James River Cellars vineyard

October is Virginia Wine Month, but there's never a bad time to raise a glass here. Virginia has a remarkably strong wine industry, and for a weekend drive (or even a weekday venture), there are many wineries within an hour’s drive of Richmond.

Want five reasons to pay a visit? Then consider petit manseng, chambourcin, norton, vidal blanc and traminette. No, these five grapes aren't in the mainstream, but they're headed in that direction.

Tasting rooms almost always offer cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and cabernet franc, and the quality of those wines continues a decades-long climb. But those other five, though somewhat unknown and not available everywhere, are gaining momentum in tasting rooms. And they shouldn't be ignored when words such "semi-sweet," "off-dry" or even "gamey" are used to describe them.

A quick look at each of the fab five:

Petit manseng: The dry version usually is highly aromatic, with flavors of tropical fruit, honey, pineapple, peach and spice. It is often full-bodied and nicely balanced. (The sweet, dessert version has similar traits.)

Chambourcin: Cherry, blackberry and plum quickly fill the mouth for this red wine, which is usually made dry – though tasters often get the perception of a slightly sweet wine. Tannins generally are soft.

Norton: A Richmond native, this red grape produces wines that are big, bold and full-bodied, with concentrated flavors of dark fruit such as plum, blackberry and dark cherry. It can also be used for blending.

Vidal blanc: Light, fruity aromas burst from the bottle and lead to flavors of apricot, pear and honey or even papaya, grapefruit and candied fruit. The white grape can be a varietal or used as a blender.

Traminette: The white grape produces wine with floral, apricot and honey flavors and occasionally some spiciness. It can be made into wines that are dry or with varying amounts of sweetness.

No one-sip-and-done tastings allowed for any of these five. That first sip often will be affected by the previous wine in your mouth. So always try a second swallow, and let the wine’s attributes take over.

Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Below are 19 wineries within about an hour's drive of Richmond. Times and fees can change, so check before visiting. The wines listed for “Don’t miss” are suggested by the wineries.



New Kent Winery

8400 Old Church Road in New Kent; (804) 932-8240;

Hours: daily 11-6

Tasting fee: classic $10, reserve $16 (tasting and tour)

Don’t miss: The newest red wine, Cabernet Franc, and well as the usual favorites and award winners Vidal Blanc, Meritage and White Merlot.

Winemaker: Tom Payette

Annual cases: 6,500

Of note: Winery hosts various events from trivia to salsa night, a fall concert series, a family Harvest Festival and more.


Gauthier Vineyard

5000 Farmers Drive in Barhamsville; (703) 622-1107;

Hours: Fri. 4-8; weekends 11-6

Tasting fee: $10-$12

Don’t miss: The new Estate Norton from 2017 harvest. Outdoors, wood-fired pizza available Fridays and Saturdays; roasted or raw sweet Rappahannock River oysters on second and fourth Sundays of the month.

Winemakers: Randy Phillips and Mo Gauthier

Annual cases: 1,500

Of note: Gauthier offers lodging next door at Woodmont Plantation Inn, a five-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot home. Colonial Downs racetrack is just a few miles away.


Hampton Roads Winery

6074 New Design Road in Elberon; (757) 899-0203;

Hours: daily 11:30-6 (but closed Tue.-Wed. in Jan.-Mar.)

Tasting fee: $8 for eight tastings (includes glass)

Don’t miss: The wide variety – from a stainless steel chardonnay, to a special house blend of White Oak White (WOW), to smooth medium-bodied reds and the Hog Island Sweet White.

Winemaker: Diane Sheldon

Annual cases: 2,000

Of note: Winery, with two vineyards, is located on a working farm that has red Angus cattle and Nigerian Dwarf goats (the goats live in the “World's Tallest Goat Tower”). Wine on tap, served in custom growlers, will be available.


Saudé Creek Vineyards

16230 Cooks Mill Road in Lanexa; (804) 966-5896;

Hours: Wed.-Mon. 11-6 (Fri. till 9)

Tasting fee: $10-$17

Don’t miss: Saudé Creek Red, a semi-dry blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin that can accompany any season and meal.

Winemaker: Jason Knight

Annual cases: 5,800

Of note: Saudé Creek offers live music Friday evenings and weekend afternoons year round. The holiday wines Tavern Red (a spiced red) and Wintertime White (riesling) are to be released the day after Thanksgiving.


Upper Shirley Vineyards

600 Shirley Plantation Road in Charles City; (804) 829-9463;

Hours: daily (except Tue.) 11-5

Tasting fee: $11; reserve $15; private tasting for all groups over six by appointment only $25

Don’t miss: 2018 Sparkling Rosé, which is bone-dry and effervescent with a tart finish.

