Wine, dine and unwind

James March travels to Virginia to meet award-winning winemakers, sample Italian cuisine and enjoy the languid lifestyle.

Paid partnership with Virginia Tourism Corporation

Wine, dine and unwind

James March travels to Virginia to meet an award-winning winemaker, sample Italian cuisine and enjoy the languid lifestyle, all set against the backdrop of the imperious Blue Ridge Mountains.

Timeless Dance: to listen along to this story about Barboursville Vineyards, or to pause the playback, click the play button:

Late-afternoon shadows of oak trees lean lazily across the sloping pastures of the Barboursville Vineyards. The silhouetted shapes of a cattle herd look like cardboard cutouts on a faraway field, while the deadened stillness is only pierced by a distant train horn.

Buzzards circle silently in the air above me as the sun’s golden glow sinks behind bouquets of dense green hedges flanking my historic home for the evening, The 1804 Inn.

Deep in Virginia’s languid wine country around 100 miles southwest of Washington DC, this is my company for the evening. And I couldn’t be more at ease.

I’m watching this great pastoral canvas, glass in hand, from the creaking 45-ft deck of the Inn’s Octagon Suite.

The full-bodied Nebbiolo Reserve I’m sipping was bottled in 2019, but this area is steeped in 250 years of American lore, going back to the turbulent days of the Founding Fathers.

The serpentine roads rolling from Washington to Barboursville pass by Montpelier, the plantation home of fourth president James Madison, while the vineyard itself was once home to former Governor of Virginia, James Barbour.

Barbour was a close friend of third president Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson himself designed Barbour’s 1821 mansion on the estate, now a skeletal ruin following a devastating fire on Christmas Day, 1884.

Earlier in the day, I watch the mansion’s lonely brick chimneys poke above a distant wall of trees as current estate director and winemaker Luca Paschina shows me around the vineyard aboard his dusty white Jeep.

“I grew up in a family of winemakers,” says Paschina, as the 4×4 bounces between rows of full vines waiting to be harvested.

“My father’s a winemaker and my uncle as well. My grandfather on my father’s side started a vineyard when he retired, so I also learned something from him. I consider myself a third-generation winemaker.”

Tall, laid-back and softly-spoken, Paschina’s lilting Italian accent is still prominent though he’s called Virginia home since 1990 and now seems like a man entirely at peace with the life he’s made across the Atlantic.

As he pulls the Jeep up at the summit of Goodlaw Hill, an extraordinary scene unfolds and I can see why he feels so content here.

Gently tilting vineyards criss-cross each other like entwined rainbows, as the hazy outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains rise above puffy forests on the horizon.

“Over there are the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the other side is the Shenandoah Valley”, says Paschina, pointing his arm west. “They will become more visible in the evening when the sun isn’t as strong. You’ll see more shapes.”

But the region’s cinematic scenery is one of several reasons why thousands visit Barboursville every year. The wine Paschina produces here is sublime, and the accommodation and dining options are as good as anything you might find in towns or cities nearby.

In fact, there’s a good chance that top restaurants from Washington down to Richmond stock Octagon in their wine caves, with its rich blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes making it Paschina’s flagship red.

Honey-coloured Monarch butterflies swoop and dive among bunches of Cabernet Franc as Paschina drives me to a lunchtime appointment at Palladio, Barboursville’s rustic Italian restaurant.

Sitting beneath rows of oak beams, I’m poured an opaque maroon glass of Octagon as I learn more about the winery’s recent history.

The wine-producing estate was founded in 1976 by Gianni Zonin, an Italian winemaker from the Veneto region, but when Paschina arrived as a consultant in 1990 he had an immediate impact.

“The biggest change was that I recommended they remove all the vines planted from 1976 to 1990, which was about 42 acres,” he explains.

In a previous role in the Napa Valley, Paschina had seen the impact of importing higher quality plants from wine nurseries in France and suggested doing the same here.

“So by the late 90s we were producing some fantastic wines, and I remember telling our founder that we should open a great restaurant where people could come and really experience food and wine to the fullest.”

