4 Rocky Knob AVA Wineries Cling to the Blue Ridge


A breathtaking view of the Rocky Knob AVA and the Blue Ridge Mountains with cotton candy white clouds in the sky

Rocky Knob AVA wineries (American Viticultural Area)are clustered along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountain Range, close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. If this is your first time visiting the East Coast, for good times and great wine, I have three words for you:  Blue Ridge Parkway.

A peak at Blue Ridge mountains with pink flowers in the foreground

Road Trip!

According to Deloitte Insights’ research, the road-tripping trend is up. Seventy percent of U.S. travelers are planning a road trip this year, up from fifty-seven percent in 2023. Most roadtrippers say it is the strategy they use to save money.

The Parkway provides a good reason for a road trip:  469 miles of exquisite scenery and ten wineries as you drive between blue-hued ridges in Virginia and North Carolina. Or maybe it’s just a good excuse. Along the way, you have many choices for a great place to relax for a night or two. A few of my favorites are:

The Blue Ridge Mountains and the Rocky Knob AVA are a small part of the Appalachian Highlands range. They extend for 550 miles, starting in southern Pennsylvania and touching the states of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Rocky Knob AVA – Small But Mighty

The Parkway’s Rocky Knob AVA is located 3,300 feet above sea level. The area has loamy, gravelly soil, providing good drainage for the 43 inches of annual rainfall. Cool winds across the top of the mountains blow away mildew and fungus.

The terrain and climate of Rocky Knob are much like the mountains of France, giving Seyval Blanc French hybrid grapes the perfect location to thrive. Those and the native American Niagara are the primary varieties grown in the highest elevations of the AVA. Rocky Knob consists of 4,800 acres and nearly 15 miles of hiking trails, so it is appealing to non-winos, too! *smile*

The Rocky Knob AVA is the smallest AVA in the state of Virginia. Still, it is home to two of the state’s largest wineries, wine producers Chateau Morrisette, and Villa Appalaccia. And the most popular wine in all of Virginia is Chateau Morrisette’s Black Dog (I understand—it is one of my favorites too!) You will find lots of reasons to bring home cases of wine from southwest Virginia.

Chateau Morrisette

Chateau Morrisette Winery is the oldest and largest winery in Virginia. The winery has live music on the weekend, great small plates, and creates more than 20 wines. Their wines are poured in the tasting room, and there will surely be something to please every wine lover. The Chateau also has a spectacular farm-to-table restaurant that featured local and organic items years before it was fashionable. Dishes with a Provencal influence range from a Warm Olive appetizer to Rabbit and Gnocchi Dumplings.

Chateau Morrisette Winery holds outdoor concerts every Sunday
Chateau Morrisette Winery’s outdoor Sunday concerts

From spring until fall, visitors can sip wine in the Courtyard, enjoying the changing seasons and free concerts. The music starts at 1 p.m., and seating fills up fast, so bring your own chair.

Not bad for a winery that was started out of boredom in the family garage!

Yes, really. William and Nancy Morrisette bought a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains to escape their work world. But, the life of mountain leisure was too slow-lane for the pair. The Fox Grapes growing on the property were soon being crushed and turned into wine. Soon, they had son, David, hooked, and off he went to Mississippi State University to study viticulture, this man’s best friend, Hans, in tow!

Ray has another satisfied customer at Rocky Knob AVA's Chateau Morrisette's tasting counter
Ray has another happy customer at Chateau Morrisette’s tasting counter

The Dog Behind the Winemaker

A black Lab, Hans, finished college with David and the boys came home to the Rocky Knob winery. Hans helped with winemaking and even lent his image for use on the wine label. Hans acted as barrel room custodian, happily lapping up any spills he encountered.

My favorite wine here is Gold Medal winner Black Dog, a smooth blend of some of my favorite red wines:  Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Developed in 1991 and named in honor of Hans, it pairs perfectly with meats and cheeses, making it my go-to for Happy Hour.

And, there is that bottle of Our Dog Blue calling to me. Burying my nose in a glass of this semi-sweet white puts a big ole smile on my face. Every. Single. Time. The melding of Riesling, Traminette, and Vidal Blanc provides the aroma of flowers mingled with melon, apricot, and citrus, and both sweetness and acidity on the tongue. That is packing a lot into one bottle of wine. But Our Dog Blue is up for the challenge.

