My friend, Lizzie, and I went out to ride with Rebel's Run of Afton Mountain on what happened to be the most beautiful sunny Sunday in March. Let me begin by saying I have zero experience riding horses! I have a slight memory of visiting our local barn when I was in elementary school but of course that was totally different and so long ago. Leading up I was a little nervous since I had never been on a horse, but also so excited about the opportunity to ride to a winery.
When we arrived at the barn, we were greeted by Mimi, the owner, and a couple who would be going out with us. Immediately, we felt at home as we met the horses and learned about the history of Rebel’s Run. Rebel’s Run is known for providing horseback lessons to local riders, as well as providing vineyard trail rides to Afton Mountain Vineyards. Mimi is very committed to making this a memorable experience as she goes the extra mile to ensure that her guests are comfortable, so even though we were beginner riders we felt prepared. Being a group of four that morning is a typical size for vineyard rides so that they can be kept small and intimate.
Rebel’s Run is named after one of Mimi’s horses, Rebel. When she first got him, he decided to run away and try to get to his former home. Where Rebel originally lived was over 70 miles away and he made it 35 miles before he was found! Rebel is a mustang and I guess they are amazing at direction, which was definitely shown in “Rebel’s Run.” When it came time to choose our horses, one of my options was Rebel since he was good for beginners, and so of course I wanted to ride THE famous Rebel! Lizzie ended up riding Pocahontas, a really sweet horse who seemed to be on a mission throughout the ride always staying extra close to the horse in front of her.
Mimi was great about explaining some things that would help you to ride with ease. She also made sure that the less experienced riders were going to ride the horses that were very familiar with the trails, and would respond well to the basic commands. When I say basic commands, I mean that we learned how to have the horse go left and right, and stop. I found it a little more difficult to have Rebel start walking, but he was definitely used to the trail so he would just continue to go once the horse in front started moving.
After we were comfortable on the horses, we started along the trail. The ride was about 30-45 minutes to get to Afton Mountain Vineyards. Most of it was through the woods and then you arrive at the end to the field right outside the vineyard. It is very peaceful going along the trail and you even go over a few streams. After dismounting at Afton Mountain, the horses just graze in the field while you get to visit the winery!
Afton Mountain is one of the most beautiful wineries in the area so I could not think of a better place to ride to. It was Sunday at noon when we arrived and we had the entire place to ourselves! Cue getting a glass of rosé and sitting on their porch for an hour before getting back on the horses. Mimi had suggested getting sandwiches beforehand to bring to the winery, which I highly recommend as well. It could not have been a more perfect day just soaking up the sunshine with the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains beyond the vines, good company and of course, delicious wine.
An hour later, we returned to the horses and rode back to the barn at Rebel’s Run on the same trail. For a girl who has never been on a horse before, I thought I did a pretty great job. Also, Mimi’s business definitely caters to all experience levels and I enjoyed the extra support when I had no idea what to do. It was such a fun and different way to experience a vineyard! Shoutout to Lizzie for letting me bring her on this adventure and reassuring me I would be fine horseback riding! Now I am just excited to try riding again!
If you want to learn more or you are interested in doing a vineyard ride yourself with Mimi, go to https://rebelsrunaftonmountain.com/
Back in January, I hosted a wine tasting party with a group of my friends! I had been excited about this for a while and thought it would be a fun thing to do while the weather was still cold and all we wanted to do was be inside. It was one of the most fun nights I have had in a long time and all my friends who attended constantly ask me when I'm hosting the next one!
We had a mix of people from what I would consider wine experts to complete novices. Everyone brought a bottle of wine of their choice to contribute to the tasting. We had an array of food that people could snack on while drinking, which was definitely a good call. After hosting this once, I have a lot of suggestions and thoughts on how I would do this next time.
Choosing a Theme
Choosing a theme is a key aspect of having a successful blind wine tasting. For our first party, we decided to do "Wines from around the World." Even though this theme was very clear, over half of the wines were from the US, so the wines were not as diverse as I had anticipated. If I was to do the same theme again, I would assign each couple a country known for their wine and let them decide the varietal. For my next tasting, I want to do Virginia Wines and keep it local! Plus that's my speciality so hopefully I would do better at guessing the varietal this time around. Other ideas I had were just sticking with red or white wines, picking a different wine region, or just choosing a varietal and tasting how different it tastes depending on the country of origin.
Scoring the Wine
Something I had really wanted to do for the party was have a place where people could write their wine notes and score the wines. Then you don't get confused between that 2nd wine you tried and the 5th when they all start blending together. I also wanted to make a little competition out of it and have people guess the varietals and country of origin. The prize was the winner got to pick which wine they wanted a glass of first, but you could definitely do something more exciting like a bottle of wine! In the end of course we ended up finishing all 10 bottles, but you could definitely tell which ones were the favorites.
If you want to download and use my "Wine Scorecard," click here.
Other Necessary Items
Food. Definitely food. Let's be honest, when you are drinking lots of wine, you will get hungry! My wonderful friends brought over lots of snacks and food for the tasting. My mom had texted to remind me to have food but make sure you only eat neutral foods like bread between tasting so that you don't skew the flavors. When you are tasting 10 wines, you definitely really crave that food by the end. Try and encourage people to enjoy it once they choose which wine they want to drink more of and have bread for those times in between tastings.
Another thing I absolutely loved were my cloth wine bags to put the bottles in! I bought them off amazon for about $13 for a pack of 10. Plus, they are washable and you could even reuse them at future parties or for gifting wine. I could not have imaged doing it without them!
There are still a couple weeks left of winter and so I wanted to share some of my favorite go-to wineries to enjoy while the weather is still chilly. Not every winery has a large indoor area so it's helpful to know some good places for that rainy day when you still want to go winery hopping.
1. Gabriele Rausse Winery
2. First Colony Winery
3. Flying Fox Winery
4. Glass House Winery
5. Barboursville Vineyards
Immediately upon laying eyes on Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards, I fell in love. I had heard amazing things about Pippin from friends and could not wait to visit. My best friend of 17 years was coming to visit and so I knew it would be a special place to take her.
As you drive up the hill, you can see the beautiful vineyards. Then, as you enter the winery, you walk through a path of hydrangeas. The view of the valley is breathtaking. I felt like I could spend hours here just hanging out. They have a nice area where you can sit outside and eat, however, there can be a long wait to sit out here. There are also hightop tables that are first come first serve and many tables inside. You can also ask any of the staff for a blanket and buy a bottle to sit out on the grass and take in the scenery. At Pippin Hill, you are not able to bring a picnic as they have many food options. They have a reputation for their delicious food, so if you're hungry this is a solid place to go for your food-wine fix.
There are two different wine tastings to choose from, a selections of mainly whites (5 for $10) or mainly reds (4 for $12). This is definitely pricier than other wineries, but so worth it for the views. My personal favorites include the Rosé and the Viognier.
Pro tip: If going on a Saturday, go first thing in the morning when they open. We arrived at 11:10am and there were already a good amount of people there but it was very crowded by 11:45 am. You could also beat the crowds by going on a Friday evening or Sunday instead.
Sarah, wine enthusiastic and globetrotter, currently exploring Virginia one winery at a time.