September 3, 2012, Washington, DC: There’s not a single stoplight in all of Rappahannock County, Jim tells us as we finish our $4 wine tastings in the barn at Sharp Rock Vineyards. There’s also a zoning law that protects the county from the dreaded sprawl and subdivisions, he explains: Just one new dwelling is permitted on every 25 acres. Even out here near Sperryville, Virginia, people are quick to talk about what makes home special.
We first met Jim about seven years ago when we rented a cabin for a night at Sharp Rock Vineyards. Saturday is the first time we’ve seen him since, and we reintroduce ourselves, tell him about the night we made fresh pasta in the cabin’s kitchen, drank wine made from the grapes out back, and played cards on the deck there in the shadow of Old Rag. In the morning, Jim made us muffins and introduced us to the vineyard dogs, some who’d come with the place, others his family brought with them when they bought. It was the first trip we ever took together back in 2005 and now we’re back at Sharp Rock, married. Jim says we must have meant him in the early days, during the first year they owned the vineyard. A few of the dogs are still around; two passed in the last twelve months. He tells us he’s held an office job for just one year of his entire life.
It’s harvest time on the vineyards of Virginia, a great time to visit this countryside an easy ride from the city. Easy, that is, when traffic isn’t clustered on I-66 and you’re able to run the gauntlet at the interstate’s intersection with Route 29 with relative ease. The subdivisions of Fairfax and Centreville have crept west to Gainesville over the years, and the exit there has been under construction for as long as we can remember. But get beyond Harris Teeter and Outback and strips upon strips of strip malls and suddenly you’re in the clear, flung out onto rolling hills that propel you towards wine country. That’s when you know you’ve hit Rappahannock County, Jim says, when you’re suddenly free on a country road, not a stoplight in sight.
There are nearly 200 wineries throughout Virginia, many like Sharp Rock west of DC at the foot of the Shenandoahs, others south towards Charlottesville and east down the Northern Neck. We’ve visited maybe a dozen or so over the years, a couple at a time. Most of those days have been similar to the one we enjoyed Saturday, when we picked up egg salad sandwiches at Stonyman Gourmet Farmer in Washington, Va. and ate them at a picnic table at Gadino Cellars down the road. We listened to music there, Virginia guys playing bluegrass covers, and watched a group of friends playfully hunt the fields for their Jack Russell terrier who’d bolted beyond the bocce courts shortly after we’d arrived. After lunch we returned to Sharp Rock for old time’s sake, pretending we knew exactly where we were going and making the wrong turn at every possible juncture along the way. It didn’t matter much since we had all day.
Jim’s of the ilk, as are we, that it’s either country or city. We could live way out here on a vineyard or somewhere like we do in the heart of a city or town. It’s the middle we’d have trouble with, places that are congested without the perks of walkability and density, places with views of the mountains without the benefit of open space and fresh air. Most of the time we see ourselves living someplace we can walk down a crowded, brightly lit block to dinner or to the store on the corner to pick up the one item we forgot. Sometimes, though, we can see ourselves someplace like Sharp Rock, our days filled with music, pouring wine and telling stories to city folk who have stopped by for the day.
Miles from Monday is a weekly travel series focused on venturing out of the spaces we inhabit during our work week and retreating to landscapes that feel far from routine.
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