Eastern Shore Wineries

Time for a quick posting about Virginia wineries. Last week, we drove home from North Carolina via the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The Eastern Shore is an interesting place. It isn’t physically connected to the rest of the state at all and is accessible only by driving through Maryland or by crossing the 20-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel from Norfolk.  (If you really hate bridges, a CBBT employee can drive you across for a fee.)

It’s a wonderful place for nature-lovers, with the longest stretch of protected coastline anywhere on the Atlantic. There are many ways to explore the area, including hiking, biking, and kayaking. And it’s a great place to see birds, including eagles and other species. And, of course, there are the famous Chincoteague wild ponies, made famous by the book Misty of Chincoteague.  The region’s website links to a lot of places to stay and things to do and see.

There are three wineries on the Eastern Shore: Chatham, Holly Grove, and Bloxom. And we visited them all.

Chatham was our first stop. It’s located on the grounds of a historic home named after the Earl of Chatham (also known as William Pitt the Elder, former prime minister of Britain) that has been a working farm for 400 years. The manor house was built in 1818 and is very lovely.

Chatham Manor

The tasting room is off in a separate building to the left of the manor house and is housed in the production facility. Their wines are sold under the Church Creek label because the Chatham Hill Winery in North Carolina was established first and claimed the rights to the name.  So owner Jon Wehner opted to name his wines for the creek that runs behind their property.

Outside of the tasting room

We tried two whites (a stainless Chardonnay and an oaked Chardonnay), a rosé (100% Merlot), three reds (Merlot, Cab Franc, and a Cab Sauvignon), and a late harvest dessert red. My favorites were the rosé, which had a nice, light cranberry nose and taste that would go well with the turkey at Thanksgiving. And I really liked the late-harvest red, which had a nice raisin-y taste that reminded us a bit of Amarone wine. Chatham suggests serving it with figs, blue cheese, or chocolate desserts. (I’m planning to serve it with blue cheese and a little honey, a combination we just tried at Kitty Hawk’s Trio wine and cheese shop.)

Afterwards we went to Holly Grove, just a few miles away. Owner/winemaker Jonathan Bess was on hand to talk about his wines and his philosophy and approach to winemaking. Jonathan learned his craft under Linden Vineyards‘ Jim Law, who has been a great mentor to a number of Virginia winemakers.

Holly Grove Vineyards

We tried a reserve Chardonnay (unusual in that it had spent three years in barrel on the lees), the Coastal Trio blend (Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Manseng), Sunset Rosé (Merlot), Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Genesis, a Bordeaux-style blend. We very much liked the Chardonnay, which was unlike any we’d tried before, as well as the Petit Verdot and Genesis, both pretty dense wines that we plan to keep and serve sometime in the winter.

Both Chatham and Holly Grove are on coves that open onto the Chesapeake Bay. Chatham has partnered with Southeastern Expeditions to sponsor a Paddle Your Glass Off kayak-wine tour. And Holly Grove offers kayak rentals by the hour; just call or e-mail the winery to reserve.

Last but not least, we stopped by Bloxom Vineyards on the northern edge of the Eastern Shore. (I was driving, so didn’t taste the wines here.) Bloxom is run by Robert and Francesca Giardina, both natives of Morocco and of Spanish-Italian and Italian origin, respectively. They moved to the Eastern Shore after spending time in the New York City area, where Robert was in construction and Francesca was a pastry chef.

Bloxom Vineyards’ tasting room

Robert designed and built the tasting room and adjacent patio, which is covered and has several tables and a pizza oven that Francesca uses on Saturdays to bake homemade pizza.

Bloxom Vineyards’ patio

They had a Chardonnay, a rosé (called Some Like It Blush), a Merlot, a Cab Franc, and a red called Red Kiss. Robert was our server and was very informative and entertaining — we really enjoyed talking with him.

So, if you’re in the mood for an experience that combines the outdoors, nature, and wine, please check out our Eastern Shore.  It’s superb in the fall, when the weather is just right for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. And the wineries are worth a visit. Cheers!

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