In the Before Times, people who went to a vineyard to sample wines might stand at a bar in an indoor tasting room, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, while a server within arm’s reach moved the same bottle from one glass to another and told them about each vintage. But that kind of tippling has been toppled by the pandemic. Instead, most wineries these days are offering preset flights that come with wine notes, which you can read while sipping at a socially distant outdoor table.
What’s also changed: You may get those pours in disposable plastic versus glass stemware; be greeted at an outdoor check-in stand and directed to an assigned table; and find a limited menu of packaged fare but be encouraged to bring picnics (where you maybe couldn’t in the past). You’ll be asked to wear a mask while walking about but can take it off at your table.
The good news is that wineries have reopened, and fall is a great time to visit. What follows are half a dozen Virginia vineyards where you’ll find not only nice wines and fun experiences but also outdoor settings with room to spread out—and some views that alone are worth the drive.
Have a seat: This mountainside winery offers valley views from several seating areas, including a patio ($30 per party to reserve, which goes toward food and wine), an exclusive wine-club deck, and an outdoor chef’s table for six to ten people ($65 or $85 a person, including a four-course meal). Couples can also opt for an intimate seated tasting on a veranda ($25 a person for two hours).
Walk-in or reserve ahead? While weekday walk-ins are possible for the patio—the most popular seating—you should make a reservation on a weekend.
What’s special: The Rent a Row program lets you reserve a two-hour spot for a picnic amid the Norton vines. The $30 reservation fee can be applied to a purchase.
Wine to try: Ascent, a Bordeaux blend.
Distance from DC: 58 miles.
Barrel Oak Winery
Have a seat: The grounds are so sprawling that there’s lots of room to spread out. The main outdoor seating area offers 76 umbrella-topped picnic tables. Or bring a blanket or chair to sit on the hillside.
Walk-in or reserve ahead? Walk-ins are welcome, but those who want to ensure an outdoor table can reserve one for $75 an hour—and apply the fee to beer and wine. (No need to chug—you can buy bottles to bring home.) Not exclusive enough? Book the Return to Barrel Oak experience and you’ll be whisked to a reserved seating area, with a restroom that’s cleaned after each use. It’s $295 a couple—which you get back in wine or beer—for four hours.
What’s special: On weekends, you’ll be greeted as you drive up and be assigned a table number. Once parked, you’re escorted to your table, which has a 12-foot circle painted around it. You can leave your circle to order beer and wine from the outdoor bars or to use the restroom.
Wine to try: Bowhaus Red.
Distance from DC: 52 miles.
Hillsborough Winery & Brewery
Have a seat: A spacious patio accommodates about 50 people (and is adults-only on weekends). Plus, there are Adirondack chairs scattered about the lawn, hillside picnic tables, and a scenic trellis area that groups can reserve ($50 for three hours, for up to 12 people). You can even pitch a preapproved tent on the grounds.
Walk-in or reserve ahead? Except for the trellis area and groups of eight or more, it’s first come, first served.
What’s special: Hillsborough may be one of the region’s prettiest wineries—with a gorgeous southwestern view across rolling hills to the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the weather cools, you can warm up beside a chimenea and enjoy a sunset view.
Wine to try: Ruby, a red blend named after the winemaker’s grandmother.
Distance from DC: 52 miles.
Cana Vineyards & Winery
Have a seat: Find an outdoor table in the Sunset Pavilion, on the covered porch, on the deck, or on the lawn, or bring a blanket and set up under a tree. Although picnics are welcome, Cana does sell pre-wrapped meats, cheeses, crackers, and spreads. A Bark Bar offers treats for dogs.
Walk-in or reserve ahead? Reservations needed for groups of 15 or more.
What’s special: Cana’s outdoor seating faces west, looking across the Bull Run and Blue Ridge mountains. Depending on the season, you could catch a sunset before the winery closes for the day.
Wine to try: Albarino.
Distance from DC: 38 miles.
Chester Gap Cellars
Have a seat: Choose from some 15 picnic tables on the lawn or deck or in a pavilion; a dozen Adirondack chairs arranged in groups of two or four; or four benches—which came from the now-closed Newseum’s movie theater.
Walk-in or reserve ahead? Walk-in only.What’s special: Tucked into the side of a mountain, 1,300 feet up, this winery offers a 45-mile view over the Virginia countryside on a clear day.
Wine to try: Cabernet Franc.
Distance from DC: 73 miles.
Molon Lave Vineyards
Have a seat: This 50-acre vineyard offers more than 200 outdoor seats, including covered tables on a patio, on a pavilion, atop a hill, and beside a lake. There are also picnic tables on the lawn.
Walk-in or reserve ahead? Reservations required for groups of ten or more.
What’s special: The lakeside seating is popular. You can also see the lake from the pavilion, along with views of rolling hills and, in season, a profusion of rosebushes. In fall, the color comes from the ten acres of vines, which turn golden and scarlet.
Wine to try: Hot spiced mulled wine.
Distance from DC: 53 miles.
Distances are measured from the Washington Monument.
This article originally appeared in the October, 2020 issue of Washingtonian.