By Mary Gallagher
A few weeks ago for four days, I made my first in-depth visit to Virginia’s historic Shenandoah Valley but barely scratching the surface of all there is to do and see. In fact we returned for two more days to catch a few missed features and still have more to uncover.
Trying to hit all the 92 Virginia Wineries might be a stretch but we did manage to visit with James C. Bogaty, founder, owner/operator of the beautiful Veramar Vineyard. He is President of the Shenandoah Valley Wine Grower Association, and active in many other organizations promoting Virginia wine, food and tourism. We had a fine time at the beautiful Veramar with a short walking tour and tasting their award winning wines. They do many special events throughout the year.
October is Virginia’s Wine Month and a great time to experience Virginia’s normally spectacular fall foliage – we’re not sure of this year due to the months of drought and now days of heavy rain. There are a multitude of fall and apple festivals in the region as well as throughout the state.
In spite of the 2005 rain shortfall many growers are optimistic about this year’s crop. It’s said a dry fall is “great grape weather”. Meanwhile the apples, apple cider donuts and other related products we tested at the fourth and fifth generation family owned and operated Marker-Miller Orchards and Farm Market in Winchester were all fresh picked, baked or prepared. Their website www.markermillerorchards.com lists pick your own dates and what’s available as well as special events. The apples I purchased stayed sweet and crisp and I still have a few left along with the pound on my hips from eating a turnover and a few donuts.
Following Route 66 west to South Interstate 81 and returning via Route 11, the old highway, I was astonished at the large number of cattle farms along with the burgeoning wine industry. Most of the 92 vineyards are open to the public for tours and tastings especially during October for “Virginia wine month” and many like Veramar keep an active calendar of public events all year long.
If you come out of Northern Virginia or Washington, DC start on the Shenandoah Wine Country (SWX) Trail at Veramar Vineyard meandering to Deer Meadows, North Mountain and Shenandoah Vineyards most within a half hour of each other along interstate 81. En route, you’ll pass by thoroughbred horse farms, dairies, orchards, woodlands, Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and along the Shenandoah River through Clarke, Warren, Fredrick and Shenandoah counties.
In addition, there are Civil War Battlefields and related sites in Berryville, Winchester, Cedar Creek, Cool Springs, and New Market – almost on every “block” as you traverse the valley. The new roadside Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District signs are quite visible and helpful in keeping one on course.
Be sure and stop at the American Celebration on Parade next to the fabled Shenandoah Caverns. One of my favorite attractions anywhere, there is an ever changing variety of parade floats from the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Presidential Inaugurations and other national parades on display. Here on my third visit, it still amazed and entertained me. They are also available for special events and discount coupons can be printed from the website. New family attractions are under construction.
As a person who does not ever go underground, I appreciate the fact that Shenandoah and Luray have other options available at their cave sites.
At the Luray Caverns we checked out the surprisingly complete Car and Carriage Museum with over 140 items including cars, carriages, coaches and costumes dating to 1725. A prize in the collection of authentically restored vehicles is the 1892 Benz, one of the oldest cars in the country still in operating condition. Other highlights include a Conestoga wagon, a 1908 Baker Electric, a 1913 Stanley Steamer – and Rudolph Valentino’s 1925 Rolls Royce. Like many attractions in the Valley the entrance fee covers several attractions at the site. www.luraycaverns.com
Coming upon Harrisonburg after our first day of countryside immersion was like finding Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. Well that may be a bit of a stretch but the James Madison University in Harrisonburg has a huge impact on the vitality of this town. It seemed like the campus was a second small city in itself. www.hrcvb.org
While in Harrisonburg, I couldn’t wait to get to the Oasis Gallery, featuring Shenandoah Valley Artists. Bring your plastic! Many reasonably priced high quality items from craftspeople displaying their artistic skill with products in this clean, light, contemporary space. Dragged out kicking and screaming by my friend before I could buy up the whole store, this is the right stop for Christmas gifts for yourself and others. www.shencouncilarts.org. (site under construction)
On Main Street, in addition to the Oasis Gallery we stopped at the tourism office recently relocated to a “renewed” historical property where the helpful staff and mountains of literature will keep you occupied for months of planning. Someone’s great thinking created Mrs. Hardesty’s Tea Room in the visitor’s center with a nice terrace for warm weather breaks on the outside. If you’ve been in the car for a few hours this makes tea and information one stop. As an espresso addict, it’s tough for me unless they put 6 tea bags in the cup for strength. I did stop at an espresso shop on Main Street but don’t bother if you’re a true connoisseur. www.downtownharrisonburg.org
The area abounds with unique and spectacular Inns, and Bed and Breakfast accommodations.