Winemaker: Michael Shaps

Annual cases: 3,500

Of note: In addition to 11 wines, Upper Shirley features a full-service restaurant for lunch (11-3) with small plates and desserts available until 4:30. Restaurant, tasting room and wide porch overlook the James River.


Williamsburg Winery

5800 Wessex Hundred in Williamsburg; (757) 229-0999;

Hours: Nov.-Mar. (Sun.-Thur. 11-4:30; Fri.-Sat. 11-5:30); Apr.-Oct. (Sun.-Thur. 11-5:30; Fri.-Sat. 11- 6:30) 

Tasting fee: Intro to Wine tour and tasting $14, extensive tour and reserve tasting $38, reserve $15, fine wine $10

Don’t miss: 2017 Wessex Hundred Cabernet Franc (medium-bodied red features ripe red fruit flavors, earthy notes, supple tannins and silky mouthfeel) and the 2018 Virginia Dry Rosé, the first Virginia wine available exclusively in a can (375 ml).

Winemaker: Matthew Meyer

Annual cases: 38,000

Of note: Winery's 1619 Wine Pavilion is a two-level covered deck with views of the vineyard. Winery now has two satellite wine bars (one in Colonial Williamsburg's Merchants Square and the other in La Promenade Distinctive Shops in Virginia Beach).



Byrd Cellars Vineyard & Winery

5847 River Road West in Goochland; (804) 652-5663;

Hours: Fri.-Sun. 12-5

Tasting fee: $7 for eight wines and a sangria (includes glass)

Don’t miss: Norton Reserve is aged with American medium-toasted new oak to round out the flavor. The Muscat is a classic sweet wine that is light and refreshing.

Winemaker: Bruce Murray

Annual cases: 3,500 

Of note: A new, larger tasting room is slated for late 2019. Byrd is pet-friendly (leashes required).


Elk Island Winery

5759 River Road West in Goochland; (804) 627-3929;

Hours: Sat.-Sun. 12-6 (plus Fri. in the summer – check website)

Tasting fee: $6 (waived with purchase of a bottle)

Don’t miss: 2018 Vidal Blanc (fruit-forward with apple, stone fruit and a hint of melon and citrus) and 2017 Petit Verdot (rich in tannins and color with a lingering finish).

Winemakers: Paul and Sue Anne Klinefelter

Annual cases: 1,200

Of note: Winery is part of Lower Byrd Farm, which also grows standard row crops of corn, soybeans and wheat; all of Elk Island’s grapes are grown in Goochland. Winery is part of the Richmond West Spirit Trail.


Fifty-Third Winery and Vineyard

13372 Shannon Hill Road in Louisa; (540) 894-5474;

Hours: Jan.-Apr. (Fri.-Mon. 11-5); May-Dec. (daily 11-5); open Fri.-Sat. until 6 year round

Tasting fee: $10

Don’t miss: 2018 Albarino (medium-bodied white with spicy, floral aromas and notes of golden apples and lemon zest) and 2018 Two Springs Bordeaux-styled blend (medium-bodied with notes of red plum, blackberry, raspberry and black pepper spice).

Winemaker: Chelsey Blevins

Annual cases: 7,000 

Of note: Winery recently celebrated its 20th anniversary (initially as Cooper Vineyards). Glass-enclosed event pavilion has been refurbished. Blevins served as assistant winemaker for four years.


Grayhaven Winery

4675 East Gray Fox Circle in Gum Spring; (804) 556-3917;

Hours: Sun./Mon./Thu./Fri. 11-5; Sat. 11-6

Tasting fee: $7

Don’t miss: Piedmont, an homage to Normandy's famous Pommeau, is a dessert wine made with estate heirloom winesap and black twig apple cider, aged with Cognac-soaked French oak.

Winemakers: Chuck Peple, Deon Abrams and Max Peple-Abrams 

Annual cases: fewer than 3,000

Of note: The Pinotage is a unique blend – half from the Virginia vineyard, which tempers and lightens the spicier half from Grayhaven's small vineyard block in the Breede River Valley in the Western Cape of South Africa.



Castle Glen Estates

18185 Narrow Path Trail in Doswell; (804) 763-9677;

Hours: Wed.-Sat. 12-6; Sun. 12-5 (see website for extended and holiday hours)

Tasting fee: $10 (seven to eight wines, plus slushie)

Don’t miss: Christmas in a Glass is a cabernet sauvignon infused with cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, orange, clove and star anise. Serve it hot to warm up the holiday season and temper the cold.

Winemaker: owner Ed Cowdrey

Annual cases: 1,500

Of note: Winery features a new 2,600-square-foot tasting room and event barn; events include live music, paint nights and concert series in the summer.


