Barboursville Vineyards is located just off of Route 20 outside of Orange and near James Madison’s Montpelier Plantation. I thoroughly enjoyed my beautiful country drive from Washington, DC to the outskirts of Charlottesville. The gently rolling hills, the pastoral farmland, and frolicking horses make this wine trip worth the gas it takes to get there.
Although Barboursville is a bit off of the beaten path, it is well-marked, thanks to the Virginia Wine Marketing Association. Barboursville is unlike many of Virginia’s wineries because it is a large estate vineyard with over 140 acres of vines which produce about 40,000 cases a year. Not only do they sell their wines in the tasting room, but they also distribute throughout Virginia in Total Wine and ABC stores as well as in states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida.
There is plenty of parking at the vineyard, even on a busy Saturday afternoon. I arrived at lunchtime, with plans to meet friends for a wine tasting and picnic on the grounds of the Barboursville estate. The tasting room is done in the style of a Northern Italian farmhouse and reminded me of a warm and inviting country inn I stayed at many years ago in the Lake Como area. Everyone is welcome at Barboursville; it may be large, but it’s not pretentious by any means.
The tasting room can be busy on a weekend afternoon since most customers visit between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. and they can have as many as 50 people milling about the facility at any given time. However, the wine bar is well-organized and visitors have plenty of time to savor the wines, ask questions, and appreciate the experience. I waited only about two or three minutes to start my tasting after paying $5 at the hostess desk. Your fee includes tastes of 15 wines and a souvenir glass. If you bring your glass back for a return visit, your tasting is only $3. Children and well-behaved, leashed dogs are welcome at Barboursville.
Although the wines are created with an Italian heritage by wine maker Luca Paschina, they are truly done in a Virginia style. Proud Virginians such as myself can really appreciate this. My friends and I started our tasting experience with several white wines. Heather, an attractive blonde woman, assisted us. She was very pleasant but not very knowledgeable about the wines yet. She admitted that this was only her second day on the job. I enjoyed all of the whites which included: a Sauvignon Blanc with lovely pear and passionfruit flavors, a steel Chardonnay which was light and crisp, a medium-oaked Chardonnay with hints of apple and vanilla, a Viognier with tropical and floral notes, an off-dry Riesling (my least favorite of the flight since I’m partial to German and New York State varieties because I think the weather is more appropriate for maximizing the grape’s flavors), and a dry rose’ with a peach and strawberry nose and hints of spice on the tongue.
Since we visited on a Saturday, and apparently Saturday is sparkling wine day (yay for me!), we had an opportunity to try the Barboursville Brut, which is a light sparking wine made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It had soft pear flavors and is versatile enough to serve with any number of light, summery foods…or even birthday cake! I’m a sucker for a well made sparkling wine and Luca Paschina really hit the mark here.
Next, Allen assisted us at the red wine tasting station. I found him to be very friendly and knowledgeable about red wines. We tasted a medium-bodied Merlot with soft tannins, a Sangiovese with cherry and plum aromas and a smooth finish, a Barbera Reserve which was earthy with firm tannins, an award-winning Cabernet Franc which had flavors of berry, plum, cherry, and cedar, a Nebbiolo with smoke and tobacco notes, and finally the famed Octagon which is a delightful blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. I liked everything but the Nebbiolo — too much tannin for my palette. We learned that a new Merlot Reserve will be released this fall. Something to look forward to for a return visit perhaps?
At the last tasting station, Jeff assisted us with our blush and dessert wines. First, we tasted a Cabernet Blanc which was junk blush wine. Think Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers. And, yes, junk wine is a real term. Literally it’s the leftover grape juice not good enough for their regular wines, which are quite good. I suggest avoiding this junk wine so as not to contract a spontaneous headache or confused tongue. Seriously. Barboursville should sell the grape juice to someone else because it’s messing with their stellar image. Thank goodness the next wine, Phileo, tasted quite yummy, like nectar actually. It’s a blend of Moscato, Gewürztraminer, and some other varietals. We finished the tasting with the Malvaxia, which is a fortified wine. I’m not a fan of port style wines because they’re so heavy tasting to me, but I can appreciate the quality of the Malvaxia nonetheless.
Overall, I thought the wines were reasonably priced. They ranged from $12.99 for the Sauvignon Blanc to $39.99 for the special edition Octagon intended for long-term storage. The white wines were the best deal, although I think the reds were even better done. A five percent discount is available for a half case purchase and a ten percent discount is available with a full case purchase. My friends and I purchased a $21.99 bottle of Sangiovese Reserve for our picnic.
There isn’t any real outdoor seating at Barboursville, although the grounds are quite lovely. We brought our own lawn chairs and walked over to a shady tree by the ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion (it burned down in a Christmas day fire in 1884) to enjoy some tasty sandwiches, good Virginia wine, and pleasant conversation.
Should you wish to enjoy a more upscale vineyard experience, the Palladio Restaurant offers three course lunches and dinners and is right next door to the tasting room. They also have special wine pairing events and cooking classes. The tasting room manager, Arianne, informed me of a couple of upcoming events, including: the annual autumn explosion on October 2 which features live music on the lawn and a vertical tasting of several vintages of wines from the cellar ($15), the Octagon celebration on October 16 which features a four course meal with multi-vintage Octagon wine pairings ($150) and a special 20th anniversary party for winemaker Luca Paschina which is a black tie optional event ($150) on October 30. I’d sure love to get a free ticket to the Octagon celebration — it’s a very, very good Virginia red wine!
Overall, I was very impressed with Barboursville. They are a large, well-run operation with over 30 years of experience in the business. They offer a number of wines which are all very well done (with the exception of the junk blush wine I mentioned earlier). Although the winemaker was on vacation during my visit, he emailed me afterwards, and during my visit the tasting room manager was kind enough to spend some time chatting with me about the finer details of the Barboursville experience. I appreciated that quite a bit. As you probably know, I’m most smitten with Virginia’s small farm wineries, but Barboursville does it right for an estate vineyard. I truly believe they set the standard for excellence when it comes to large-scale, modern vineyard operations in the Commonwealth.
For more information and to plan your visit, check out their website at www.barboursvillewine.com and please tell Arianne and the rest of the tasting room staff that Lady Vino sent you!