The winery also has vineyards in Woolwine, which is at a lower altitude. That low altitude allows Morrisette to grow various grapes that would be less productive on top of the mountain, including Chardonnay and Petit Manseng. Those varieties bud early and are ideal for growing at a lower elevation. Unfortunately, those vineyards in Woolwine are challenging to access, require hand harvesting, and must be moved by horse and wagon. Although the grapes are excellent, the effort makes it too labor-intensive to harvest for commercial winemaking. Because of this, most of the wines produced come from grapes sourced from area farmers.

Villa Appalaccia

Rocky Knob AVA wines - award hanging around the shoulders of a bottle at Villa Appalaccia

Across the Blue Ridge Parkway from the French-style Chateau is the second winery in the Rocky Knob AVA, Italian-inspired Villa Appalaccia Winery. Seven years ago, “new” owners, Tim and Julie Block, bought the thirty-five-year-old winery. Their children left homes in Charlotte and DC, and they started a true family business. Now, three generations are involved in Villa operations, and grandchildren and granddogs serve as “greeters.”

Julie makes Italian-style wines on a plateau in southwestern Virginia’s Blue Ridge. The Villa straddles the border between Italy and Patrick and Floyd Counties. The varietals range from traditional Italian grapes like Aglianico and Sangiovese to more commonly known ones like Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc.

The Roman Empire considered Aglianico to be one of the finest ancient red grapes. The wine it produces is fruity and hearty, and it is excellent paired with lamb. The Sangiovese has a taste profile of strawberries and blackberries (from a touch of Montepulciano), with a spicy finish perfect with pasta and meats on a grill.

Beach girl that I am, I always bring home a bottle or three of Lirico, Villa’s Vidal Blanc, with hints of grapefruit and pineapple. I like to keep something on hand to go with seafood. I also hide away a bottle of Raspberry Taxi—a catchy name for Cab Franc blended with Raspberries, resulting in a semi-sweet dessert wine.

The Primitivo is available only by bottle and not at the tasting bar. Trust southern Italy (and me!) and just order it. With Croatian roots, Primitivo is the third most planted grape in southern Italy and California, where it is grown in more than ten percent of vineyards. Of course, out there, they call it Zinfandel. *wink, wink*

A beautiful young server with a bottle of Raspberry Taxi ready to pour
A beautiful young server with a bottle of Raspberry Taxi ready to pour

Come to Taste, Stay to Eat

Son-in-law Heyward is the winery manager and an outstanding chef, so go to the Villa and go hungry! Creative paninis are prepared in the kitchen just behind the wine bar, with the aroma lingering in the air as you taste the Villa Appalaccia wines. On Sundays, there is pizza cooking in the brick oven on the patio, and bands perform on the shady stage.

Pannini, chips, and fruit salad with a side of wine at Villa Appalaccia
Pannini, chips, and fruit salad with a side of wine at Villa Appalaccia

The Summit is the winery’s short-term rental property. The views from the house are spectacular. While the Summit is not in the vineyard, it is less than a mile away.

Insider tip: Villa Appalaccia closes for the winter between November and March. The dates vary each year, so check with the winery before making late-fall travel plans.

Stanburn Winery

Smiling man (David Stanley) holding a bottle of wine, ready to serve.
Smiling David Stanley ready to serve.

Stanburn Winery is not technically in the Rocky Knob AVA but misses it by only 23 miles. Close enough! These Virginia vineyards are outliers and not in established AVA areas. Still, they weren’t vineyards when the state established the AVA. So, there’s that.

Stanburn is family-owned (do you see a theme emerging here in Virginia wineries?) Its roots appear in the name—Stanley and Burnette equals Stanburn. The first Stanleys (or Standleys), Thomas and his three sons, came to Virginia in 1700 from England. (I know because my grandmother Stanley’s lineage also goes back to Thomas.) So, I happily claim kinship to the folks at Stanburn Winery.

Stanburn’s award-winning wines carry local names like Poorhouse (Chambourcin named for nearby Poorhouse Creek,) the semi-sweet Bull’s Blush made from Chambourcin rosé, Cabernet Franc rosé, and Vidal Blanc (named to acknowledge the vineyard’s label and backdrop of Bull Mountain,) and Big A Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Chambourcin (Big A School was just down Big A School Road.)

Stanburn produces twelve tasty red and white wines, and every single one has at least one medal hanging around its neck, most with three or more. The Stanleys have been doing something right since 2010, including harvesting more than fifty tons of grapes yearly. Many of those grapes ended up in other Virginia wineries’ bottles.

