Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

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.

Barboursville Vineyards location on map

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!).

Barboursville Vineyards
from our first visit (June 2012)

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.

Barboursville Vineyards
Ian poured the 2nd half of the reds on the tasting list, before passing tasters off to the dessert wine station.

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.

Barboursville Vineyards
The “ruins” have been stabilized with iron bars so that visitors can see the historic architecture.

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
  • Brut Cuvée 1814 Non-Vintage
  • Brut Cuvée 1814 Vintage 2000
  • Brut Rosé Cuvée 1814 Non-Vintage
  • Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2014
  • Vermentino Reserve 2015
  • Viognier Reserve 2015
  • Vintage Rosé 2015
  • Philéo and Paxxito 2010
  • Cabernet Franc Reserve 2014
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013
  • Barbera Reserve 2015
  • Barbera Reserve 2010
  • Barbera Reserve 1994
  • Petit Verdot Reserve 2013

Octagon 2004/ 2007/ 2010/ 2012 /2013
These 5 vintages can be compared in 1 flight for $35

  • Brut Cuvée 1814 Non-Vintage
  • Brut Rosé Cuvée 1814 Non-Vintage
  • Pinot Grigio 2015
  • Chardonnay 2015
  • Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2014
  • Vermentino Reserve 2015
  • Viognier Reserve 2015
  • Chardonnay Reserve 2015
  • Vintage Rosé 2015
  • Cabernet Blanc Non-Vintage
  • Rosato Non-Vintage
  • Philéo and Paxxito 2010
  • Cabernet Franc Reserve 2014
  • Barbera Reserve 2015
  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
  • Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013
  • Barbera Reserve 2015
  • Sangiovese Reserve 2015
  • Merlot 2014
  • Merlot Reserve 2013
  • Petit Verdot Reserve 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.

  • 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

  1. 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). 

Hiking Hightop Mountain

A great short-to-moderate length day hike on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park with a ton of visual payoff at the top for very little work. If you’re looking to introduce friends to hiking, this would be a great starter trail!


hiked on 28 January 2017
Hightop Mountain, near Standardsville, VA
5.6 miles (moderate version), 2.5 miles (short version)
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

Hightop Mountain 2017
Henri taking in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Hightop Mountain.

About an hour and a half from our Fredericksburg, Virginia home, this trail starts very close to the Shenandoah National Park Swift Run Gap entrance point.  As you enter the park on Skyline Drive, you just about immediately cross a bridge passing over Rte. 33. The parking area for where we started is a bump-out on the road that you see to your left just as you cross that bridge into the park. Do a U-turn and park in the bump-out, then cross Skyline Drive to the Appalachian Trail marker on the opposite side of the road, just at the bridge end point. (Don’t worry if you drive past the parking lot for a bit, the worst that will happen is that you will have to look at some spectacular views along Skyline Drive until you decide to double-back).

Another option, if you want a shorter hike, is to drive on past this first parking area, up Skyline Drive to another parking lot. It’s clearly designated with a sign that says, “Hightop Mountain Parking Area.” Once you park there, you can walk across Skyline Drive and pick up the AT there. This will abbreviate your hike by almost 3 miles, as it cuts off the 1.3 miles from the bridge parking area to the Hightop Mountain parking lot and back. We wanted a hike of 5-6 miles on this day, so we opted to pick up the AT near the park entrance rather than at the one closer to the trail end.

Henri getting ready to cross Skyline Drive to the AT marker on the opposite side, near the end of the overpass.

Standardsville, VA on 28 January 2017

While the temperature wasn’t all that low at about 45° F, the wind was whipping pretty strongly. Henri wished she had brought her balaclava, but alas had not. A bit of a sting to the cheeks and lots of needle ice crunching underfoot belied the lovely sunshine and reminded us that this was, after all, a late January hike in Virginia. The wind was particularly powerful once we stepped out onto the rocks at the top, overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.

Hightop Mountain 2017
Lots of “needle ice” along the trail on this day.

Standard day-hike preparation/gear. Fergus with his North Face day pack, Henri with her Osprey. Just some water, snacks, and basic first aid. Down shells. As noted above, Henri bemoaned having forgotten her balaclava for a bit until she got moving and warmed up some. Otherwise, this short hike and easy terrain didn’t require any special prep.

Hightop Mountain 2017
The first vista overlook you come to is lovely, if somewhat obscured compared to the 2nd one at the top.

