We’ve toured through the historic center of Colonial Williamsburg many times, and will continue to do so because it is such a beautiful town, but Williamsburg is more than just an American history experience. There’s enough great food, wine, and beer to make it a worthy destination for the culinary experience alone. On our most recent trip, we focused on local wine and craft beer. We visited The Williamsburg Winery in the morning and moved on to Alewerks Brewing Company in the afternoon.
We stopped at the Visitor’s Center on the way into town to catch “The Story of a Patriot“, a 34 minute film starring Jack Lord of Hawaii Five-O fame. It’s been showing in Williamsburg since 1957 and is the longest running motion picture, ever. The digitally restored movie is still highly entertaining and put us in the right mindset for Williamsburg. Surely the colonists must have drank their share of wine and ale, much of it locally made.
The Williamsburg Winery
The Williamsburg Winery is about 5 miles outside of Colonial Williamsburg on a picturesque 320 acre farm. The land was purchased in 1983 by Patrick and Peggy Duffeler after an extensive search for the perfect farm to start a new chapter in their lives. The property is now called Wessex Hundred, but the land was originally known as Archer’s Hope – named after Gabriel Archer, one of the first settlers of the Jamestown colony. If you’re interested in learning more, the Williamsburg Winery website is a great read with lots of information on the history of the land during the settlement of the Virginia colony in the 1600s.
Nearly 400 years after the first vines were planted by settler John Johnson, the Duffelers planted their own vines in 1985. The Williamsburg Winery had its first crush in 1987. Their Governer’s White – the best selling Virginia wine in the state according to their website – won a Gold Medal shortly after its first release in 1988.
Winemaker Matthew Meyer, from Napa Valley where he had worked for Heitz Wine Cellars and Grgich Hills, joined the winery in 2002. Williamsburg is now the largest winery in Virginia. They grow grapes on about 50 acres of the farm with an annual production of over 50,000 cases, and are one of the few Virginia wineries with their own bottling facility.
We arrived early on a Saturday morning since we know that they can get crowded, and appeared to be the first people tasting that day. We did not take a tour (we’ve done this in the past), but went straight for the wine. We opted for the Reserve Wine tasting, in which we sampled seven of their most special wines. They recently opened a new Reserve Tasting room overlooking the fermentation tanks, which made for a more intimate experience than the large tasting room, where I understand it can get quite crowded.
Our server was very knowledgeable about the wines and we enjoyed a lively conversation. I can’t say what it would be like later in the afternoon when the crowds descend on the winery, but at 10:30 a.m. we had a wonderful wine tasting experience.
As for my personal favorites, both of the white wines were very nice. The 2014 Wessex Hundred Viogner was fruity and floral with a hint of minerality, coming from partial aging in concrete tanks. This wine had good acidity for a viogner. The 2013 Acte 12 Chardonnay showed nice tropical fruits and subtle oak.
I know that the award winning Adagio blend is supposed to be the star of the winery and it was very good, but my favorite red was the 2012 Virginia Trianon, a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, with 13% Merlot and 12% Petit Verdot. But then, I’m a big fan of Cab Franc and this wine was silky smooth.
By the way, Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker just awarded a 91 point rating to the newly released 2013 Adagio.
We finished up with our tasting just in time for lunch on the wisteria-covered patio of The Gabriel Archer Tavern. We shared a Pear, Bacon, and Gouda Grilled Cheese sandwich and then sipped glasses of the Viogner and the Trianon with a cheese board to stretch out the day.
The winery also has a fine dining restaurant, Café Provencal, that is open for dinner. If you want to extend your stay even longer, the property includes a 28-room European-style country hotel, Wedmore Place, where each room is uniquely styled after a different European province.
AleWerks Brewing Company
AleWerks Brewing Company is also about 5 miles outside of Colonial Williamsburg, but on the opposite side of town near the outlets. It is located on Ewell Road next to the railroad tracks like any good brewery is, at least in my experience.
Manager Chuck Haines acquired the old Williamsburg Brewing Company property in 2005 and established AleWerks in 2006. Brewmaster Geoff Logan focuses on making ales using a direct fired brick-clad Peter Austin brew house. Huh? I had to do some research.
Peter Austin was the “Godfather of Micro-Brewing”. He opened the first microbrewery in England in 1978 and designed a brewing process for classic English ales, which included a brick-clad copper brew kettle. Austin set up 40 new breweries in Britain and, with his partner Alan Pugsley, helped establish over 140 new microbreweries in 17 countries around the world. But I digress…let’s get back to AleWerks.
We pulled up to the bar where we could chat with the bartender and the other patrons at the bar, who were very open in expressing their love of the beer and the food. AleWerks serves a limited but sufficient selection of beer friendly snacks. We were practically forced to order a pretzel with beer cheese by the couple sitting next to us, which was okay because it was pretty darn good. The homemade soft pretzel was huge and the cheese sauce was just a little spicy – exactly what we needed to go with our 10 beers.
That’s right, we did the Full Metal Jacket tasting of 10 beers (shared, of course). So many of these beers were tasty that it would be hard to properly appraise them all. The Coffeehouse Stout was a favorite – this winter ale was smooth and a little lighter body than I was expecting, which was a plus for me. We also really enjoyed their popular Pumpkin Ale, which was not on tap that day but was available in bottles.
AleWerks will be releasing their Christmas Ale, Marley’s Lament, on November 14th.
Here comes that Christmas spirit!
The Williamsburg Winery
5800 Wessex Hundred
AleWerks Brewing Company
189-B Ewell Road