Wine and the New Normal

Local wineries are offering safe environments to spend a day in the country enjoying locally made wines

Local wineries are offering safe environments to spend a day in the country enjoying locally made wines

By Mark Luna

It’s good to be back…at least in print. Though I did have a wine column for the August issue of the Haymarket and Gainesville Lifestyle magazines, it was written right before the sky fell in March, and I took a hiatus thereafter. Needless to say, it’s been a five-month stretch for the ages, as I’m sure it has been for you as well. 

As it was last year, and will be next year, October is Virginia Wine Month. With the focus being on Warrenton, my hopeful new hometown, I’ve decided to mention and recommend a few local wineries in the general area that are not only producing lovely wines, but are also doing everything they can to both survive the wrath of this pandemic. They are adjusting to the ‘new normal’ of operations, and endeavoring to provide safe distance tastings while still enjoying the intimacy of their wines.

Maintaining clean, healthy and safe practices has always been paramount to the success of the food and beverage industry, and wineries are certainly no exception to that truth. Beyond the cellar, which any winemaker will tell you should be the cleanest space on the planet, a great winery lives or dies by its antiseptic status. Immense cleaning protocols take place in normal times; and in this current COVID-19 world, going above and beyond immense is all the more mandatory. 

In an effort, however, to preserve some modicum of normalcy in the local wine world, there are many wineries in the immediate Warrenton area doing their absolute best to provide for their patrons a wonderful wine experience, an actual getaway, while maintaining the cleanest environment absolutely possible. At the wineries, which all follow safe COVID practices and social distancing, outdoor spaces to spread out — with awesome views — are readily available. Bring along chairs and blankets, as well as your kids and pets (check each winery’s pet policy ahead of time, but most are dog-friendly). While most wineries have a limited selection of snacks to purchase, you are also invited to pack a picnic to enjoy with the wine. It will be a day well spent in the Virginia wine country, helping to ease the mind and excite the palate. 

Highlighting a couple of my recent new favorite wine destinations…

An easy twenty minute drive west of Old Town Warrenton, out Highway 211, sits the beautiful property of Gray Ghost Winery. Celebrating their 26th year, Gray Ghost offers an array of award-winning wines to complement both their finely appointed tasting room and luscious garden grounds. Family owned and operated, GG honors old world vinification practices, with hand harvesting, unfined reds and judicious barrel regimens. The two standout wines are the full-bodied Gray Ghost Chardonnay Reserve 2017, which earned Best of Class – 2020 at the New World International Wine Competition, in California, and the powerful Gray Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, which landed the prestigious Double Gold – 2020 award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. These wines are not messing around! And neither is Gray Ghost, when it comes to consuming these beautifully made wines in a safe, stress free atmosphere, both indoors and out. 

Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery is nestled less than 20 miles north/northwest of Warrenton, up Highway 17, in Delaplane. Owners John and Eleni (Helen) Zissios opened the winery in April 2015, after purchasing the 63 acre property years prior. The land itself was once part of a much larger swath of countryside that was once owned by John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. What was to be a private home estate became instead a beautiful winery, built on the family’s heritage of hard work, respect, unity and hospitality…an embodiment of their Greek roots. 

The Blue Valley estate is planted to petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and franc, chambourcin, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier and muscat ottonel, all wine varieties that are well suited to the climate and soils of this part of Virginia. Additionally, all vinification processes take place in their 10k square foot production facility, one of the largest in Virginia. Of their impressive line-up of white, rose’ and red wines, both the 2016 Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the 2016 Sangiovese wines are true highlights, with each wine receiving a multitude of awards in various wine competitions from coast to coast. From stainless steel tanks made in South Africa to oak barrels of French and American cooperages, no expense is spared in facilitating the process of converting quality fruit to quality wines. 

True to form, a visit to BV is a highly worthy experience. Weekend reservations are recommended, though not required, and a gift card purchase of $30 per person (for food and wine) will land you a 2 ½ hour block of time. All mask and social distancing protocols are in place, and you can hear all about the Zissios’ family history of three generations of winemaking, while enjoying a glass of one of their wonderful wines.   

Other wineries in the surrounding area that are open for ‘safe’ business include Jennifer McCloud’s Chrysalis Vineyards at the Ag District, located in Middleburg…with limited indoor seating reserved for VIP customers and socially distanced outdoor seating available, be sure to get acquainted with their Albarino 2019 and their various Norton bottlings.

Head south of Old Town and visit Granite Heights Winery, as well as the boutique farm winery Molon Lava. Both are very convenient to Warrenton and offer a wonderful weekend experience of wine and beauty. 

With Warrenton as center compass, you can drift in any given direction and find multiple, worthy wine stops; mostly family owned properties who are growing their own grapes and producing their own wines, all while trying to stand tall in an upside-down world. Supporting their businesses, enjoying all they have to offer, while doing all we can to stay safe and healthy is more important now than ever before…Until next time, Happy Vino’ing.


Mark Luna
About Mark Luna 33 Articles
Mark Luna is a Portfolio Rep for Roanoke Valley Wine Company. He holds a WSET Level 3 (Advanced) certification through the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. He is also a certified Italian Wine Scholar, graduating with Honors, through the prestigious Wine Scholar Guild. Both certifications are industry recognized post-nominal accreditations. Through and beyond his work for RVWC, Mark writes, teaches and guest-speaks about wine in a variety of both industry and privately held events. He lives in Warrenton with his family. Mark can be reached at

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