In Harrisonburg we stayed at the enchanting 1888 Joshua Wilton House where the demand for tables fills their many fine dining areas with regular patrons and visitors from a wide area. The five guest rooms are beautiful, well planned with just the right amenities for guests. Immaculate, well managed, on Main Street and a very short walking distance to the historic downtown it was charming without buckets of froufrou, unlike the minimalist’s nightmare in so many historic properties.
Our dinner by Chef Mark Newsome presented the table of five with one delightful course after another featuring many locally grown products. My grilled pork tenderloin with mushroom risotto was perfectly prepared and generous portions. The service was first rate, the dining room quite enchanting and the gentle lighting made us all look young and wonderful.
The Joshua Wilton’s restaurant has five dining areas displaying high quality local art work from the Shenandoah Valley Watercolor society and other area artists. Clenching my credit card, while reminding myself that at home no wall space was left, I raced for the security of my most comfortable room. www.joshuawilton.com
In my research for the second visit, several articles and helpful local planners recommended a visit to Klein’s Ice Cream shop, a local institution since the 40’s, at the end of Main Street in Harrisonburg. We had also stopped at Custards Last Stand about ½ mile from the American Celebration on Parade. None of them taste like real ice cream to me and as a one time Minnesotan it’s just Dairy Queen. Not being a Harrisonburg traditionalist, I would have to vote Custards Last Stand the taste, texture and low price winner.
Here is one basic plan for you to follow during October or anytime of the year in visiting the SWX – Shenandoah Valley Wine trail and all the interesting villages and historic sites around the vineyards. Most are within thirty minutes of each other but all the other attractions will slow your progress.
It also works well to divide the area into the Northern section near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Winchester and entrance to the Shenandoah National Park. The Central region is between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Range including Luray, Staunton and Waynesboro. The Southern section is as rich in civil war history as the rest and takes you to historic Lexington, Roanoke and Salem. They tell me there is lots of great golfing here.
Take seasonal trips to explore it all. The Shenandoah Travel Association staff is anxious to help you plan your visit. www.visitshenandoah.org Tel. 540 740 3132.
The Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail
* Stop 1: Veramar Vineyard. Veramar Vineyard is situated on a private, 100-acre estate in the heart of Virginia Hunt County at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Shenandoah River. A small, family-run winery dedicated to producing naturally dry, full-bodied wines. 540-955-5510 www.veramar.com
* Stop 2: Deer Meadow. Deer Meadow, one of the smallest of Virginia’s farm wineries, Deer Meadowhas been handcrafting quality wines since 1987.
* Stop 3: North Mountain Vineyards. The 1864 Civil War action at Toms Brook (an adorable town) swept across the winery’s fields, and every April a living history encampment is set up to reenact the battle. The winery released its first vintage in 1986.
* Stop 4: Shenandoah Vineyards. Shenandoah Vineyards the state’s fourth oldest winery located between Winchester and Harrisonburg (large more urban areas) but closer to Edinburg and Woodstock, historic towns with Victorian and brick homes to die for.
Check with the Shenandoah Valley Wine Growers Association regarding events and open and close times. 540-955-5510 or www.veramar.com
We spent one night having dinner and staying at the very unusual Strasburg Inn in Strasburg, VA. This property not only had antiques everywhere including your room but they were for sale! The owners have also purchased other non-historic single family homes on the block and our rooms were in one of these. Large and spacious but lacking the character of the main Inn. Phone: 540-465-9191 or Reservations: 800-348-8327.
Taking a totally different slant we also stayed at the Quality Inn in historic New Market. This two story 100 room hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and exit doors for each unit to the parking lot or the interior main hall. In some ways this was a plus especially in inclement weather. You could run a few feet to your car or take the interior hallway to the on-premises Johnny Appleseed Restaurant. The only issue with two exit doors was double the hall or parking lot noise. I’ve never seen a hotel that had tight fitting sound sealing doors yet.
