Château Morrisette, Virginia

Text: Christian Neuhauser • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Given a map of the world and a handful of pushpins most wine lovers would locate their favorite vineyards by punching holes in a series of valleys - Napa Valley, the Sonoma Valley, the Loire Valley, the Rhine and Rhone Valleys. But many in Virginia and North Carolina will hover above the Blue Ridge Parkway and firmly place their dark-red pins in the middle of the Meadows of Dan.

Given a map of the world and a handful of pushpins most wine lovers would locate their favorite vineyards by punching holes in a series of valleys - Napa Valley, the Sonoma Valley, the Loire Valley, the Rhine and Rhone Valleys. But many in Virginia and North Carolina will hover above the Blue Ridge Parkway and firmly place their dark-red pins in the middle of the Meadows of Dan.

Text and Photography: Christian Neuhauser

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The Commonwealth of Virginia claims 43 wineries within its borders and the number-three ranking on that list in production (currently 100,000 gallons a year) is Château Morrisette. William, Nancy and David Morrisette certainly chose wisely in terms of scenery when they established their vineyard on the rolling hills above the Rock Castle Gorge Wilderness Area in 1978. Four years later, they sold their first wines with a harvest yielding 2,000 gallons. Expansion of the winery's production facility is underway and capacity for an additional 50,000 gallons should come on line by 2003. That's none too shabby as far as success stories go for a viniculture venture barely 24 years old.

So if you're out for a spin on the Blue Ridge Parkway and find your way to Floyd County, Virginia, take the turn at mile marker 171.5 and hang a left on Winery Road. Park it less than a quarter-mile farther on, get off your bike, stretch your legs and enjoy. Bring a blanket - almost every other weekend (weather permitting) concerts are usually cranking outside on the Jazz Lawn. Or you may wish to find a spot on the deck and take in the view commanded by Buffalo Mountain, Virginia's second-largest peak.

Inside, the winery restaurant (open for lunch Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; dinner Friday-Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.) serves a savory selection of seasonal fare. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends; otherwise, a two-hour wait is not uncommon. The lunch menu changes monthly, the dinner menu nightly. Items may include a salad of local organic greens dressed with a choice of Meadow Creek feta, raspberry or orange ginger vinaigrettes ($ 4); smoked North Carolina duck breast complemented with an apple-leek chutney ($ 20) or grilled marinated Black Angus tenderloin with puff pastry, caramelized chanterelles, and finished with a Château Morrisette Cabernet demi-glaze ($ 25). Room for dessert? All homemade and heavenly, there's a sinful concoction called Chocolate Oblivion with raspberry sauce, cheesecake with orange passion fruit sauce, and a three-layer carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

Of course you won't imbibe and ride, but the much-acclaimed Château Morrisette wines are the principal reason most folks stop by. Recent prices per bottle range reasonably from the dessert-style white, Sweet Mountain Laurel, at $ 7.50 to a more complex red, the Cabernet Franc, going for $ 18. There's a nice little wine bar set up just inside the entrance where those of age are free to sample vintages. A few sips won't upset your riding equilibrium, but we suggest you discover which you like, buy a bottle or two, along with any of the picnic items there (cheeses, breads, spreads) and retire to one of the many lodgings in the area. There are at least a dozen places to stay (guesthouses, inns, cabins, Bed & Breakfasts, motels) within ten miles of Château Morrisette and a great deal more within 30 miles.

The area is perfect for a romantic getaway and getting there, as you well know, is half the fun.

For more about Château Morrisette, tour their website, www.thedogs.com (the canine reference is explained most humorously there at "Stories from Nick"), or e-mail for info at info@chateaumorrisette.com. And/or you can write or phone:

Château Morrisette, P.O. Box 766,
Meadows of Dan, VA 24120,
540/593-2865.

Winery Tour Schedule:
Monday - Thursday
11:00 a.m./1:00 p.m./3:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday
11:00 a.m./1:00 p.m./3:00 p.m./5:00 p.m.
Sunday
12:00 a.m./2:00 p.m./4:00 p.m.

Tours and tastings are $ 2.00 per person.