Located northeast of Charlottesville and just a bit west of Gordonsville (home of our beloved BBQ Exchange), Barboursville Vineyards is a natural stopping point on Rte 33 for folks looking to pair a hike in Shenandoah National Park (SNP) with a wine tasting. It’s a quick drive from the Swift Run Gap SNP entrance point. This was our second visit to Barboursville. The first was a mid-week summer visit several years ago. This one was a Saturday visit, and the timing seems to have made all the difference in the experience.
On our first (mid-week) visit, we were almost the only guests in the tasting room. We were invited up to the middle of the long tasting bar that runs the length of the room and stayed in that spot with one wine docent1 for the entire sampling, chatting with her for quite some time as we moved through the many wines offered. (We found that we needed to walk around the grounds for a while after that tasting rather than getting on the road right away, if you know what we mean. Twenty is a lot of wines to taste at one vineyard!).
On this more recent visit, we got a look at Barboursville in action when things aren’t quite that slow. This Saturday, it was packed.
They certainly have their tasting system down, that’s for sure. We were greeted at the door by a hostess who directed us to someone else to take our tasting fee, hand us a souvenir tasting glass, and show us to the first of a series of tasting stations. We were pointed to the brut tasting bar just to the left of the centrally-located fireplace. There, a wine docent poured the brut and then the brut rosé for us. This heavily accented young man (French?) was not one to chat. He informed us of pretty much the same information we could read on the tasting sheet and provided some additional insight about the varietals & wine making process, inquired whether we had any questions, summoned the will to look supremely bored with both our presence and the drudgery of his job, then moved us along to the station around the corner to sample the vineyard’s whites. While the brut offerings were very nice, this wasn’t a great start to the experience.
Things got better from there. At the next station, we were happy to find a young woman pouring for us who was amicable and excited to chat about wine, the history of the vineyard, and why Barboursville’s Riesling is worth giving a chance…even if you don’t usually like Rieslings (she was not wrong, by the way). From that point on, it still felt like moving from station-to-station as quickly as possible to get the crowds through; however, all but that first pourer managed to come across as friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. We passed – with four others who had arrived when we did — from the brut station to the white station to the first half of the reds station to the second half of the reds station, and would have then gone on to the dessert wine station, but opted to skip that since neither of us is a fan of sweet wine.
On both of our visits, we made a point of checking out the grounds. In addition to the tasting room with the requisite gift and wine accessory shop, Barboursville also offers a wine library, a large indoor event space, a full-service restaurant, and a sizable herb garden. What makes it really stand out is the history of the land. Either before or after tasting, guests are encouraged to walk down the drive to the carefully preserved “Historic Ruins.” This turns out to be the remains of the mansion built in 1814 for James Barbour (then VA Governor), as designed by Thomas Jefferson. Yes, really. Most of the mansion was destroyed in a fire on Christmas day in 1884, though the exterior walls, interior brick walls, and columns still stand (with some assistance). The vineyard’s flagship wine, Octagon, is named in honor of the octagonal drawing room of the mansion. It is surrounded by a garden of large boxwood bushes, so tall and convoluted that they practically beg for a game of hide-and-seek in them. In 1969, Barboursville was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
By anyone’s standards, Barboursville offers a lot of wines to taste for a small fee; however, we did find that the tasting list on the vineyard’s website for January 2017 did not exactly match what we were offered (but we’re not complaining).
|Website Tasting List
for January 2017
|Actual Tasting List
on 28 January 2017
Octagon 2004/ 2007/ 2010/ 2012 /2013
When we asked, we were told that Octagon was not available as a tasting, but was available for purchase by the glass, half-glass, or bottle.
Octagon has been one of our all-time favorite Virginia red wines since we first tasted it back in 2012. Since then, it has won numerous prestigious awards and also, mysteriously, increased in price and disappeared from the vineyard’s standard tasting list. Back in 2012, we got to taste it along with the others for our $7 tasting fee. On this visit, a half-glass tasting of Octagon 2013 was advertised on a chalk board at $7.50. A full-glass could be had for $15 (for comparison’s sake, several Barboursville wines are priced by the bottle at $14.99). A full bottle of Octagon 2013 will set you back $54.99, and Octagon 2012 runs $69.99. It should be noted that we’ve seen (and purchased) Octagon at various wine shops in the past for far less than this per bottle, but neither of us can remember which vintage…so, that should be taken into consideration.
We truly enjoy most of Barboursville’s wines a great deal and most are priced incredibly reasonably for the quality — something not always true at Virginia wineries (perhaps because Barboursville is such a big winery, comparative to others, and has its wines in lots of shops and restaurants). We came home, on this day, with a mixed case that included the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 Sangiovese Reserve, 2014 Merlot, and 2015 Vintage Rosé (can you tell that we’re mostly red fans?).
The bruts were both very nice, and the docent was quite right that the Riesling was not your typical sweet Riesling. Even Henri approved of it (and she vows that she hates Riesling). Fergus particularly liked the Chardonnay Reserve, of the whites.
The tasting room is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM and on Sunday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tours are available on weekends from noon to 4:00 PM.
At $7 to taste over 20 wines (plus souvenir tasting glass), this is a bargain — particularly considering the quality of Barboursville’s wines. Snacks are available for purchase, but no outside food is permitted (leave the picnic at home). A full service on-site restaurant is also an option (reservations recommended)….though we don’t typically try to go there after hiking all afternoon.
A weekday visit, if you can. Wine docents have more time to chat and the atmosphere, in general, is more relaxed.
A solid vineyard for sampling high quality Virginia wine, taking in some Virginia history and landscape, and perhaps having a gourmet meal at Barboursville’s Palladio Restaurant.
VA TRAIL PAIRINGS
- We came here right after hiking Hightop Mountain
- South River Falls Hike
- Rocky Mount Hike
- Big Run Hike
- Jones Run/Doyle River Hike
- Ivy Creek Hike
- Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Hike
- After combing the Internet for some sort of industry standard title for the folks who pour wines for guests at vineyards, we’ve come to the conclusion that there simply isn’t one. Most vineyards in VA do not hire trained and certified sommeliers for this role. Sometimes, but rarely, the wine maker pours your tastes (always a treat!). To say “Wine Steward” seems out of place in the context of a single vineyard…more suited to a restaurant offering wines from many different makers. Sometimes the taste-pouring role is a paid position, sometimes vineyards rely on volunteers (paid in wine, perhaps). Each vineyard seems to come up with its own term for the role. We’ve seen ‘wine educator,’ ‘tasting host,’ ‘wine concierge,’ among others. We’re not sure what Barboursville calls theirs, but we’ve settled on a preference for the term ‘wine docent,’ mostly because the term docent has the connotation of being a guide. We’ve often found that the person filling this role not only pours the various wines, but also offers information about each one, about the history of the vineyard and the wine maker, and — when you get a really good one — about wine and grape varieties in general. The worst (or perhaps just newest) ones simply pour and repeat what’s on the printed tasting notes, the best truly guide each guest through the experience and leave you feeling more educated. (Now that we’ve written this gigantic footnote, we sense that an entire blog post about this topic may not be far in the future. Stay tuned). ↩