Adjacent to I-81, it’s a very convenient location and the rooms are clean and pleasant. The in-room coffee maker was handy but I’d advise bringing your own flavorful coffee and filters.
The full-service Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, I probably tested more than most by having lunch, dinner and breakfast over a few weeks time. The best of any meal was a grilled Ruben sandwich during a quick lunch. The cost of several wines by the glass was below $4 and the service was very “small town” nice. It’s a better place to have lunch or breakfast as the dining room leaves a bit to be desired in its lighting and other ambience for dinner. The hotel staff was also friendly and accommodating. www.qualityinn-shenandoahvalley.com
There are at least ten museums to visit in a fairly small area and that is not counting historical sites, battlefields and homes. My favorite was the newest, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and we planned to visit again on the return trip but ran out of time and daylight.
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley campus takes its name from an impressive new 50,000 square foot structure designed by Michael Graves &Associates.
There are four major gallery spaces, including the Shenandoah Valley Gallery, with objects, multi-media presentations, and dioramas on Valley history. The Julian Wood Glass Jr. Gallery presents fine art and antiques, including paintings by such names as John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, and James Whistler. More than fifty artists are represented in this collection.
Many people are fond of miniatures and the R. Lee Taylor Miniatures Gallery has exactly furnished miniature rooms and houses. The work of more than seventy miniatures artisans is presented in this collection.
The Changing Exhibitions Gallery presents a new exhibition every six months, now showing A Tale of Two Cultures: How the German Scheitholt Became the American Dulcimer. Using illustrations, objects, and sound, this exhibition details how the dulcimer, a popular American instrument, originated from an ancient folk instrument that was brought to the Shenandoah Valley in the 1700s.
I’d like to say I see trillions of museums each year but that might be a slight exaggeration, it’s probably a hundred or so. On my own I would not have gone in here initially, now I’ll tell you not to miss it. Even the gift shop shows great intelligence with a selection of locally produced items as well as the all too prevalent Chinese or Taiwan imports. The whole building and its displays are manageable. I can look at the items that interest me and companions can follow their inclinations. We all end up at the door at the same time.
You could easily spend the better part of a day here and plan about 45 minutes to tour the historic house, at least an hour to explore the six acres of gardens on your own perhaps longer if you’re really into gardens and it’s a blooming time of year. Then spend another hour or so in the museum galleries. Lunch and tea comments are below
The Glen Burnie Historic House traces its significant to surveyor James Wood, who settled on this land in the early 1700s and then donated portions of his homestead to establish the city of Winchester in 1744. The house’s ownership passed through generations of Wood and then Glass families until Julian Wood Glass Jr. acquired it in 1955.
Aided by R. Lee Taylor, Glass transformed the house into a country retreat, and created the Glen Burnie Gardens. Prior to his death in 1992, Glass created the Glass-Glen Burnie Foundation and it opened the site as a museum.
The six acres of gardens surrounding the Glen Burnie Historic House were started in 1956 and today the museum maintains this living collection in a series of garden rooms sympathetic to the creators’ vision. The gardens also contain significant Rose Gardens that are comprised of nearly four hundred fifty individual plants. The Perennial Garden presents flowers planted in mirroring patterns, with varieties of dahlias providing fall interest.
We had lunch in the casual but contemporary Museum Tea Room with large windows onto the countryside views. This could have been a great opportunity for the museum to clip the customers with a McDonalds franchise or badly reheated airline food from Aramark. Or like the Smithsonian gouging prices for a slice of bread on up. What a pleasant surprise awaits you and I would recommend planning your visit around lunch here. Picnic tables are also available for those bringing their lunch or wanted to eat out of doors. The menu offerings change daily and on my visit Black Bean soup was filling and wonderful. Many of us had half sandwiches – quite huge and choices included roasted vegetable, chicken salad, pastrami and provolone or wraps all served with sides of orzo salad (most chosen and loved), Caesar or garden salad and fresh fruit. Being a tea room their tea selection was wide and with several unusual varieties. Our waitress was quite knowledgeable and very accommodating to the group. Near the end of our lunch about thirty of the “Red Hats” descended like colorful chirping birds.
