Crushing Grapes from Leesburg to Purcellville

Leesburg, Virginia, like the rest of Loudoun County, has undergone considerable growth and development over the last 30 years.  It has transformed from a small, rural, Piedmont town to a suburban bedroom community for commuters to the Washington, DC.  The city was named to honor the influential Thomas Lee and not, as is popular belief, Robert E. Lee (his great-grandnephew).   Although I don’t know that I would have gotten along well with Thomas Lee, his relative, General Lee, is not one of my favorite turncoats.  So, my first trip to Leesburg was done with a much better attitude than had it been a city named for General Bob.

I finally had a Saturday that wasn’t totally booked up with clients or school.  Joan and I decided to do some more exploring of the Virginia Wine Country.  My recon mission to Middleburg earlier in the week had resulted in some very good intel.  Not only did I gather some referrals on Loudoun County wineries of which we were unaware, but I also discovered that the craft beer brewery business is exploding at an exponential rate.  The grain should overtake the grape in revenue generation in Loudoun County within the next 3 to 5 years.

After mapping out a plan of action with the help of Google and the Internet, we were ready to start our adventure.

Our trip began with a stop at Fabbioli Cellars.  Talk about starting our day with a bang!

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Fabbioli Cellars Tasting Room and Store

Fabbioli is a smallish, family-owned and -operated winery.  They grow most of their own grapes, and like most Virginia wine producers, feature a signature Cab Franc.  Their circular tasting room is very open and well lit.  We found the staff to be friendly and accommodating, very conducive to an enjoyable visit.

Their tasting experience is unlike any we had encountered in Virginia to date.  The tasting station at which we were seated had a very cozy and manageable number of six chairs.  For their tasting, they offered a variety of 7 wines that have been perfectly paired with small, gourmet food bites, created by local chefs and food artisans.  We found it to be quite a nice touch, especially since the bites were as pleasing to the palate as the wine.

The circular tasting room at Fabbioli Cellars truly enhances the experience

I will write a longer more detailed review of Fabbioli Cellars in a future blog.  Our experience there certainly warrants a more descriptive accounting.  For now, I will say that making Fabbioli Cellars our first stop of the day was probably a mistake.  As it turned out, they were a hard act to follow.

Our next stop on our wine trek was at the Tarara Winery.  This place is set way back in the woods and has a huge outdoor deck.  The deck is built on top of the retail store and tasting room area.  A unique feature of this winery is that it makes its wine in a cave.  Apparently, the tasting room and store are built in the entrance to the cave, which is rather cool.  I’m sure this cool and mysterious atmosphere is great on a hot, humid summer day.  But, after leaving the bright, warm, and homey atmosphere of Fabbioli, the fluorescent glow of the cool subterrane was quite a jostle.  It took us a period of adjustment to get our bearings.

The subterranean tasting room at Tarara Winery

To be fair, we didn’t explore the entire grounds of the winery, which are spectacularly large.  They have a summer concert series that is well attended every year.  The stage backs to a river, and Tarara even has a relationship with a trail outfitter that offers kayak and canoeing tours that paddle you right up to the concert.  If we plan another visit, I think the best thing to do would be to come on a date that features live music.

The tasting experience there was good.  However, thanks to Fabbioli, the absence of food pairings was a noticeable letdown (one we could not overcome).  However, our server, Kevin, was very friendly and knowledgeable about Tarara’s wine list.

He definitely helped make up for the lack of snacks.  At Tarara, they are kind of wine purists- no enzymes, additives, finings etc.  The focus on creating eclectic blends that are truly representative of Virginia and the people making the wine.

During our time at the tasting bar, we were pleased to make friends with a gentleman named John, who humbly described himself as a naturalist.  But, after speaking with him for a few minutes, it was plain to see that there was much more to him than Euell Gibbons and pine cones.  He was very familiar with Virginia wine, (not to mention the best place to find Spring wildflowers all over the Blue Ridge) and he suggested that we check out Hillsborough Winery in Purcellville.  It is on the list for our next outing.  After an hour or so, we moved on to our next stop.  As it turns out, we probably should have taken John’s advice immediately and driven to Hillsborough.

Our final winery visit was Sunset Hills winery in Purcellville.  And, to paraphrase Bugs Bunny, we “shoulda made that left turn at Albuquerque” and gone to Hillsborough.  I don’t intend to trash a place because I didn’t have a good time there.  As a matter of fact, when we arrived there, the parking lot was packed with more people coming every minute.  So, the establishment doesn’t need my endorsement, nor will it suffer because of the following criticism.  I will keep this very concise.

The tasting room and bar at Sunset Hills Vineyard

The most important thing an entertainment or food venue can provide its customers is good and pleasant service.  To my perception, we received very little of either.  Again, to be fair, at this point in the day we were both hungry.  So, if you were to tell me that I was looking more like Willem Defoe or Joe Pesci before eating a Snickers when we arrived, I would probably believe you.  Nevertheless, things didn’t start well there.

The one compliment that I will give Sunset Hills is that they offer fresh, baked bread loaves on their menu.  So, while I cannot be complimentary about their service or wine, the bread was perfect.  But, I might have said the same thing about a Snickers bar too.  I’m not sure.  By the time we finished our glasses of wine and our blood sugar returned to normal, we were more than ready to go.

We should have gone to Hillsborough.

Next:  Virginia Craft Breweries:  Liquid bread on tap.

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