In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, a quiet community sits at the base of the bustling Wintergreen Resort. Long regarded as just another Appalachian county between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, nationally recognized breweries and a slew of wineries have since transformed Nelson County into a drinking (and eating) destination over the past decade.
The visitors that once breezed through the towns of Nellysford, Afton, and Lovingston, bound for the resort’s snowy slopes, are slowing. Today they cruise along Route 29 (fondly named the Nelson 29) aboard booze buses, hopping from winery to winery, brewery to brewery. But, even though the libations scene has exploded, the food offerings preserve an Appalachian spirit. Hog smokers, meat n’ threes, and subtle hints of Amish influence keep Nelson County’s dining options soulful, hearty, and utterly unpretentious.
What to do in Nelson County
Navigating the mountain to ski and snowboard at Wintergreen is a given in the colder months, but summer and fall are an outdoorsperson’s dream: Miles of hiking trails through forest-covered channels reveal waterfalls, peaks, and spectacular views. Fortune’s Cove Preserve’s 5.5-mile loop is a moderate hike that gains 1,500 feet at its highest point. Cyclists, on the other hand, flock to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail, following an old railway line that runs adjacent to the Piney River.
Grab a Pint
After your hike, reward yourself with craft brews, smoked meats, and local wine. Between Blue Mountain Brewery and Bold Rock’s Nellysford Cidery, Nelson assumed its position in the craft beverage scene in the early 2010s. The hillside tasting room is a welcoming destination, particularly for visitors with dogs or children: Beneath the building’s hillside perch, a generous stretch of grassy lawn gives ample room to mosey between the babbling Rockfish River and the Cider Barn, with plenty of picnic tables all around to pause and sip a bone-dry vat no. 1.
Not even five minutes down the highway, a collection of rust-colored rooftops announce Devils Backbone Brewing Company’s Basecamp Brewpub. Grab a seat at one of the long tables underneath the covered pavilion and order a vienna lager with pulled pork nachos for the table, or, for bigger appetites, the smokehouse platter.
Fresh to the drinking scene is the Blue Mountain Barrel House and Smokin’ Barrel Restaurant. The latest addition of Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton, the Barrel House is about a thirty-minute drive southward in Arrington. This outpost preserves the eponymous Blue Ridge Mountain vista that visitors sought out at the original BMB. However, dedicated production operation makes it one of the largest barrel-aging facility on the East Coast. If the beer doesn’t draw you in, perhaps the restaurant’s in-house smoking program will.
Where to Grab a Bite in Nelson County
Soak up the booze at the nearby Blue Ridge Pig, an unassuming roadside barbecue stand along Route 151 (look for the smiling pink pig standing guard on the roof). Although the smokehouse aromas wafting from behind the building may push you toward the pulled pork sandwich or ribs, savvy customers order the smoked turkey croissant with the works.
Next door, Basic Necessities foils Nellysford’s Appalachian setting with a European-style cottage. Plan a vineyard picnic with goodies from the specialty cheese counter, fresh baked bread, and a curated wine cellar. Or, you can stay there and savor the chef’s daily preparations—perhaps quiche, cioppino, or risotto—alongside suggested wine pairings in the back garden.
Wineries in Nelson County
If you prefer to picnic, take it to DelFosse Vineyards & Winery, one of the only terraced vineyards in the state. The grapes range from pinot to viognier at this Monticello AVA, or viticultural, estate, and their styles swing between balanced dry wines to sweeter sips. Sample flights in the tasting room, or pick up a bottle to enjoy by the lake.
Lovingston Winery on the south side of Nelson County is a family-run estate complete with a picture-worthy farmhouse, barn, and rolling hillsides. Swing by for a glass of Rotunda Red—a nod to the nearby University of Virginia.
Take it With You
Apple, peach, and cherry orchards bring color to the hilly countryside during the summer when farm stands and markets burst with variety. Stops like Saunders Brothers Farm Market keep oversized ripening calendars at the store to quickly clue you in to what’s in season. If you’re the type who knows their lodi apples from their red envy, then you’ll want to stock up on bushels of fruit here. And, no trip is complete without one of their towering ice cream cones for the road.
- by Trisha Boyer
- by Local Palate