This like many historical properties and museums would make a wonderful site for your wedding and reception or other special event. The Glen Burnie Gardens provide a number of areas for a beautiful natural setting. The MSV Reception Hall accommodates 80-100 guests for a seated dinner or add special occasion exterior tents. (www.Shenandoahmuseum.org
Back on the road, we swung into the Route 11 Potato Chip factory actually located where else? On historic Route 11 in a converted old feed store. President Sara Cohen started in the late 1980’s with the goal of making an outstanding potato chip, America’s favorite snack. Today with a dozen or more flavors the secret of Route 11 Potato Chips success is still small batches made with select potatoes, fried in peanut and/or high monounsaturated sunflower oils with salt or seasonings. To be honest potato chips have been a once a year occasion for me but after sampling everything Route 11 produces that sounded really strange like Dill Pickle or Mama Zuma’s Green Chile and loving them, I’m hooked!
I’ve taken factory tours of places like Heinekens in Germany which covered acres indoors or Reynolds tobacco – very high tech but the factory tour at Route 11 means driving up to the front door, walking into a small sales floor and looking through a glass window at live people frying potato chips then sprinkling seasoning on them – no msg or trans fats. Samples can be brought right out to you still warm. This is not suitable for the tour bus circuit and we loved it! Route 11 chips are available in nearly all fifty states. The website answers all questions www.rt11.com
In downtown Winchester we reveled in creative food and fine Virginia wines at One Block West where chef owner Ed Matthews treated us to his glorious creations. Who is Matthews? A computer “geek” who never did anything but eat in restaurants until he decided to buy one. Now that was a courageous move.
Chef Matthews believes strongly, like many chefs’ today, in using local products including meat, fish, fruit, produce, cheese and wines preferably organic whenever possible. I spent a number of years trying to adhere to a macrobiotic diet and one of the basic tenets of this healing lifestyle was eating food products only from nearby your home. I’m convinced it’s better for you.
One Block West is in a historic building at 25 South Indian Alley and the rear entrance off a patio sets a great mood for the rest of the evening. Their wine bar and 80 offerings by the glass, 40 varieties of Virginia wines alone, tasting menus, cooking classes, Chef for a Day program and many other events, like the food, keeps us coming back time and again.
Our appetizer was a generous size slightly caramelized scallop with a prosciutto wrap on baby arugula that disappeared from the plate instantly. Then out came an excellent roasted halibut with shitake ginger duxelles followed by a sensational picadillo dulce of duck on baked polenta. The picadillo used almonds, raisins, garlic, shallots and other flavoring. This was wonderful.
Our signature appetizer: Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops on Baby Arugula with Homemade Red Raspberry Syrup
This is not a dish that I would encourage you to make at home. As you saw, it is very, very messy and nearly impossible to do without excellent ventilation such as I have in my home kitchen. Then there is the battle (discussed elsewhere) of finding dry sea scallops. We use U-10 scallops, under 10 to a pound.
Lay several slices of prosciutto on your cutting board and slice them in half lengthwise. Remove the harder, crescent-shaped piece from the side of the scallop, if present. Lay the scallop on its side on the prosciutto and roll. With practice, this becomes easier.
Heat a sauté pan (not a nonstick pan) over very high heat and add a high smoke point oil, such as grapeseed. Place the scallops in the pan and leave them there for 2-3 minutes until a beautiful crust forms. Flip carefully and crust the other side. Cook until they are mostly done, about 5-6 minutes total.
You’re probably thinking next is dessert but onward to prosciutto wrapped pork mignon with grilled peaches, stir-fried haricots verts with Chinese sausage and browned onions.
Still not leaving a crumb but starting to slip below the table not only from food consumption but we just hit our fifth type of wine! Then rolling into the final stretch with poached peaches, peach vanilla sabayon, dulce de leche and an amaretti cookie. Carry me to the hotel was the cry! Then coffee and chocolate truffles but I couldn’t face another bite.
This is a sample of the Chef’s tasting menu at One Block West for $65 per person with wines and you just saved enough off of DC prices to pay for your room in some historic B &B and had a great time besides without any airport hassle. www.obwrestaurant.com
You’ll find plenty to do in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and we still have more to report.