Autumn in Charlottesville

A two hours’ drive from the Washington area, Charlottesville, Va., is a city that was founded 250 years ago along a trade route that led from the Great Appalachian Valley to Richmond. Today, it still stands as a middle ground between natural bounty and urban vivacity, making it the ideal location to indulge in the apple-spiced luxury of the autumn and winter months.
Charlottesville is a city that stands out because it indulges visitors in the surrounding area, reminding them of the beauty and richness of Virginia’s history, from the Jeffersonian erudition to the rugged, rolling hillsides and farmland. And now is the perfect time of year to settle in for a cozy Charlottesville weekend, sitting fireside at a rural inn, dining at one of their classic or contemporary restaurants, or warming up from a wintry vineyard tour in a rustic tasting room.

As we stand on the precipice of winter, vineyards and cideries may seem low on the list of worthy discussion topics. Now, of course, is the time where vines go dormant and production comes to a standstill until the spring. But while everyone else with the winter wonderland bug is waiting in line at the ski slopes, Charlottesville’s many wineries, cideries and breweries offer intimate afternoon getaways off the beaten path. In the seventh edition of “The World Atlas of Wine” that was recently published, authors Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson even devoted an entire section to Virginia wines, heavily focused on the Monticello and Charlottesville region.

Early Mountain Vineyards is a great place to begin a Charlottesville wine tour. It is not only producing impressive wines but maintaining their historic property with a commitment to biodiversity and sustainable farming. In its lovely tasting room, ranked second place out of 220 wineries by “Virginia Wine Lover” online, visitors can warm by the fire and enjoy the views after lunch with fare from the winery’s “eat local” marketplace, featuring cheeses, charcuterie and products from local area purveyors. It also keeps a selection of the best Virginia wines from other vineyards in house along with rotating featured selections.

Meanwhile, if you crave something slightly sweeter than wine, Virginia Cider Week (Nov. 15 to 24) is an upcoming event that should not be missed. In colonial America, fermented cider was the drink of choice. John Adams attributed his health and long life to a tankard of cider before breakfast, and Thomas Jefferson’s estate-grown cider, made with Hewe’s Crabapples, was his “table drink.” Throughout the 19th century, growing apples and crafting cider from cider apples was an integral part of every community, and Virginia cidermakers are working hard to revive this American tradition. It is the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry, with more than 60-percent category growth in 2012. And nowhere is the cider revival more evident than in Virginia wine country.

Throughout the week of events throughout Virginia, there are cheese and cider workshops, opportunities to learn about what pairs well with what, and cider flights at local vineyards. And the week culminates in Charlottesville on Saturday, Nov. 23, with the second annual CiderFest at Castle Hill Cider. The all-day event includes cider tastings from a wealth of Virginia cidermakers, food from lauded local chefs, and music from Love Canon, one of Charlottesville’s most popular bands.

As hinted at by the wineries, local and regional produce plays a large part in Charlottesville’s culinary scene. A handful of restaurants are spearheading this movement, delivering innovative but comforting American fare, inspired with international flavors and rooted in the surrounding farmland.

Judging by its name alone, you can probably guess where The Local cultivates its culinary inspiration and resources. Since it opened in March 2008, The Local has provided a venue to showcase the abundant supply of small farmers, artisan cheese makers, breweries, distilleries and award wining vineyards in the Charlottesville area. They even support local craftsman and artisans, and much of what you see in the restaurant is fabricated locally. Try the roast Squash stuffed with Caromont goat cheese, quinoa, dried cherries and almonds over braised greens with a fresh tomato sauce, or their crispy duck breast with port wine and blackberry glaze, with a parsnip and cauliflower puree.

Mas is another champion of organic, artisanal food and wine, conceived by chef Tomas Rahal as an opportunity to emphasize simple, well-handled ingredients served in a casual neighborhood setting. Featuring a contemporary tapas-style menu, their menu options this season include tender leeks slow-roasted in duck fat and saffron over housemade brioche, as well as smoked beef tongue sliced thinly, grilled on the plancha, heaped on hearth-baked bread with spicy mustard, slaw and pickles. They also have an outstanding selection of Spanish wines for unforgettable pairings.

There is a gentle, serene beauty about the Virginia countryside that is perfectly tailored for those looking for an intimate but lively experience. Charlottesville is a quiet pinnacle of romance, culinary indulgence and relaxation, and now is the perfect time of year to fall into its warm and generous arms

Nov. 15 to 24
Cider Week features multiple complimentary tastings and events featuring local Virginia ciders. For a complete schedule, visit

Nov. 17
Hill & Holler Cider Dinner
Enjoy regional dishes prepared by top local chef Amalia Scatena from Pippin Hill Vineyard. Dishes will be served dim sum style and served with Virginia cider. Live music will also be featured. Tickets at $65 and can be reserved by emailing 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Meriwether Vineyards, 1040 Owensville Road, Charlottesville, Va.

Nov. 19
Cider Y’all
Chef Jason Alley will cook Southern small plates paired with Foggy Ridge Cider at Pasture restaurant in Charlottesville. No entry cost. The Shops at Stonefield; 434-973-2270

Nov. 20
Home Cidermaking Workshop
Learn cidermaking basics from Tim Edmond of Potter’s Craft Cider and Chuck Shelton of Albemarle Ciderworks. Free workshop. 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fifth Season Gardening, 900 Preston Ave., Charlottesville, Va. 434-293-2332

Nov. 23
CiderFest with Love Cannon
Music from Love Cannon wraps up the week with the all-day event at Castle Hill Cider. Tastings and food from area chefs will also be featured. Tickets $20; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 6065 Turkey Sag Road, Keswick, Va. 434-296-0047

It’s apple season at Carter’s where you can spend a family-filled day “Picking Your Own,” buying apples from the Apple Barn or indulging at Aunt Sarah’s Bakery featuring home-made apple cider donuts, fresh-baked apple pies, apple caramel cookies and hand-dipped ice cream. The orchard also offers pumpkins and lunch foods in the Mountain Grill. Open through Dec. 1, daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 6 to Dec. 22: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weather permitting. 575 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, Va. 434-977-1833


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