Autumn is a wonderful time of year to visit local wineries. Fall colors make the drive spectacular, and the thrill of the new harvest gives the wineries extra energy. Add these to your itinerary this year.
Big Cork Vineyards
4236 Main St., Rohrersville, Md., 301-302-8032; www.bigcorkvineyards.com
On rolling hills just west of South Mountain, Big Cork Vineyards might be Maryland’s most exciting new winery. Its bright new tasting room certainly makes it one of the most enjoyable to visit. It combines whimsy and humor with cork-themed bar stools and gift items, a motif carried through on Big Cork’s new labels. Plan to stay for a light, delicious lunch from the kitchen, or camp out on the veranda for live music on Friday evenings. Local wine fans know winemaker Dave Collins from his 14 years at Breaux Vineyards in Loudoun County. Collins moved to Big Cork in 2011 to develop a winery and vineyard from scratch, and his 2013 reds (the first produced from Big Cork’s estate vineyards) are his announcement that Big Cork belongs in Maryland’s top echelon. They will be released later this fall, but they are already attracting attention. Big Cork’s 2013 Petit Verdot won this year’s Maryland Governor’s Cup as the state’s best wine, and several other of its wines won top awards in the competition. Collins told me he prefers his Bordeaux-like cabernet franc; after tasting the wines over three days, I preferred the barbera for its energy and liveliness. The 2014 chardonnay is also top-notch.
Old Westminster Winery
1550 Old Westminster Rd., Westminster, Md., 410-881-4656; www.oldwestminster.com
Old Westminster will open its new tasting room to the public Nov. 7, but the winery has already caught the eye and palate of local wine enthusiasts. It is run by the Baker siblings: Drew Baker manages the vineyards, Lisa Baker Hinton makes the wines and Ashli Baker Johnson manages the tasting room and customer relations. Over the past five years, they have dazzled with delicious wines; my current favorites are the 2014 whites, including a racy albariño and a zesty blend of sauvignon blanc and viognier called Greenstone. Lisa is also experimenting with an “orange” wine of chardonnay fermented on its skins.
Casanel Vineyards & Winery
17956 Canby Rd., Leesburg, Va., 540-751-1776; www.casanelvineyards.com
Casey and Nelson DeSouza founded their winery in 2006. They decided to “reboot” in 2013, hiring two consultants to revamp the operation: winemaker Katell Griaud, a protege of famed winemaker Michel Rolland and a former winemaker at Trump winery near Charlottesville, and Lucie Morton, a high-profile viticulturist. Under the supervision of the DeSouzas’ daughter, Katie, the new team just released delicious reds (petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and a port-style Norton) and intriguing whites (pinot gris, chardonnay). Katie's sister, Anna Want, manages the tasting room and the business side of the winery. The new regime also is striving to reduce the use of fungicides and insecticides in favor of more environmentally friendly viticulture. There is a brand-new tasting room, but be sure to visit the old tasting room — in an 1800s horse barn meticulously restored by Nelson DeSouza — where the new wines are offered.
Paradise Springs Winery
13219 Yates Ford Rd., Clifton, Va., 703-830-9463; www.paradisespringswinery.com
Nestled in the southwestern reaches of Fairfax County, Paradise Springs keeps getting better. On Oct. 3, co-founder Kirk Wiles and winemaker Rob Cox will release the 2012 PVT, a 50-50 blend of petit verdot and tannat grown at Williams Gap Vineyard near Delaplane, in Fauquier County. Deep and rich, the PVT shows a young winery reaching its stride. The ever-restless Wiles is also making wine in Santa Barbara County in California.
Granite Heights Winery
8141 Opal Rd., Warrenton, Va., 540-349-5185; www.graniteheightsorchard.com
Just a short detour off U.S. Route 29 and almost exactly halfway between Warrenton and Culpeper, Granite Heights has emerged in a few short years as one of Virginia’s most exciting producers. Luke Kilyk’s 2011 reds are good; his not-yet-released 2012s and 2013s are exceptional. Kilyk also loves petit manseng, Virginia’s oddball white grape, and produces a different style each year. His wife, Toni, makes exceptional jams from fruit grown at their nearby orchard.