By: Jennifer Duff
Capital Cooking Contributor
Virginia is home to over 192 wineries and most folks in the DC metro area have traveled out west to do wine tours and wine tastings along the Route 66 corridor. But if you go a little further beyond Rt. 66 and down Rt. 81 in the Shenandoah Valley, you can find wineries with a different grape varietal (Chambourcin) and a few farms along the way.
The first stop on our day trip down to Harrisonburg, VA (home to JMU for all you proud Dukes!) was at the Cross Keys Vineyards located 20 minutes outside Harrisonburg. The views from the winery are absolutely breathtaking. While sipping wine on the patio, you look across the rolling hills of the Shanandoah Valley give way to the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains. It is so peaceful, serene and quiet while sitting in the sun and breathing in the fresh cool air.
The tasting room at Cross Keys was warm and spacious, featuring a cozy fireplace and small tables to sit and enjoy some light bites with a glass of wine. The room is accentuated with large windows providing great natural light and fantastic views for those not ready to brave the cool outdoors in late Fall.
The winery features a great selection of white and red wines including the typical Virginia wines like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc with a few new additions like Pinot Noir and Tavern (port). The great thing about Cross Keys is that you can choose to do the full red and white tasting or just do a red or a white tasting -- which is perfect if you are like me and prefer red over white wine.
The red wine selections at Cross Keys were outstanding. My personal favorites were the Pinot Noir, Joy Red (think red table wine), Cabernet Franc and Meritage (blend of Cabernet Franc, Melot and Petit Verdot). The staff were so friendly and attentive, it made our experience that much more enjoyable. After our tasting, we got a glass of wine (I opted for the Meritage and my husband went with the Cab Franc) and sat outside to enjoy some snacks and take in the view. Cheers!
The other stop on our day trip was at White Oak Lavender Farm which is about 15 minutes outside downtown Harrisonburg. It is a family owned farm that grows many varieties of lavender, sells lavender products to purchase, and has an animal petting area.
I absolutely LOVE the scent of lavender. I also have lavender planted in my beds which desperately needs pruning so I thought I'd come to source to try to determine how best to care for my plant. The woman I spoke at the farm with was so friendly and knowledgeable - I finally learned how to care for my lavender and keep it growing in the spring! The shop also had lots of great lavender products, it was a great place to start on some holiday shopping.
I have to say though, my favorite was the petting area for the farm animals. They had rabbits, horses, goats, sheep, chicken and TURKEYS! I fell in love with the soft, furry little rabbits - I think I need to build a hutch and get a little rabbit for myself (this is the perfect substitute for cats, which I am deathly allergic to).
As luck would have it, the farm is also home to three siblings of the Presidential Turkey that will be pardoned this coming Thanksgiving. They live on this farm and are the 'back up' turkeys in case something goes awry with the other turkey.
The turkeys are named Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The farm is committed to keeping them as pets for years to come (apparently, the family said they are eating crab cakes for Thanksgiving this year).
It was the perfect Fall day trip out to Harrisonburg with delicious wine, fragrant lavender fields, stunning views and great hospitality. Well worth the drive and highly recommended as a nice break from the city!