The entire hike is on the white-blazed Appalachian Trail; there’s no getting lost because you have no “turn or not turn” decisions to make, no intersecting blazes. Hiking Upward rates this out-and-back hike as a 3 out of 6 in terms of difficulty. We’ll agree, in that it’s uphill a lot of the way out; however, we remarked that this would actually be a nice beginner trail to introduce friends to hiking (especially since it can be shortened to less than 2.5 miles if you choose to start at the higher parking lot). From the Rte. 33 overpass bridge, you immediately climb steeply, but that becomes a much more gentle climb after the first few yards. Total elevation gain is only 1,480 feet. There is a stream along the start of the trail, but it was moving along at little more than a trickle on this day.

Hightop Mountain 2017
Henri starting out on the AT, headed UP.

At about 1.5 miles, you’ll come across the parking lot at Skyline Drive and need to cross over to the clearly-visible AT marker, and keep going up. From there, the trail gets a bit more interesting. Big boulders line the trail and there’s a nice outcropping of boulders and rocks that we decided to stop and climb — just for the hell of it. You could certainly do this entire out-and-back trail without doing any rock scrambling at all, if you wanted to avoid it. We just like to climb stuff and see how things look from up top. The trail, itself, changes from soil to rock for a short stretch. It’s certainly a well maintained trail.

Hightop Mountain 2017
Climbing the boulder outcropping…just because it was there.

Despite Hiking Upward’s claim that this is “one of the lesser known summit hikes,” we saw plenty of fellow hikers this day — many with dogs — and both parking areas were quite full. It wasn’t quite squirming with people like Mary’s Rock or Old Rag can be, but it was absolutely less secluded that other hikes we’ve done, like Strickler Knob or Duncan Knob. We’d call it busy, but not annoyingly so. This was a pleasant hike for saying “How’s it goin’?” to a half dozen or so fellow hiking couples and a few gaggles of outdoorsy college kids.

We had the vistas (there are 2 good look-out points along the trail) pretty much to ourselves. No mob of swarming tourists competing for the best view or camera angles. This meant that, as long as we could endure the wind, we could look far out over the valley and into the Blue Ridge Mountains and contemplate the stunning beauty of Virginia.

Hightop Mountain 2017
This way to spectacular views! [turn off from main trail to ‘summit’ vista]
  • VIEWS!
  • proximity to great Virginia barbecue and vineyards

TBT: Sherando Lake

Amid the Blue Ridge Mountains in the George Washington National Forest, Sherando Lake is the lower and larger of two lakes in a 24-acre recreational area built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s (history buffs can learn more about that here).

Sherando Lake from Torry Ridge
Sherando Lake from Torry Ridge

It is home to a popular campground with all the amenities for family fun, as well as any number of hiking trails nearby, including Torry Ridge. Today’s Throwback Thursday post remembers a fun, relaxed week of car-camping and hiking we did at Sherando Lake in summer 2014. Click on any of the images below to embiggen it or switch to slideshow mode. (For more fun, refresh your browser tab & the photos will rearrange).

Women’s March DC

Uncertain what exactly to expect of the Women’s March on DC, but knowing that we wanted to both witness it and be a part of it, we left Fredericksburg, VA at about 8AM on 2 January 2017 on one of two Rally buses carrying 100 or so of our neighbors up to DC. Many more had driven up the night before, or were taking the train or metro in that morning.  The Washington Post had warned that at least 1,200 charter buses were expected to park at RFK Stadium for the event but, by the looks of the lot as we arrived, they may have underestimated. Row after row after row of buses let us know that this thing was going to be, well, HUGE.

Women's March DC 2017
Irene, one of our enthusiastic volunteer Bus Leaders, did a great job…with a smile.

We didn’t wear “Pussy Hats.” We didn’t even wear pink. To be honest, we dressed pretty much as if this was another day-hike in cloudy 50° weather. Low key. Henri got a transparent backpack, as recommended by March organizers, and had adorned it with a couple of stickers. Other than that, we were probably two of the more demure marchers of the day. Not to worry. A virtual sea of pink washed over DC and there were more pink hats on both women and men than could have been counted successfully.

Women's March DC 2017
Henri brought some stickers like the ones on her backpack to share with fellow bus riders.
Women's March DC 2017

The sheer number of people who showed up to march was breathtaking, but that wasn’t even the most impressive part. Here’s what impressed us the most: People’s attitudes. From the moment we stepped off the bus in DC, employees of the city were all smiles and encouragement. Every person we encountered who was working the event that day — police, Union Station employees, street security, DC Streetcar employees — ALL of them were smiling, welcoming, patient. They appeared genuinely happy about the day’s turnout despite the fact that it meant a lot of work and probably more than one headache for them.

Women's March DC 2017
Just one of the DC Streetcar employees that was all smiles…ALL DAY.

