Reds, Whites and Bluegrass


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Wine tasting takes on a new hue—and toe-tapping rhythms—in Southwestern Virginia--home to nearly a dozen wineries as well as a thriving center for bluegrass music. America's oldest and most distinctive musical form, bluegrass originated over 400 years ago, melding tunes played by settlers on European fiddles with the rhythms of West African banjoes brought over by slaves. The Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains have been home to legendary performers such as the Stanley Brothers, Ernie Ford, and the Carter Family (June Carter married Johnny Cash). Once better known for moonshine than Merlots, the region now produces top-quality wines. The Crooked Road—Virginia's Heritage Music Trail—offers a scenic, 250-mile driving route linking the musical and viticultural highlights.

Set just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the family-owned Château Morrisette produces Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and other wines. Visitors can lunch or dine at the winery restaurant, which serves regional specialties (local trout, ham, and prime rib) paired with mountain vistas. Nearby Villa Appalaccia specializes in Italian varietals such as Primitivo, Sangiovese, Malvasia, Montepulciano, and Trebbiano. The winery plans to release the first Amarone-style wine in the U.S. Mead--wine made from fermented honey--dates back 8,000 years; Blacksnake Meadery makes not only the time-honored libation, but also cyser (honey blended with apple cider), and melomel (mead with fruit). Abingdon Vineyard  lies in the Appalachian Mountains near Bristol, while Mountain Rose Vineyards is the first winery in the southwestern corner of the state.

Visitors can combine tastings with 400 years of twanging musical traditions. The Blue Ridge Music Center (Galax City) preserves old-time bluegrass and mountain gospel sounds through interpretive exhibits as well as summer performances at its amphitheater on Saturdays. Also in Galax, the Rex Theater hosts live shows (usually free) on Fridays. Run by the third generation of the family, the Carter Family Fold (Hiltons--an area once known as Poor Valley) presents mountain music on Saturday nights in a rustic, 1,000-seat music shed. The Floyd Country Store Friday Night Jamboree (Floyd) begins with a bluegrass gospel group followed by flatfoot and clog dancing.

The Stanley Brothers became known to a wider contemporary audience when their songs were featured in the film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center (Clintwood) displays memorabilia ranging from vintage instruments to music awards. Travelers can overnight in a deluxe suite in the Victorian home. Historic lodgings also include the Martha Washington Hotel & Spa in Abingdon, built in 1832 as a private residence.  

For more details on how Virginia bluegrass and wine make music together, visit www.virginia.org/wine.

Travel, food and wine writer Risa Wyatt enjoys exploring America's new wine frontiers.


VIDEO LINKS

Meet the People
Guitar maker and old-time musician Wayne Henderson.

Feel the Beat
June Carter Cash dancing the flatfoot (from a performance with Johnny Cash in London 1981).

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