BOTETOURT, Va. — This county in the Blue Ridge Mountains is home to several wineries and a new brewery. Visiting all or some of them is a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Botetourt County once covered a large part of the south-central United States. Later it was divided into smaller counties in Virginia and some became part of other states. What's left of the original Botetourt County has beautiful, scenic drives through mountains and meadows, all good land to grow grapes for wine.
While it seems like every state has its own wine industry now, Virginia has been working at it for centuries. George Washington tried to grow wine grapes in the 1700s but the grapes he brought over from Europe were destroyed by insects. Now, American grapes grow well in Virginia's climate and are considered some of the best anywhere.
You have to be looking for Blue Ridge Vineyards to find them. Past the intersection of Shiloh and Narrow Passage Roads and up a dirt road lies a big white house and part of a big barn, all on Shiloh Drive in Eagle Rock.
The tasting room is a small room on the side of a barn. It's full of knickknacks, T-shirts and wine but the true selling point is the view when you leave the room. Two sides of the barn are open to the mountains and the rolling pastures, and the scenery is breathtaking.
Blue Ridge makes its wine as naturally as possible, without using pesticides or chemicals on its grapes. The winery bottles its wine using gravity and has some nice varieties. However, even if you don't drink alcohol, it's worth a trip simply to see the views, visit with the proprietors and enjoy the music series scheduled throughout the year.
The trip to the next winery takes one through some truly beautiful country, complete with herds of deer ambling across tiny winding roads and gently flowing streams. Virginia Mountain Vineyards was wrapping up an event that offered red wines and custom-made chocolates the afternoon our group arrived.
This vineyard opened in 1998 and for several years sold its grapes to other local wineries. The first bottles were produced in 2007 and today, 13 different varieties are available. We were given a sample of a new strawberry dessert wine which tasted just like biting into a ripe berry.
Our tour didn't have time to visit Fincastle Vineyard, the first family-owned and -operated farm winery in the area. There's a bed-and-breakfast in an old farmhouse next to the winery. Visitors can stroll through the vineyards, tour the mountainside winery and visit the tasting room.
The brewery is in the final stages. The owners are getting the proper permits and planning to have entertainment and special events when they start their micro brewery.
There is a peace in the area, making you wish you could spend a few weeks there to explore and relax.