Grape Adventures

An inn that features Shakespeare al fresco, very good dining, and luxurious rooms with vineyard views

After sampling varietals at a winery one Saturday, I felt a little tipsy—and tired. So I went straight from the tasting room to bed.

At Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia, visitors can sleep among the grapes.

Opened in 2005, the 1804 Inn and the Vineyard Cottage have transformed Barboursville from a nice day trip to a good weekend destination. Wine isn’t the only attraction. Guests can explore historic ruins, watch a Shakespeare play, and dine very well—all without leaving the grounds.

Barboursville’s 830-acre estate dates to the early 19th century when James Barbour, a one-time governor and senator, lived there. In 1822 he moved into an adjacent mansion designed by his friend Thomas Jefferson. The home later burned down—hence the ruins—and Barbour’s heirs returned to his original villa.

Another of Jefferson’s ventures had a more lasting impression. Hoping to make wine, the country’s third president imported vitis vinifera—a European grapevine—to the Piedmont region. Although the vines didn’t make it, he planted roots for the plantation’s future.

Picking up where Jefferson left off, the Zonins, an Italian wine family, established their only stateside operation at Barboursville in 1976. Over time they proved that Virginia soil is well suited to vinifera vines. Today, winemaker Luca Paschina continues to cultivate the grapes, earning honors for his Cabernet Franc and other vintages.

The inn and the cottage allow wine lovers to look behind the scenes. Housed in the old villa, the inn is a testament to good living. Each of the three suites boasts more than 1,000 square feet of luxury—fine linens, antiques, balconies with vineyard views. It’s where the Zonins stay on trips from Italy, and guests pay to play wine mogul: Rates start at $400 a night in the winter months and $425 in the summer.

The charming cottages, circa 1780, better suit those on a budget. Topping off at $225 a night, they retain a rustic feel, with slate floors and wood-beamed ceilings, while modern amenities ensure comfort. Perched on my high bed, I enjoyed perusing a stack of loaner books, facing a roaring fireplace in the Barbera suite. A bottle of Merlot was a nice touch.

Guests get wined and dined regardless of their sleeping quarters. There is wine and cheese on arrival, plus innkeeper Leslie Jenkins’s breakfast—full at the inn, continental at the cottage.

If Shakespeare feeds the soul, Palladio, the restaurant on site, has the appetite covered. In keeping with the Zonins’ background, chef Melissa Close whips up such northern-Italian classics as baked lasagna with béchamel sauce and veal osso buco. A two-course tasting menu is $36 at lunch ($43 with wine pairings); dinner lasts four rounds and costs $70 ($95 with wine).

Barboursville’s weekend winery tours provide a crash course in viticulture. So too do numerous award-winning wineries within driving distance.

The 1804 Inn and the Vineyard Cottage; Barboursville, Va.; 434-760-2212; Weekend rates through summer begin at $425 (inn) and $225 (cottage); $325 and $225 for a weeknight. Fall stays cost more, winter less. Barboursville is two hours from Washington.

This article first appeared in the May 2006 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles like it, click here.