We spent several hours squished shoulder-to-shoulder on the National Mall waiting for the March to, well, march. People could not move. People could barely squeeze through the crowd to get to Don’s Johns. We were people from all different genders, ethnicities, socio-economic situations, ages, religions, and backgrounds. And yet. From start to finish, we saw people being kind, helpful, supportive, and encouraging to one another. We saw nobody succumb to being tired or hungry, or to the potentially claustrophobic conditions by lashing out at others or resorting to what could have been an ‘every man for himself’ mentality. People were proud to be here. They stayed mindful of the purpose of it and the reality that it was something bigger than any one of us. They looked out for each other, made room for one another, lifted each other up, and showed more patience, human decency, and love than one might have thought possible under the conditions.

Women's March DC 2017

As it turns out, this was much, much more than a women’s march. Yes, there were lots and lots of women and men there marching with signs expressing their fears for “women’s issues,” like continued reproductive rights and funding for Planned Parenthood (and their determination to fight for the protection of both).  And, yes, there were also lots of people there expressing outrage about Trump’s history of behavior and attitudes toward women. But this march was about way more than issues affecting women (which are issues that actually affect all people in one way or another). This march was about major, important issues of concern to America and the world.

In addition to the photo collage at the end of this post, you can see even more of Fergus’ photojournalistic shots of the day HERE.

We saw people from all walks of life marching…

…in favor of embracing diversity
…against the the denigration & vilification of religions, races, or ethnicities
…fed up with gun violence
…against Trump’s apparent dishonesty
…against Trump’s alleged connections to Russia & support of (and from) Putin
…against DeVos and in support of public education
…against Pruitt and in support of climate science
…asking for the government to protect public lands
…in favor of equal rights and respect for LGBTQIA+ Americans
…in support of Americans with disabilities
…against the lack of transparency and Trump’s potential financial conflicts of interest
…expressing the desire to steward Earth better, and fear that this administration will not

Womens March DC 2017
Witnessed so many mothers, sisters, brothers and fathers lifting up the next generation of activists and leaders today. That’s what the Women’s March was all about for me. ~ Fergus
Women's March DC 2017
She is watching. Intently.

After hours of waiting to march, we literally couldn’t. The planned route for the Women’s March was completely filled with people — there was no way to march on the route. Word eventually came down through the crowds to march peacefully where we could, and the mass of people began to break up and move through the city. As we filtered out past the Mall, we passed a small band of about 20 “Bikers for Trump” trying to hold a counter-rally in the midst of an enclave of port-a-potties. It was a striking contrast to the roaring swell of pink marching directly past them. Still, some Women’s March folks stopped to listen — without altercation — for a bit before marching on. [EDIT/UPDATE 22 Jan 2017: Apparently, some of the Women’s March participants did eventually disrupt the Bikers for Trump rally. We’re  not exactly sure from this Youtube video who really can be blamed for the violence — looks an awful lot to us like a big angry biker getting physical with a skinny older man based on very little provocation — but it seems to have been short lived. Nothing like this was happening when we were there, and the police report no arrests or major incidents during the day.]

Women's March DC 2017
“Bikers for Trump” drew a somewhat smaller crowd.

TBT: Old Rag Mountain

Anyone who hikes in Virginia has likely hiked Old Rag Mountain. It is one of the most popular hikes (if not the most popular) in the Commonwealth. For many Virginians — ourselves included — Old Rag is the “gateway hike,” an accessible but moderately challenging 9 mile trail with a fun rock/boulder scramble and a cool stream on the way back down. It’s no wonder Old Rag gets folks interested in doing more hikes in the Shenandoah area and beyond.

Starting in 2010, Old Rag was our annual go-to Easter morning hike. We liked getting up there in the morning when it wasn’t as crowded and went each year, faithfully, for a few years. We also took friends and the kids a couple of times in between. We’ve since branched out in search of more varied and less crowded hikes, but there’s a soft spot in our hearts for Old Rag still, even if we don’t head that way much anymore. For this TBT post, we offer a montage of photos from various trips over the last few years.

Sharp Rock Vineyards

Sharp Rock Vineyards tasting room barn
Unpretentious and welcoming, Sharp Rock has become one of our favorite stops in Sperryville.

We’ve quite literally been visiting Sharp Rock Vineyards for as long as we’ve been hiking in Virginia, since we discovered it several years ago on our gateway hike at Old Rag Mountain. Cleverly situated so that busy Old Rag hiking traffic can literally not miss it, Sharp Rock sits near a gently burbling trout stream (the Hughes River) on an idyllic 20+ acre farm, and — through the years — has been graced by the presence of some of the finest wine dogs in the country. (Years ago we were first greeted at the door by Bo, a friendly yellow lab who was featured in the very first edition of Wine Dogs USA). These days, owners Jimm and Kathy East rescue Bernese Mountain Dogs, two of which gave us a friendly welcome on our most recent visit.

Sharp Rock Vineyards tasting room interior
Henri and Jimm East, owner & winemaker, chat in the tasting room.

