Leesburg Lifestyle’s Virtual Vintage: Join us in an experiment of expanding our tales to the Web with video. Lawyer and bon vivant Jim Magner takes us on a video tour of three nearby “Cozy Wineries” with the launch of Leesburg Lifestyle’s Vimeo channel. Just scan the code at the right to watch, or visit Vimeo.com/user104293659.
Twin Oaks Tavern Winery
After a brisk morning hiking the Appalachian Trail last winter, my wife, Audrey, needed to warm up, and—just as travelers from the turn of the century might have—stumbled upon Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont. It was such a cozy place, it inspired me to write about three of my favorite wineries to visit once the weather turns cold. Naturally, we beat a path back to Twin Oaks to start the journey.
“When the trains started coming to Bluemont in 1900, what was then Twin Oaks Tavern became a kind of a tourist destination up on the mountain because it was hot in the city and about 8 degrees cooler up here,” says owner Donna Evers.
People would hike up to Bear’s Den and then over to Twin Oaks Tavern, built in 1893, which served as a bed and breakfast on the opposite side of the mountain that overlooks Loudoun County. Originally a California girl, Donna bought the winery in 1997 after a severe fire and fully restored the tasting room and main house. She planted vineyards in 1999 and sold her first vintage in 2002.
“Back then, it was just 35 gallons. Now we do upwards of 1,000 cases a year,” Donna says.
What sets the vineyard apart is one part history, two parts “Dubliner public house atmosphere,” down to an antique piano adjacent to the tasting bar. The main attraction, of course, is its truly luscious wines, particularly the chardonnay, which has a lot of apple and pear flavors and a nice crisp oak finish. It has won gold medals in internationally renowned California competitions. Other varietals: a luscious “Make Me Blush” blend of chardonnay and merlot with fruity notes of fresh-cut watermelon, strawberries and grapefruit; vidal blanc; White Nights, a chardonnay-reisling blend; cabernet sauvignon; merlot; and the Bordeaux blend Raven Rocks Red, including cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot.
“I think people also enjoy the view from the back deck,” Donna says. “It’s an experience you can take home with you that refreshes you all year round.”
Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn
Back in the late 1770s, what is now Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn in Delaplane was primarily a cattle farm. The first 20th-century family refurbished the house and outbuildings in 1906. It was vacant through the 1990s, purchased in 1999 and planted in vines in 2005. The barn was converted to the cozy tasting room as it now appears, which opened to the public in May 2009.
Larry and Kelly Carr bought the place in August 2012, leaving behind their “white-collar” lives. Larry says he thinks what makes his winery unique is “the historical nature of the property. Audrey and I just like the fire—and the loft, a converted hayloft overlooking the downstairs tasting bars. It’s just the coziest place on a cold day, and you can’t beat the winery’s Smokehouse Red for warmth; it’s a rich and robust mouthful made from petit verdot.”
The barn itself dates to 1812, and the pastures on the 50-acre farm are home to miniature horses and Nubian goats. Each of the winery’s six wines is paired with small nibbles of food that, in Larry’s words, “represent where we thought the wine might fit in your dining.”
In that vein, Larry is hesitant to pick his favorite white wine but says his viognier is their “go-to” white wine. With just 1% residual sugar, it’s great for larger groups or gatherings when you might not know the tastes of your guests.
“It’s kind of in the middle of the palate, just sweet enough for sweet wine drinkers and not so sweet that the dry wine drinkers find it too much for them.”
The Smokehouse Red is in its third bottling and has won a silver medal in the Virginia Governor’s Cup the last two years.
“It’s our steak and burgers wine,” Larry says.
What I like about Otium Cellars in Purcellville is that it’s not just a great, cozy winery, but it has some unique wines other local wineries don’t.
“We do pride ourselves on our varietals,” says General Manager Chris Monroe. “Our owner, Gerhard Bauer, is from Bavaria, and we have some wines that are native to that area—our Blaufrankisch, Dornfelder and Gruner Veltliner.”
Gerhard picked the varietals he liked from home and discovered that they would grow well in Virginia. When he bought the property, he wanted to use half as a horse farm for breeding and training and half to grow grapes. When he tried to sell the fruit to other winemakers, they passed, not being familiar with the varietals. Left with little other choice than to produce his own wine, he put his son in charge, and the property opened to tasting and sales in 2012.
“He thought he had a two-year surplus of wine, and we ran out in 8 to 10 months,” Chris says. “So they had to go back to the drawing board and grow on a much different scale for production, and it has been steady ever since. There’s a steady crowd, and it’s amazing how many people want to speak German when they find out where Gerhardt is from.
Otium means “tranquility” in Latin, and it’s a great description of the place with wide rolling meadows, outdoor fire pits, a rustic Bavarian Room that can seat 50 to 75 people, depending on how it’s configured and even a four-sided fireplace in the separate pavilion. In the summer months, they open the doors to that building, providing a nice breeze through the vineyards and shade from the hot sun.
Asked to recommend just one glass of white or red wine, Chris says he’d go with the Gruner Veltliner, Otium’s bestselling white.
“And for red, definitely the Blaufrankisch reserve. On the cold winter nights just sitting with a glass by the fire, it’s just amazing.”
On the weekends, there’s live music, food vendors and many locals who stop by just to enjoy the fireplaces or some of Chris’ chili.
“February is actually our busiest month,” he says.
People are always stopping in to speak German with Gerhard, and he's happy to oblige.