25 years later and that’s exactly what’s happening as I’m served a wonderfully delicate spinach ravioli in an unctuous cherry tomato, anchovy and zucchini blossom sauce. As I eat, I ponder how incredibly satisfying it must be for Luca to see his vision brought to life in such splendid fashion.

Residents of the inn, and indeed visitors to Barboursville, should check out the daily wine tastings that take place in the Discovery Tasting Room and the elegant Library 1821.

With its neoclassical columns and wavy chandeliers, Library 1821 is a sumptuous spot to sample Paschina’s wines, especially when paired with cheese, charcuterie and a revolving trattoria-style menu by Chef Michael Clough.

But it’s the accommodation that’s most striking. Back indoors at The 1804 Inn, I find something oddly charming about my suite’s creaking floorboards and there seems to be a never-ending number of things to observe.

There are golden gilded mirrors, noble portraits, mahogany desks, huge patterned rugs, and a smorgasbord of coffee table books to leaf through.

Out on my deck that evening, local hummingbirds flit in blurry zig-zags below and I enter a brief Faulkner-esque dreamworld, imagining spending a summer here writing meandering tales of the South, inspired by Barboursville’s pristine landscape, the staccato call of nearby cicadas and the soupy humidity. I snap out of it quickly, but it remains a strangely pleasant memory to return to now and then.

Staying at a winery is an ecstatically unhurried experience. You almost absorb it. It’s slow-paced and casually convivial, but without too much pressure to mingle.

Barboursville is one of more than 300 Virginia wineries sitting beneath the watchful gaze of the Blue Ridge Mountains, though I imagine few are as ethereal as this.

Need to know

Getting there:

Dulles International Airport is served by daily flights from around the world, including direct flights from London Heathrow and Gatwick.

Barboursville Vineyards is approximately 144 km (1 hour 45 minutes drive) from Dulles International Airport and around 28 km (30 minute drive) from Charlottesville.

Best time to go:

The best time to visit Virginia’s wineries is during the fall, from late September to early November. This period offers a picturesque landscape with vibrant autumn colours as well as typically mild weather, making outdoor activities such as vineyard tours and tastings particularly enjoyable.

Harvest season will also be in full swing, providing visitors with the opportunity to witness the grape-picking process and participate in special events like grape stomping.

Where to stay:

The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Winery offers a charming and historic retreat, providing guests with a unique blend of luxury and old-world elegance. Situated within the scenic beauty of Barboursville’s winery estate, each room exudes character, featuring elements like golden gilded mirrors, noble portraits, and antique furnishings, creating an ambience that resonates with the estate’s rich heritage.

There are also cottages on the estate as well.

Must-pack items:

Begin with comfortable footwear for vineyard strolls, ensuring you can explore the scenic landscapes with ease. A sun hat and sunglasses will shield you from the elements during outdoor tastings. Don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day. Considering the picturesque settings, a camera or smartphone for capturing stunning views and memorable moments is a must. Additionally, pack a light jacket or shawl for potential temperature variations, especially during evening tastings.

How to do it:

The best way to explore the wineries of Virginia is by car. But make sure you keep in mind that drinking and driving in the US is illegal.

That’s another great reason to stay at the accommodation in Barboursville Vineyards. Or there are companies that provide winery tours, so you can drink at several wineries and leave the driving to someone else. See virginia.org for details.

Anything else:

The Discovery Tasting Room is open Monday – Saturday from 10 am – 5 pm and 11 am – 5 pm on Sundays.

The Library 1821 is open Saturday – Thursday from 11 am – 5 pm and 12 pm – 7 pm on Fridays.

Palladio Restaurant is open Wednesday – Sunday 12 pm – 2 pm for lunch and Friday and Saturday 6.30 pm – 9 pm for dinner.

Winery tours take place Saturday and Sunday from 12 pm – 4 pm.

Check up-to-date opening hours.

More information

This article was brought to you in partnership with Virginia Tourism Corporation.

For more information and suggested itineraries, go to www.virginia.org


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