The tasting room at Sharp Rock sits above a small, unassuming barn. To get to it, you’ll drive by the large main house and the small B&B cottage near the stream, to the parking area just outside the tasting room.

Take a look around the hospitable, spacious grounds — noticing the welcoming, scattered seating areas arranged nonchalantly out near the vines and a small, as well as a somewhat more structured seating area next to the barn, where entertainment is sometimes featured. Then, head into the little barn and up the steps to a cozy area with one tasting bar and a small sitting area that overlooks the vines. You’ll more than likely have your tasting poured by the owner and winemaker, himself. I can’t remember a time we’ve been there (and there have been many) that Jimm wasn’t the person pouring each taste and discussing the wines with us as we go along. It’s rarely crowded when we stop by, though we suspect it may be more so on holidays.

image of cottage from

Our tasting on 15 January 2017 featured six wines: Chardonnay, Chardonnay Reserve, Rosé Noir, Old Rag Red, Cabernet Franc, and Pinnacle, though we’ve been there frequently enough to try each of their wines at one time or another. On this visit, we brought home a bottle of Old Rag Red, Rosé Noir, and the Cabernet Franc, though we also enjoyed the Chardonnay Reserve and Pinnacle (a Cabernet/Malbec blend) quite a bit too. The Rosé Noir is made with 100% Cabernet grapes that Jimm leaves on the skins for three days to produce a darker rosé (thus the “noir”). It has fruity aromas of strawberry and grapefruit, and a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. Old Rag Red, one of our perennial favorites, is a hearty red blend of three Bordeaux along with some Nebbiolo grapes.

Sharp Rock Vineyards view from tasting room
View from the little sitting area above the barn, just off the tasting room.

Sharp Rock also runs a B&B, with two different spaces that patrons can rent to stay for longer than a sunny afternoon by mountains and river. The owner and winemaker does a great job of summing up the Sharp Rock experience in this brief video:


Open all year Friday through Sunday and on Monday holidays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; in October, Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also open by appointment all year.


Tasting is $7-8, and some light fare is also available for purchase. You are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy it out by the vines, next to the barn, or up on the covered seating area just off the tasting room.


A great post-hike stop, you’ll likely really enjoy chatting with the owners and their friendly wine dogs. Bring some snacks or a picnic and enjoy a glass of wine as you rest after a long day on the trail. By the time you leave, you’ll feel like family.


Map showing Sharp Rock Vineyards

Hiking Buck Hollow/Mary’s Rock

A really pretty day-hike in Shenandoah National Park, with lots of varied terrain and killer views at the top of Mary’s Rock. Popular (read: crowds) at the top, but combining the Buck Hollow loop along with it makes up for the lack of solitude at Mary’s Rock itself.


hiked on 15 January 2017
Shenandoah National Park, Near Sperryville, VA
10 miles (with our improvisational detour…see our Hike Notes, below)
difficulty rating, access information, terrain map & more:  Hiking Upward Link

Henri atop Mary's Rock
Henri perches atop Mary’s Rock and enjoys the view.

Sperryville has been one of our favorite hiking destinations for years, starting when Old Rag used to be our go-to hike. It’s near the beginning points for several great trails in or near the Shenandoah National Park system, an easy hour and 15 minute drive from our base camp in Fredericksburg, VA (though we usually tack on 15 more minutes to stop at a Wawa on the way for coffee, breakfast and hiking snacks).

Parking for the Buck Hollow loop is a bump-out off Rte 211 that accommodates probably up to a dozen cars (depending on how economically people park). There were 7-8 cars there when we arrived at 10AM this Sunday, though we didn’t see very many of their drivers on the Buck Hollow portion of the trail.

Parking Area at Buck Hollow trailhead
The parking area at Buck Hollow trailhead was busy…the trail wasn’t. Where’d they all go?!

Sperryville, VA on 15 January 2017

As we drove out to Sperryville, we noted a pervasive haze and began to despair that we wouldn’t get great views (or photos) on this hike. We should have realized that it would dissipate by the time we were on trail. But it’s good that we worried for a bit, because that was how we discovered SNP’s Air Quality Webcam and Air Quality Information Page on our smart phones. What a great real-time weather/visibility tool! As it happened, we were concerned for no good reason. By the time we had parked and were hitting the trail, the haze had cleared and the sun came though. It turned out to be a gorgeous day to hike, with great visibility at the top of Mary’s Rock.

View from Mary's Rock
Every time we hike in Virginia, we feel lucky to live near these views!

The usual day-hike prep: Henri’s orange Osprey Daylite pack and Fergus’ trusty North Face, filled with a few snacks, water in Nalgenes, basic first-aid supplies, and space to pack layers if we needed to shed them. We figured on a 5.5 hour hike (with half an hour stop for snacks and photos at the top).