James River Cellars

11008 Washington Highway in Glen Allen; (804) 550-7516;

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11-7; Sun. 11-5

Tasting fee: $10 for 13 wines

Don’t miss: 2018 Gewürztraminer (an off-dry and spicy white) and the 2018 Reserve Chardonel (a dry, barrel-aged white).

Winemaker: James Batterson

Annual cases: 5,000 to 6,000

Of note: James River has added flights (white, red, sweet or create-your-own), new small-batch vintages and an experimental canned wine to its day-to-day wine offerings.


Lake Anna Winery

5621 Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania; (540) 895-5085;

Hours: Wed.-Sat. 11-5; Sun. 1-5

Tasting fee: $7

Don’t miss: 2018 Seyval Blanc, as crisp and dry as the first vintage in 1989; the three-decade favorite pairs well with seafood. Customers not familiar with this grape sample it, and it often becomes a favorite.

Winemaker: Graham Bell

Annual cases: 4,000

Of note: Winery is housed in a 1940 dairy cow barn. Original winery owners Bill and Ann Heidig passed the duties to sons Eric and Jeff in 2000. Now, grandsons Jeff Jr. and Justin are poised to help carry on the vintages. 


Sassafras Shade Vineyard

4492 Ladysmith Road in Ruther Glen; (804) 596-0179;

Hours: Wed.-Sun. 11-5

Tasting fee: $5 (includes glass)

Don’t miss: The Chambourcin, neither sweet nor dry, appeals to many guests and is delicious with dark chocolate.

Winemaker: owner Gary Dudley

Annual cases: 800 

Of note: The Cabernet Franc received a silver medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in 2019; its slightly less bold nature gives it appeal to those who don't usually like a cab franc.


White Plains Farm & Winery

1063 Old Church Road in Mechanicsville; (804) 370-7708;

Hours: Visits by appointment can be arranged through website; tastings hosted by owners

Tasting fee: $12 (three wines) or $15 (five wines, including reserve and sparkling rosé)

Don’t miss: 2016 Sparkling Rosé is made from a field blend of grape varieties fermented in tank. The result is dry and effervescent, with essence of grapefruit and apricot – and a stunning coral color.

Winemaker: Michael Shaps

Annual cases: 500

Of note: The Sparkling Rosé was part of dinner at the James Beard House in New York put on by The Underground Kitchen founder Micheal Sparks of Richmond.



Ashton Creek Vineyard

14501 Jefferson Davis Highway in Chester; (804) 896-1586;

Hours: Wed.-Fri. noon-8; Sat.-Sun. 11-6 

Tasting fee: $15 for 10-12 wines

Don't miss: Celebration is a sweet sparkling red made from cabernet sauvignon grapes and aged two years in French oak. Celebration is dedicated to the 50-year anniversary of the Virginia is for Lovers slogan.

Winemaker: Alan Thibault

Annual cases: 5,000

Of note: Along with wines, Ashton Creek has a made-to-order menu of tapas, soups, salads and sandwiches.


Bodie Vineyards

1809 May Way Drive in Powhatan; (804) 598-2240;

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 1-6

Tasting fee: none

Don’t miss: Michaux Blanc (a semi-dry white from the Cayuga grape) and Rochette Rouge (a semi-dry red from buffalo and norton grapes).

Winemaker: owner Clyde Bodie

Annual cases: 65 

Fast fact: Vineyard was the first farm winery in Powhatan; Bodie, 91, has been dabbling in winemaking since age 6. Buffalo grape, delicious right off the vine, is similar to Concord and makes a sweet wine.


Skippers Creek Vineyard

965 Rocky Ford Road in Powhatan; (804) 598-7291;

Hours: weekends 1-5

Tasting fee: $5

Don't miss: The new Pearl, a crisp and refreshing 50-50 blend of chardonnay and viognier that is aged in steel for two years.

Winemaker: co-owner Chuck Zacharias

Annual cases: more than 600

Fast fact: Vineyard features a wedding venue and walking trail, a fairly easy 1-mile hike that takes visitors throughout the estate.


Spring Run Vineyards

10700 Spring Run Road in Chesterfield; (804) 382-4529;

Hours: limited; call ahead

Tasting fee: $5 ($1 off when you bring in a dried or canned good to support CCHASM, a local foodbank ministry)

Don’t miss: Served chilled and as a unique aperitif, Harvest Moon is a pumpkin wine made in the spirit of the season – aromas of pumpkin pie spices are followed by a sweet finish to capture "fall in a bottle."

Winemaker: Matt Houck

Annual cases: 150 

Fast fact: Rustic barn is a unique venue for small to medium celebrations and events.

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Jack Berninger has been writing about wine for the RTD for more than 11 years. His Wine & Spirits column appears monthly in the Culture section on Sundays.

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