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Thursday, November 30, 2006


Every winery seeks to satisfy its visitors in a way that leads to wine sales. Visit a dozen wineries, and you’ll be treated to a dozen different touring experiences. More often than not you’ll be satisfied, but visit the Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, Virginia and you’ll be thrilled, leaving far more educated about wine. Our tour of the Williamsburg Winery was one of the most interesting and comprehensive winery tours we’ve taken.

We began at the winery’s beautiful website where several tours are proffered. We chose the Tour and Tasting with Lunch which combines the $7.00 wine tasting tour with lunch at the winery’s Gabriel Archer Tavern overlooking the vineyards. That $22.00 tour is offered only online. We made the right choice!

The tour begins with a nicely produced 10-minute video replete with quotations about wine: the Roman philosopher Horace (65 BC – 8 BC), Thomas Jefferson, and The Bible with words of wisdom about the benefits, enjoyment or unwanted consequences of becoming too familiar with wine. The video also includes a history of wine in Virginia as well as the history of these vineyards.

I get a kick out of Virginia. In 1609, the House of Burgesses passed a law requiring the planting of ten vines for every cultivated acre. After all, Virginia was settled to make money for the Virginia Company. But it was tough to buck that lucrative money crop, tobacco.

Again in 1769 the Encouragement for Making Wine Act was passed. Still trying to buck tobacco? It didn’t work. Wine didn’t make inroads in Virginia until the 1970s, and boy, has it exploded since then!

Following the video, our very knowledgeable guide takes us down into the cellars, explaining the differences between American and French oak casks, the cask preparation, timing of cask aging, number of bottles yielded per cask, and any number of other pertinent facts. All this interesting information helps us understand the differences between oak casks and the towering, shiny, stainless steel tanks in which some wines, but not all, spend time.

We move through the wine cellars and are introduced to the room of reserve wines, learning what the term means. There is also a tour and tasting of the reserve cellar but reservations are a must.

Then to the tasting room. We receive brochures describing the wines presented. Each wine offered is accompanied by our guide’s explanation of what to look for in the taste. If she uses a term someone does not understand, as I do not when she mentions a wine quality as “buttery,” she immediately and completely explains. I actually recognize the buttery quality in the John Adlum Chardonnay I taste.

We try seven wines in five categories: Winemaker’s Blends, Varietals, Premium Varietals, and Reserve Wines. No rush. All questions answered.

Other tourists depart, but Rob and I stayed to chat with our excellent guide, discussing several wine topics as well as Rob’s own winemaking. We end up tasting a syrah that had not been part of the tour’s selections, and it is quite wonderful. When we leave, we carry with us several bottles of wine and a set of Steady Sticks, two holders for our wine glasses that stick right in the ground. They’ll work wonders when we go on our picnics to hear the Sunday night concerts at West Point.

This is one of the nicest wine tours we’ve taken, and if you’re visiting the Williamsburg area, think about taking it too.
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