We think it’s inevitable that we’ll have to do a detailed “our gear” informational post soon, because hikers like to hear what other hikers wear and use. In brief, for now: Henri’s go-to hiking pants are REI Sahara (over leggings when it’s colder out), a Smart Wool base layer top, and a Sierra Designs Elite Drydown hoody. Her hiking shoes are Merrell Moab. Her ultralight trekking poles are from Paria Outdoors. Fergus wears an Eddie Bauer Cirruslite jacket.

On this hike, we played the Layers Game, wherein it started off cool, but then we found ourselves quickly warming up and stripping off down jackets and beanies in favor of sweatshirts and ball caps…then putting the warmer layers back on again as the wind picked up and the temperature went down toward the top.

Buck Hollow trail Shenandoah National Park
Henri’s William & Mary sweatshirt got a couple of positive comments from fellow hikers (sadly, no one mentioned her Detroit Tigers ball cap).

There are a couple of much shorter routes to get to Mary’s Rock, if that is a visitor’s main focus. Mary’s Rock is quite popular and rates pretty low in our “solitude” category. Though not quite as crowded as Old Rag can be, Mary’s Rock tends to be crawling with people on weekends. That’s not typically something we love, but we’d never checked it out before, so figured it would be OK to do a busier hike, if we coupled it with Buck Hollow loop — known to be somewhat less popular.

The route we took followed Hiking Upward’s trail notes almost exactly, except for a one-mile detour that we took when Henri was in the lead and not really paying attention to signage or blazes (it happens). All-in-all, we hiked about 10 miles this day. The hike is usually about 9 miles, split more-or-less evenly: 3 miles on Buck Hollow Trail up to Skyline Drive, 3 miles up to Mary’s Rock and back down to Skyline (includes a short stretch on the Appalachian Trail), and 3 miles down on Buck Ridge Trail to the parking area.

From Hiking Upwards’ website.

The Buck Hollow trail up to Skyline Drive is gorgeous, and we don’t mean just the scenery and views (though they are). The actual trail is just…well, pretty. Often a trail is merely dirt and rocks, but the Buck Hollow trail can be described as idyllic, kind of lovely with moss, rocks, and roots conspiring to create the sort of underfoot pathway usually reserved for Disney films. It doesn’t hurt the ambiance that you spend a good deal of the first 3 miles following a stream with burbling cascades.

Buck Hollow trail Shenandoah National Park

As you turn away from the stream on Buck Hollow trail, things go up steeply. The first three miles of this loop are definitely UP. You’ll reach a parking area on Skyline Drive at the top of the trail, which is one place a lot of people park and hike up to Mary’s Rock. The trail gets more populated from here on. We saw maybe 3-4 hikers on Buck Hollow. By the time we were at the top of Mary’s Rock, we had lost count of our trail mates.

It’s more UP from Skyline Drive to Mary’s Rock, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which is rewarded with some gorgeous views along the way. Altogether, the elevation gain for this hike is about 2,600 feet. We stopped along the way to take a photo for two young women hiking together, and they returned the favor. It’s sort of rare to get a couple shot of Fergus & Henri to share in a post!

Fergus &  Henri at Mary's Rock
By the time we were approaching Mary’s Rock, we’d begun to put back on the outer layers. Brrr.

Mary’s Rock, itself, offers some stellar views. There’s a ridge of boulders that you can climb to see the valley and hills from various angles and heights. The top was pretty busy with visitors on this Sunday, reminding us quite a bit of climbing Old Rag, but it’s easy to see why it’s popular. Shorter hikes with closer parking areas can bring you to these vistas with little effort, the pay off is just stunning, and the boulder climbing is comparably easy.

Hikers at the top of Mary's Rock
Lots of folks in VA find Mary’s Rock a great introductory hike/climb, with amazing views.

Leaving Mary’s Rock, Henri took the lead and — not paying careful attention — followed the crowd headed along the AT connector trail steeply down toward the Thornton Gap parking area for about half a mile before Fergus noted the discrepancy. Whoops! Back up we went to the AT itself, and back on true trail the rest of the way. We tacked on about a mile and maybe 30 minutes to our hike, but it was still pretty and the views were great, so no complaints.

Old Homestead near Mary's Rock
An old homestead about halfway between Skyline Drive and Mary’s Rock is obviously a favorite picnicking site for the many hikers who visit.

Back at the Skyline Drive parking area, you’re faced with a decision about how you’d prefer to return to the Buck Hollow trailhead. You can go left and follow the same trail you took up to this point, or you can go right and follow the Buck Ridge trail to the trailhead. Because this was our first time on the loop, we opted to see what Buck Ridge had to offer.

