One of the most charming and highly underrated parts of Virginia is its Eastern Shore and the wineries that populate it.
Located on the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, which is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Eastern Shore is composed of small fishing villages, quaint seaside towns, and picturesque shores that are arguably the cleanest and most beautiful in the region.
The area is more known for the Chincoteague Wild Ponies on Chincoteague Island, but the Eastern Shore produces some of the best wine on the East Coast due to the area’s long growing season, maritime climate, and sandy soil — ideal conditions for growing grapes.
Ever since wine connoisseurs began exploring the region in the 1980s, the Eastern Shore has quickly established itself in the world of winemaking. Today, a trio of wineries are on the Eastern Shore, all of which were established fairly recently but worth the trip whether by car or kayak.
Bloxom Vineyard boasts six acres of grape vines that were planted in 2000. The winery opened in 2004, and owners Robert and Francesca Giardina have offered top-quality cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay, and merlot ever since. While visitors can enjoy a relaxing afternoon overlooking Virginia’s Eastern Shore, they’ll feel like they have escaped to the Italian countryside with simple and fresh cuisine like wood-fired Italian pizza paired with wines that are created with French, Spanish, and Italian wine-making techniques.
Established in 1999, Chatham Vineyards is set adjacent to the Chatham estate, a brick house built on Church Creek in 1818, and a working farm that dates to the 1600s. The vineyard grows cabernet franc, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot grapes, all of which are used to produce very distinct wines that are both steel and oak fermented. Chatham’s 10 different red and white varieties can also be tested year-round in the winery’s retail tasting room.
But what makes a trip to Chatham Vineyards a truly memorable experience is their kayak winery tour in conjunction with SouthEast Expeditions. Paddlers can begin their adventure in Cape Charles and continue along the Chesapeake Bay toward Church Creek, where the estate sits. Once at Chatham, traditional tastings take place before heading back along the bay in what amounts to an unexpectedly perfect combination of outdoor activity and laid-back tastings.
Holly Grove Vineyards
Similar to Chatham, Holly Grove Vineyards is another family-owned operation set on the bayside of the Eastern Shore in Franktown, Va. Holly Grove Vineyards grows seven different grapes: merlot, traminette, viognier, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit manseng, and petit verdot. All wines are handcrafted to produce crisp and clean chardonnay, merlot, rosé, and traminette. Wines to try include the tropical, floral, and spicy dessert wine High Tide Traminette, which won the Double Gold at the 2009 Lodi International Wine Awards, and the dry oak chardonnay made from French oak puncheons, which received gold at the 2009 America’s Cup Polo Wine Competition. As with Chatham Vineyards, wine enthusiasts can also kayak to the winery before or after a day of wine tasting.
Cameron Simcik is the Philadelphia Travel City Editor.