I alternate between gripping my armrests tightly, taking deep breaths and fanning myself with the airline’s safety card, wishing I had taken my motion-sickness medication and wondering why no one else is affected by the turbulence. They’re all either napping, reading or happily chatting with a neighbor.
I’m en route — on an awfully small plane — to Virginia’s Blue Ridge (www.visitvablueridge.com) to explore the area’s water and wine (separately!). I’d been through Virginia in the dead of night on my way to Washington, D.C., but never to, so I had no expectations, save one for the pilot: Get me there alive and in one piece.
Eventually, I end up on a kayak at the edge of the James River (www.upperjames riverwatertrail.com) in Buchanan, Virginia, waiting to embark on a six-mile excursion led by guides from Twin River Outfitters (www.canoevirginia.net), the first stop on my water- and wine-themed itinerary. The overcast sky is beyond perfect for a comfortable float and the kettle-boiled bagel and fruit I’d just inhaled from Roanoke Bagel Company (www.roanokebagel.com), across the street from Twin River Outfitters’ offices, is sure to fuel me. I’ve never been (I feel like I say some variation of this a lot) kayaking before — I’ve only just begun to do more than hop on a jet-ski when I’m near open water — but my group members assure me I have nothing to worry about. They’re mostly right.
The river sets a leisurely pace, doing most of the work, though the burning in my arms reminds me of my perpetual, but not-yet-met goal of getting in shape.
The mountain views are phenomenal and the lush green of the trees lining the river must be a sight to behold in autumn when they’re exploding with millions of amber-, cocoa- and auburn-hued leaves. While I certainly would not be categorized as a nature-lover, I can appreciate its beauty.
The tranquility of it all would cause my mind to drift, were it not for my comical inability to guide my kayak and not ram others. Just when I think I’m getting the hang of it, our guide directs everyone to sidestep a small dip in the river. I try and try but cannot steer away. Ultimately, I end up soaking wet from the waist down, a little chilly thanks to the overcast sky and feeling like an idiot for not thinking to pack a change of clothes, but am thankful for the little things: At least I didn’t capsize. Twin River Outfitters is a lifesaver, providing shorts and shoes for purchase so I don’t have to squish and squash my way to the next well-deserved stop.
Our minivan traverses winding roads seemingly leading nowhere, an endless slope of expansive pasture with homes here and there dotting the landscape. After about 20 minutes, we turn onto a gravel road, creaking to a stop once we reacaazh the old farmhouse that doubles as a bed and breakfast and tasting room for Fincastle Vineyard and Winery’s (awww.fincastlewine.com) offerings. Georgia, who started the winery with her husband David and their son Richard in 2003, is ready and waiting for us.
Stretching over 80 acres, their vineyard produces barrel-aged dry reds and several dry and semi-sweet white wines. Unsurprisingly, the viognier was an instant favorite of mine, seeing as I’m partial to sweeter varieties. The syrupy sweetness of dessert wines is a bit much for me — I’d rather eat my dessert than drink it, anyway – but the viognier has just the right amount with a fruity tinge that pairs well with lighter fare like chicken and seafood.
I step away from the rest of the group and sit quietly for a few minutes under a quaint pergola climbing with plants, taking in the rolling hills. I breathe deeply, inhaling air fresh from a rain that left as quickly as it came, calmed by the residuals beating a steady rhythm on the paved walkway.
“This is the very definition of bucolic,” I think to myself in amazement.
I don’t use the word “bucolic” often (okay, never), but I’m convinced it’s because I’ve never actually seen something that could be described as such until now. I catalog this moment as the highlight of my trip. I’m taken by what the sheer simplicity of nature and the right glass of wine can do, and it seems I’m not the only one. Grudgingly, my tour mates and I load up and leave the paradise of Fincastle behind, at least one of us the better for it.
The next day, we venture to Smith Mountain Lake, a reservoir with 500 miles of shoreline reminiscent of Lake Oconee with its lakefront residences and vacation accommodations. The overcast sky lingers, this time with the threat of rain, but we soldier on and load up for a tour of the lake via pontoon at the Bridgewater Marina (www.bwmarina.com). After 20 or so minutes of cruising, we make a pit stop at The Landing (www.thelandingsml.com), an eatery on the property of Bernard’s Landing, a 70-acre waterfront resort. Tiffany Silva, who owns and manages the restaurant along with her husband and executive chef, Bruno Silva, beckons us to the bar for light snacks and drinks. American cuisine with a bit of Latin flair, a nod to Bruno’s Peruvian upbringing, is the restaurant’s forte, and the bit we sampled made me wish we had time to sit for a full-scale meal. We’re teased with house-made Peruvian sausage, seared ahi tuna and Incan croquettes — a twist on the traditional Peruvian chicken dish. By the time we make our way back to the boat, the sun is breaking through the clouds little by little, beautifully highlighting the lake and bringing the remainder of our tour to a satisfying end.