This 3-mile portion of the hike is mostly down, quite steeply so in the last half mile, and features some cool boulder formations and pretty trail flora. We noted quite a bit of scat that was unmistakably bear…but also unmistakably several days old. No fresh scat and no bear sightings for us on this trip. As with Buck Hollow, the ridge trail had only a couple of other hikers on it, returning us to relative solitude. You miss out on the pretty stream going back this way, but the variety of terrain and vegetation makes it worthwhile, along with the views from the ridge.

Stairs cut into trail at Buck Ridge
A seemingly interminable winding stairway cut into the hill returns you down to the parking area (or up to Buck Ridge if you’re headed the other direction).

Hiking Upward says “the last 0.5 miles of the Buck Ridge Trail is very steep on loose rock,” but we’re not sure when that was written. The last half mile IS steep, but rather than loose rock, we found it to be made up of a well-maintained winding stairway that had been meticulously cut into the hillside. It’s quite something to see and we marveled when thinking of the process it must have taken to construct it. The stairs wind down in a series of tiny “switchbacks” from the ridge to the hollow, where we crossed back over Thornton River to the parking lot at the trailhead.

  • Varied terrain that both held our interest & provided some challenge.
  • Views, stream, scenery!

We planned this day’s hike to end at Sharp Rock Vineyards in Sperryville.

Delaplane Cellars


Henri enjoying a glass of Duet on the deck at Delaplane Cellars
Delaplane Cellars is perfect for an afternoon date. [Henri’s date is…taking the photo].
Over the years, we have stopped at a number of vineyards on the way home from day hikes at Sky Meadows. Two of our favorites are Delaplane Cellars and Barrel Oak Winery, for very different reasons. Barrel Oak, which we’ll save for another post on another day, has some great wines and is a large, fun atmosphere if you’re with a group of folks, or if you have your dogs or children along. Delaplane features a much different vibe.

The somewhat austere house rules at Delaplane set it apart from most other Virginia wineries: ALL guests must be 21 years old or over (no children permitted) and no large groups. There is a moratorium on limousines or buses. This means, among other things, that you can enjoy your experience at Delaplane without a nearby gaggle of squealing half-drunk (or fully drunk) bridesmaids toasting a girl wearing a sash and tiara. Delaplane is not a stop on any of the popular Virginia wine bus tours, so there are no troupes of tippling tourists crammed at the tasting bar, either. Dogs are permitted, but only in designated outdoor areas (not in the tasting room or on the deck). Delaplane frequently features live music and it’s quite lovely to be able to hear the musicians or singer(s) without loud groups of people talking above it.

The “no children” rule had us curious when we first came. Clear signage on the way into the tasting room warns patrons of the 21-and-over-only policy, yet on our inaugural visit we sat outside on the deck and watched a family with kids & stroller approach — stop to read the sign — and then open the door and come on in anyway. Curious about how this was going to go down, Henri went inside on some pretense…but really to eavesdrop (don’t judge!). A friendly staff member met the group as they entered and explained the no-children policy politely, then offered the family free tasting certificates for nearby Barrel Oak Winery, which has different policies. The family thanked them, took the free tastings, and headed out. No fuss. No muss. We were impressed with how diplomatically and respectfully Delaplane’s staff protected the experience of their patrons and honored their own decisions about how they want to present their wines. (We were also impressed by the apparent cooperative relationship between the two neighboring vineyards).

Though Delaplane may sound dull or sterile due to their tasting-room rules, we have never found it to be either. Our pourers are always friendly, chatty (but not to a fault), helpful, and knowledgeable. The music is always a perfect volume to be able to listen, but also to have a normal-voice conversation as you do. It’s not a silent “listening room” any more than it is a raucous bar. It’s pretty perfect for a date or a small group of friends. We’ve noticed that some folks on Yelp and other review sites have not appreciated Delaplane’s efforts to establish a relaxing grown-up oasis that focuses on the wine and the views, but we love it for those very reasons.

View from the deck at Delaplane Cellars
Henri, the youngest of 5 daughters, has nicknamed these hills as “Five Sisters.”

Oh, did you want to hear about the wines?! Glad you’ve kept reading, because the other thing we really like about Delaplane Cellars is just that. They feature several wines we enjoy, and one that stands out as a favorite for us among Virginia wines.

[At Delaplane] I found a consistency of adroitly fine winemaking with nicely original touches throughout the product line. ~ Richard Leahy

If you know us at all, you know that we are red wine fans first and foremost (though Fergus has developed a freakish passion for rosés of late.) We typically like bold, deep, full red wines.

