ve booked just such a jaunt with Cork & Keg Tours. Renee Ventrice, who cofounded the company with her husband after they both retired from the military, picks me up at Dulles in her Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, which can hold up to 13 passengers and is equipped with plush seating, TVs, and a sparkling wine bar.
“When we first started coming to wine country [20 years ago], there were only four or five wineries, and the wine, quite honestly, wasn’t good,” Ventrice tells me. “In the past 15 years, it has exploded. They’re planting varieties that work better here, and there are better winemakers, and that’s resulting in world-class wines.”
It’s about a 30-minute drive through rolling green hills to our first stop of the day, Williams Gap Vineyard. In the hilltop tasting room, I snack on an Italian panini while sipping estate petit manseng and cabernet franc. “Our focus is definitely on providing high-quality wines, but all from the estate,” says tasting room manager Bridgette Smith. “It’s important that when you see Williams Gap on the label, you know it’s from here.”
From here, we head north, past horse farms and bed and breakfasts, to Breaux Vineyards. A 400-acre estate surrounding a mansion with ironwork that evokes New Orleans, the property produces Bordeaux varietals as well as a tasty, well-aged nebbiolo. Next, we double back through the quaint town of Hillsboro to Walsh Family Wine. Co-owners Sarah and Nate Walsh produce mostly single-vineyard wines—everything from merlot to tannat to albariño—and also run a Winemaker’s Studio, where up-and-coming vintners can try their hand at the craft.
“There aren’t a lot of things that anchor us to a place anymore,” Nate Walsh says of his focus on vineyard-designated wines, “and wine can be one of those things that celebrates a very specific place.” No matter the place, four tastings is ambitious for one day, but Ventrice, who’s almost as bubbly as the cava in the van, insists we make one more stop, at Stone Tower Winery. One of the highlights here is the Wild Boar Porton, a fortified wine made with the local grape variety Norton, which I try while looking out over the scenic Hogback Mountain property.
I’m about to turn into a pumpkin, so while there are other spots I want to hit—pioneering Chrysalis, award-winning Sunset Hills—we’re off to Leesburg’s Lansdowne Resort, where I’ve booked a room for the night. Ventrice drops me off with a hug, and after a dinner of Chesapeake rockfish downstairs at Piedmont’s, I’m off to bed to count sheep. Wait, are those wooly critters jumping over grapevines?