Wine and motorcycles are an odd, yet appealing, combination. If mixed the wrong way, the two can leave one scarred for life. In my younger days, I found that out the hard way. But, if handled responsibly, these two endearing disciplines can uncork memories that last a lifetime.
Like motorcyclists, fine wine varietals seem to prefer interweaving with areas of stellar beauty. Places like Napa Valley, Tuscany, Portugal’s Douro Valley, and the South of France do come to mind. Now, I’m sure that soil, climate, and seasonal variations play into that equation as well, but I’m no farmer, so I’ll just stick to my “grapes love beauty” theory. That said, maybe there’s something to the oenological rumblings emanating from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The amazing scenery, magnificent roads, and 200-plus wineries dotting the Old Dominion make for an intriguing excuse to break out the saddlebags.
It Takes Grapes
The roots of wine making in Virginia go back 400 years. The original Jamestown colonists were required by law to plant at least ten grape vines native to the old country. And while the imbibers did rejoice, so did the pests. The Phylloxera, an east coast aphid with a taste for European vinifera, made short work of those early attempts.
Even our nation’s finest came up bust at early Virginia viticulture. Thomas Jefferson tried for 30 years yet never managed to produce a single bottle of wine from European varietals. President George Washington also failed in his ten-year attempt to do the same. And then, when colonists and traders realized that tobacco was far more suited to the local clime, the cash crops gravitated more toward Philip and Morris than Ernest and Julio.
The Triumph of the Norton
Not all was lost. Some Native American varieties made excellent wines and could stand up to the local pests. Most notably the Norton, a grape indigenous to Virginia, was used to cellar some juice that went on to be voted “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873. Another bottle of Norton struck gold at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. By the turn of the century, the science of grafting allowed those vexing vines from the old country to be mated to heartier local stock. Then prohibition began, and Virginia’s wine industry effectively ended.
Today, the vines are again spreading with a vengeance. Although most wineries are tucked well off the beaten path, finding them is only a Google search away.
Motorcycle & Gear
2002 Suzuki Bandit 1200S
Reds, Whites, and Blue Ridge
Our first stop is Chateau Morrisette, which is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near mile marker 172. Regardless of the number of wheels, but especially on two, we limit our samplings to the swish-and-spit method. An absolutely stunning tasting room perfectly complements the Chateau’s impressive views. With extra space in the saddlebags, we collar a bottle of Liberty dry red for further interrogation upon reaching our evening destination.
Routes 799 and 787 take us from the Parkway, north toward Christiansburg. The bounding asphalt unfolding across the crest of the Blue Ridge offers both wonderful vistas and an assurance that our winery tour is going to work out quite nicely.
North of Blacksburg, we veer right on to Route 42 toward New Castle. This lonely stretch of well maintained, two-lane highway has long been on our favorites list. The lush, green pastures undulating across Sinking Creek Valley are home to family farms, numerous critters, and a rather entertaining section of tarmac. But don’t get too complacent, the twisting drop into New Castle will test the mettle of nearly any footpeg.
By mid afternoon, we have the Blue Ridge Winery in our sights. Located off Route 43 near Eagle Rock, the winery boasts a rustic tasting room with a spectacular panorama of the rugged mountains. With a bottle of Blue Ridge’s Big Bear Red blend in tow, we skedaddle to nearby Lexington and pop a couple of corks at the Abigail Inn.
Chateau Morrisette’s light, fruity Liberty takes the first night’s honors over the heartier Big Bear Red. Were the weather cooler, it may have been a different story.
Thank You, Mr. Jefferson
Just north of Lexington, we hop on Route 39 and begin winding our way up the Goshen Pass. The views of the rocky, churning Maury River prove a bit too distracting for a sporting pace, so we decide to slow down and take in the sights. Fortunately, plenty of pullouts and wide spots allow ample opportunities to enjoy one of the prettiest rides in the Commonwealth.
Not far west of Goshen, we hang a right on Route 678 to Route 629. These barely two-lane bits of pavement are nice surprises. Dense stands of hardwoods shade the morning sun, and other vehicles are all but non-existent. The pace and atmosphere here is smooth and relaxing, like a fine red wine.
As midday approaches, we pick up Route 250 and turn east toward Staunton. In no time, our peaceful demeanor is slapped by traffic lights and the town’s lunch hustle.