The wine we come back for over and over again — and recommend to our friends — is Delaplane’s Duet. We suppose that the name is appropriate since we’ve been raving about what a great date place this is for couples, but the name came about because the grapes in it were grown in two Northern Virginia counties: Loudoun and Fauquier. It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. In the vernacular of winos, Duet is “fruit-forward” and full, but we find the balance with its notable oakiness to be really nice. (Is “oakiness” an actual word?)

Fergus bought a bottle of Delaplane’s rosé (simply called Rosé ) on our most recent visit, and proclaims it an all-time favorite, as well. The other wine that we enjoy the most here is a red blend they call the Cinq series. They are on Cinq5 at the moment, which may seem a bit redundant until you realize that its forebearers were Cinq4, Cinq3, etc. In the white category, we prefer Delaplane’s Traminette, though we don’t dislike their Chardonnay.

Some wine & light fare at Delaplane Cellars


Friday-Sunday from 11AM to 5PM and also some holidays


Tasting menu ranges in price from $8-$12; “light fare” also available for purchase.


Hands-down, this is our absolute favorite Virginia “date” winery. It’s just a great place to go as a couple to enjoy some wine, gorgeous views, music, and one another’s company in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Not romantic in the hackneyed Valentines Day way, its romance is derived from the beauty and simple elegance of both the surrounding view and the tasting room/deck.

Views. We have to agree with Richard Leahy‘s assessment that Delaplane offers “one of the nicest tasting room views in Northern Virginia.” The tasting room, itself, is also tastefully elegant in a minimalist way, and features none of the gaudy, overwrought decor you find in many VA wineries.

  • The water cups are made from corn.
  • The napkins, paper towels and restroom paper are made of recycled paper.
  • Our hand soap is scent free and is environmentally friendly.
  • The Light Fare we offer is from local farmers and bakers.
  • The tasting bar, doors, front steps, flooring, future fireplace and retaining walls come from trees, wood and stone walls that were on the property during the development of the vineyards and the winery.

Concern for the environment. Though their website proclaims that it’s “not easy being green,” Delaplane is dedicated to just that. Janine Finnell, Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador of Leaders in Energy, writes about it here.

  • Any of the trails at Sky Meadows State Park
  • Other Hikes Quite Nearby:
    • Manassas Gap
    • Ashby Gap
    • GRT Wildlife Management Area

map of vineyards near Sky Meadows State Park

TBT: Miami 2013

What do you do when you have a few days off work and a lot of travel points built up? You go to Miami, that’s what. The perfect spot for some great food, mojitos, Café Cubano, beach time, and interesting street photography.

Some highlights of our 4-day trip in 2013 included fantastic meals and drinks at both Yardbird Southern Table & Bar and Front Porch Cafe. Henri was training for a marathon at the time, and she loved the beach running in the early morning hours. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention spending an afternoon checking out the shockingly extensive & carefully curated collection at the World Erotic Art Museum. We skipped the nightclubs because….meh. Not really our thing. Relaxing, people-watching, and sipping beach-y drinks poolside were the main goals of this trip.

Here are some of Fergus’ photos from Miami. Click on any of them to see a larger version or to switch to slideshow mode (or, for more photo-viewing fun, refresh your browser and the mosaic tiles below will rearrange):

Hiking Sky Meadows

It’s amazing what you can learn by hiking — about yourself, about the area in which you live, and about the history of people and place. Sky Meadows is not a difficult hike, but it’s a rich one.


hiked on 8 January 2017
Sky Meadows State Park, Near Paris, VA
Our Loop: North Ridge > Ambassador Whitehouse > AT > North Ridge (about 4 miles)
access information & trail guide:  Sky Meadows State Park Trail Guide

Sky Meadows State Park
There was a time when Hunter was shorter than his mother. That time is long past.

This was Hike 6 of our 2017 52 Hike Challenge. Though it was a beautiful day, it was also bitter cold and would be our first hike of 2017 to occur after a snowfall. So our criteria for selecting a hike were (A) picturesque, (B) not too terribly long, and (C) not too far away from home. We opted for an old favorite: Sky Meadows State Park. It takes us just a bit over an hour to get there from Fredericksburg, VA. Parking is plentiful near the visitor center. Entry fee is just $4 (bring cash), and there are a number of trails to choose from to create whatever hike you want, in terms of length and difficulty. And, of course, we knew the views would be gorgeous on this clear, cold day.

There were very few cars there and we only saw 3-4 people out on the trails all afternoon. When we were gearing up to head out, someone pulled into the visitor lot, looked at us, and quipped, “Boy, you’re brave!” What we heard: “Boy, you’re dumb!” The weather information below may explain his reaction to seeing us heading out to the trail.