Sadly, the owners of this winery have decided that family time is more important than wine time, and 2024 will be their last vintage. The family members who have become dear friends will be missed even more than their wines. But the winemaker and her life-long friend are carrying on the traditions of southwestern Virginia wine making. In a daring move, Jocelyn and Megan have launched Daring Wine & Cider Company and, using Chardonnay and Barbera grapes from one of Stanburn’s last harvests, they are off and running with Patrick County, Virginia wines on the shelf.

A bottle of red wine being poured into a stemless Stanburn Winery wine glass.
A bottle of red wine poured into a stemless Stanburn Winery glass

Hamlet Winery

Hamlet Winery does not lie within the Rocky Knob AVA, either, being 25 miles outside the lines drawn along the mountain to designate Rocky Knob. But it is in southwestern Virginia wine country. It is so close and has no other designation that I group these four wineries simply because you can pick a spot to stay and visit all four with easy day trips.

Hamlet Winery in Stanleytown had deep family roots. Virginia Hamlet’s family home, historic Eltham Manor, and the gambrel-roofed barn were constructed in 1936. Both buildings are listed on the National Register, and today, the barn houses the operations of Hamlet Winery instead of the family horses. No wonder I feel so at home here; as a horse lover, I’ve spent many hours in barns.

Blonde (Virginia Hamlet) pouring a glass of white wine
Virginia Hamlet pouring a glass of white wine in the Hamlet Vineyards barn

Owner Virginia often jokes that Hamlet is a Virginia winery, with native Virginians at the helm, bottling Virginia grapes picked by a field hand named Virginia. That story is as accurate as this:  the owners (and winemakers) are an architect and a businessman/racecar driver.

Bottle labels showcase the vineyard and the beautiful Virginia countryside. Wines pay homage to the area with names such as Old Virginia Red, Eltham, and Cardinal Rosé (Virginia’s state bird is the brilliant red cardinal.)

On Sunday afternoons, Hamlet opens the gate for tastings, food, plates, and live music. Relax in this comfortable barn and sip on selections from a rosé called VaVino (Virginia’s quick wit on overtime) to Eltham (an award-winning Meritage-style blend of Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and just a touch of Malbec) to Bottled Blonde, (a dessert wine that smells like peach ice cream.) Really—who could resist?

Insider tip: Order a locally made Red Red Wine Truffle—it is filled with the winery’s Petit Verdot! Yum!

Red wine in a glass, beside two chocolate truffles
Petit Verdot inside and out!
Red Red Wine Truffles and a glass–both filled with Petit Verdot

Blue Ridge Mountains

A bonus at all these wineries is the view. From Rocky Knob AVA atop the blue ridge of Virginia’s mountain, you can see Buffalo Mountain. And you can drive along the Parkway at Meadows of Dan from Chateau Morrisette to Villa Appalaccia.

From Stanburn and Hamlet, located in the Blue Ridge’s foothills, you have views of the breathtaking blue mountain peaks rising in the distance. It’s difficult, okay, it’s impossible, to pick my favorite view. I love the expansive view of the area from the mountaintop and those blue mountains rising majestically in the distance. I say you can have it all—red and white wine, and mountaintops and valleys.

The area is stunning in any season, but spring is especially lovely. The state flower, dogwood, and redbuds are in bloom. Native rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azaleas cover the hillsides.

Insider tip:  Check winter weather conditions before traveling. The Parkway is closed during bad weather.

A final piece of insider information:  The Rocky Knob AVA might have been stretched to cover a bit more of Patrick and Henry Counties if there had been wineries in those areas when the AVA designation was requested…by David Morrisette!

A buck watching photographer Jo Clark from the safety of the woods in the Rocky Knob AVA.
A buck watching photographer Jo Clark from the safety of the woods in the Rocky Knob AVA

A bit further south in the Blue Ridge Wine Region, you’ll cross the state line into North Carolina, marking the beginning of the Yadkin Valley AVA. The Yadkin Valley stretches from the Blue Ridge foothills at the Virginia border to below Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It is a gorgeous region to enjoy. Recipes Travel Culture has suggestions of wineries along a wine trail and vineyards with log cabins tucked into the vines where you can spend a night…or a week! Cheers!

Lover's Leap Overlook beside the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan
Lover’s Leap Overlook beside the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan

Plan Your Next Trip!

For more exciting vacations, try these locations! Plan a trip to South Carolina’s Georgetown, a visit to Historic Gettysburg, or take off on a road trip to visit beautiful Yadkin Valley Wineries.


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