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Country roads lead to great getaways in western Virginia
By Patrick Evans-Hylton
Could John Denver have been geographically challenged, I wondered?
We were traveling south on Interstate 81, looking for the exit around Christiansburg for Route 8 to take us to the wineries in and around this part of the state. Serendipitously, as we made our way down the winding road and looked at the hazy peaks again, one of his songs came on the easy listening station on our satellite radio …
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Although we weren’t far from West Virginia, we were, in fact, in western Virginia and enjoying the soaring blue-tinted mountain vistas. Our country road lead us to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and to our first few stops on our long weekend away.
This is the land of postcards; one minute you are on a tiny road hugging a rocky cliff and looking down – both scared and fascinated at the same time – into a crevice hundreds of feet below. The next minute, the road tucks into the mountainside, and a canopy of tall trees filters sunlight through their grass-green leaves. A turn reveals a charming cabin with folk working in their garden. Another turn takes you through a quaint hamlet with country stores and antique shops. The beauty of this part of the state cannot be understated.
We arrived at Chateau Morrisette and walked across the gravel path to the impressive, stone-and-wood castle-like structure that is the tasting room.
After a greeting from the winery’s Nora Kuper, we made our way to the restaurant and enjoyed a perfect lunch of trout paired with a Viognier and talked about how William, Nancy and David Morrisette planted their first vines in 1978 and their hobby of winemaking grew into the operation it is today, which has surpassed 60,000 cases per year.
A walk through the production area is impressive; towering stainless steel tanks, with a capacity of around 130,000 gallons, and stacks of French and American oak barrels – adding an additional 50,000-gallon capacity – dominate the room. So does the crisp, cool air and the faint hint of grape juice magically transforming into wine.
Down the parkway we stopped in Villa Appalaccia, a decidedly Italian-themed winery. A Tuscan style building houses the tasting room, which is charming with large terra cotta tile accents, white plaster walls and hand-hewn wooden beams stretching across the ceiling. Open archways on the expansive porch, accessed by rustic flagstone steps, offer beautiful views and a quiet place to sit and relax with a good bottle of wine.
It was getting late, and we still needed to check-in at the bed and breakfast. Streaks of the sun filtered through breaks in the mountains. The wine warmed my heart and soul.
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Built in 1901, Mountain Rose Inn is a meticulously resorted Victorian farmhouse along the banks of Rock Castle Creek. Tucked into the eastern side of the Blue Ridge near the community of Woolwine, the two-story structure sits in a manicured meadow of boxwood and seasonal plantings, wrapped around by tall trees.
Secluded and romantic, we explored the 100-acre property by walking along the creek and stepping over smooth, round stones to get to the other side. A snack of gourmet goods and a bottle of wine were enjoyed as the quiet, still air enveloped us.
A small hike to burn off the calories was rewarded with time sitting in rocking chairs on the large porch, watching Cat stalk flying insects in the yard ahead of us, and scores of humming birds take supper at the numerous feeders in front.
When night fell, we retreated to the study to talk with other guests and our gracious hosts, innkeepers Mike and Dora Jean Barwick. Simple pleasures – conversation, working on a crossword puzzle, and relaxing in oversized leather chairs with a book, were enjoyed until sleep called us to our well-appointed room and cozy queen-sized bed.
The next day we arose with the aroma of Dora Jean’s cooking and planned brief stops at Foggy Ridge Cider and Blacksnake Meadery before heading to our next destination. Along the way we paid visit to a couple of the area’s charming covered bridges, shopped for some country music, and ate a homestyle meal in downtown Floyd.
Fortified with some good wine from our tasting tour over the past few days, we made our way through Floyd, past Blacksburg, and up the side of Salt Pond Mountain to read Mountain Lake and it’s namesake hotel.
A couple of thousand feet up, we found it – a beautiful grand hotel of native stone looking like something out of a movie. In fact, it is – Dirty Dancing was filmed here. Several cabins and cottages also dot the property.
In the summer of 1975, I was forced against my will to attend Boy Scout camp in north Georgia. There were many aspects of this exile I detested – archery, communal showers, “survivalist” training which meant we ate bark from trees, among a handful of others.
I never admitted to my parents that there were many things I did enjoy, like the crisp, sweet mountain air. Or the abundance of songbirds and their beautiful calls. I also enjoyed the serenity of the lake and the tall, stoic trees that wrapped around it. I cherished looking up at the thousands of stars at night, and the free time I was given to sit and read a book and just be.
The absolutely perfect thing about Mountain Lake Hotel is that all those good things are captured, and built upon. There are plenty of activities and niceties, including spa treatments, tennis courts, bike rentals and others. But, because you don’t have someone barking orders at you to get to the mess hall or drop and give them 20, you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.
We meandered over to the gift shop and found some Virginia gourmet food products and, after digging into our cache of vino which we had previously purchased from nearby wineries, we made our way down from the hotel and sat in the gazebo.
Yes, that gazebo – the same one from Dirty Dancing where Johnny holds Baby and slow dances under a canopy of soft lights gently illuminating the wooden structure amid the backdrop of the dark night. The voices of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray echoed ghostlike, as did soft playing music. OK, maybe I watch too many movies.
Anyway, with the endless blue sky and thousands of trees as our witness, we opened a bottle – and later another – of excellent Virginia wine and munched on peanuts and fudge and talked about everything. When everything had been discussed, we just sat there, the milky twilight descending from on high, the sounds of crickets replacing the songbirds, and the call of dinner reaching out from the hotel up on the hill.
I hear her voice, in the mornin’ hours she calls me
As quickly as our trip began, it ended. We woke one morning at Mountain Lake and it wasn’t a radio that reminded me of home, but a phone call from my mother-in-law asking when we wanted to stop by and pick up our chihuahua, Tamale, whom she had been watching on our excursion.The drive down the mountain seemed longer than the drive up. Soon, the mountains were just tiny blue bumps in the rearview mirror as the land flattened out. Salt air filled my senses, and I was back home in Virginia Beach with a few bottles of wine that I didn’t have time to get into, my dog, and some wonderful memories.
For the rest of this article, see the Fall issue of Virginia Wine Lovers Magazine, currently available on newstands.