Sky Meadows State Park


Paris, VA on 8 January 2017


We hiked from 1PM to 3:30PM. The temperature as we set out from the parking area was reading at about 18° F, and we read reports later that the windchill made it feel somewhere between 1-5° F during those afternoon hours. To be honest, we were dressed well and so felt fairly comfortable for most of the afternoon, with the exception of a couple of times when we were exposed to full-on gusts of 25 MPH or more. There were moments we felt pretty silly being out there.

Sky Meadows State Park
In exposed areas, the cold wind was truly a force to be reckoned with.

Prep for this hike was mostly centered on making sure we’d have fun, which meant staying warm enough. Hunter was happy to rock the new fur-trimmed parka he had gotten from Santa a couple of weeks ago, as well as the new Timberland boots he’d gotten for himself. Henri happily sported her new Sierra Designs Elite Dridown Hoody (under a Patagonia shell that belongs to Fergus). For his part, Fergus was snug in his Eddie Bauer Cirrus Lite down jacket under another shell. Of course, everyone had on balaclavas, hats, gloves, and a good base layer.

This was also Henri’s first hike using new Paria ultralight trekking poles, a Christmas gift from Grandpa Frank. Her early assessment is that they are a terrific value for the price point (about $50). Tri-fold, collapsible to about 13″ (small enough to carry in even a modest day pack), weighing in at just 7 oz. apiece, and strong with a comfortable grip. Super easy to assemble and disassemble.

Sky Meadows State Park
Sure it was cold. But those views!

A quick look a the Trail Guide shows a variety of choices when it comes to hiking routes. On this day, we headed northwest from the visitor center on North Ridge Trail for about half a mile, headed back east a bit on the Piedmont Overlook to catch the pretty views there, then doubled back to the North Ridge where it meets the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail and took that for about a mile (that was the windiest portion of our trek….brrrr). Then we swung southwest on the Appalachian Trail for a short time before heading back east to the visitor center on the North Ridge trail. We didn’t use our GPS (mostly because our phones said it was too cold to come out and play…and none of us had thought to wear a Garmin), but we estimate that we did about a 3-4 mile hike, altogether.


Terrain on this self-selected loop varied. The hike to Piedmont Overlook and through Ambassador Whitehouse trail could best be described as “open,” offering beautiful views of the surrounding farmland and scenery. The trail itself is mostly a dirt path through fields, with some forest hiking, until we got to the return arm of the North Ridge trail. This is where it gets much more rocky underfoot, and heavily wooded. The North Ridge trail is marked on the park’s map as “difficult,” but really it’s just “more difficult than a dirt path through a field,” not really all that tough. We were on a downward slope for most of it. If you were coming up the trail the other way, it might feel somewhat more taxing. It was both fun and a little scary to listen to some of those big ol’ trees creaking ominously in the cold as we hiked past.

Sky Meadows State ParkSky Meadows State Park

One of the most interesting points at Sky Meadows is the hilltop memorial you’ll find halfway through Ambassador Whitehouse trail. An article in the Piedmont Environmental Council’s newsletter for Summer 2012 explains the memorial:

On May 20, about 75 people gathered for the dedication of the Piedmont Memorial Overlook…The site overlooks the Crooked Run Valley—one of the best protected privately owned landscapes in America—and will be a memorial for those who were dedicated to protecting the health and beauty of the Piedmont…..Nestled in the rock, a bronze plaque reads “May the winds carry our ashes to the fields we fought to protect.” Across the meadow, another plaque honors those whose remains lie elsewhere but whose lives reflect a commitment to preserving this landscape. “Protectors of the Piedmont, we are here in spirit.”

Click on any of these photos to enlarge it.

The newsletter features a photograph of the PEC president at the time, Chris Miller, speaking at the memorial’s dedication alongside the “visionary and spearhead for the memorial project,” Mr. Bill Backer. On this hiking trip, we noted that Mr. Backer’s own plaque had been added to the memorial in 2016. Despite whatever Mad Men fans would like to believe about Don Draper and the invention of the iconic advert, it turns out that Mr. Backer was — in addition to being a tireless conservationist for the Piedmont — the actual advertising genius behind the famous 1971 “I’d like to teach the world to sing” Coca-cola advertising campaign.

Sadly, Mr. Backer passed away almost 4 years to the day after dedicating the beautiful Piedmont memorial that now bears his own name. He had eventually become the president of the PEC, himself. We have now decided that each time we visit Sky Meadows, we will come home and research a different name from the memorial until we know more about each conservationist represented there.


Though we didn’t head there on this occasion, one of our favorite things to do after hiking Sky Meadows is head to Delaplane Cellars for a bottle of wine and some relaxing music.

  • The views are always lovely at Sky Meadows.
  • Being able to select whatever length hike we preferred.
  • North Ridge Trail portion offered some nice terrain variety.
  • The memorials atop the Ambassador Whitehouse trail