Monroe's merlot? Ash-Lawn hosts wine festival

Raise your glasses. It’s time to toast President James Monroe, winemaker.
Does that sound funny? That’s because, despite his efforts, Monroe was much more skilled at governing a new nation than he was at growing grapes in virgin– and fungus-infected– Virginia soil. But his noble attempts are more than reason to celebrate the history (and now sparkling success) of winemaking in Virginia at the 9th Annual Ash Lawn-Highland Virginia Wine Festival Saturday and Sunday, May 17-18. 
Did you realize Virginia is now the fifth largest producer of vinifera wines in the nation? Maybe that’s why new wineries seem to be sprouting up each season, and with them festivals, festivals and more festivals.
Though touring individual vineyards like Barboursville (a slice of Italian heaven in the heart of Virginia) is a not-to-be missed educational and sensory experience, festivals are the perfect way to sample and learn about a variety of different wines and wineries in one shot.  Both more established vineyards– like Barboursville, Horton, and Wintergreen– and younger vintages like Brad McCarthy’s Blenheim Vineyards and the Christensen Ridge Winery, will be popping and pouring under the Ash-Lawn Pavilion. Rain or shine.
A fine wine is finer when paired with perfect foods. That’s why, in addition to reds, whites, sparkling, and dessert wines, the festival will also offer a selection of mouth-watering gourmet appetizers prepared by Pierce McCleskey of 20 South Catering. Or you can test your taste buds and find out how versatile wine can actually be by sipping it along with a finger-licking plate of authentic Carolina barbeque or Cajun catfish, which will be served up by George Spry’s team from GMJ DeLites. 
Why sip in silence? Popular band Zydeco Crayz will get feet stompin’ on Saturday, and the Red Hot Smoothies enliven Sunday afternoon with their oh-so-smooth jazz tunes. (Try comparing the various wines to genres or pieces of music, and see where that takes you...)
And you don’t have to be 21 to join in the fun. Edward Faine, author of the “Little Ned” stories, will be present to read from his books and maybe even teach a few cowboy tricks. Several crafters will also be on site to demonstrate and discuss their handiwork and, as always, Monroe’s stately country retreat will be open for tours.
So don’t whine. There’s plenty to do in the Charlottesville area this weekend. All you need is a car–- and a corkscrew.

Ash Lawn-Highland hosts its ninth annual Virginia Wine Festival May 17-18, 11am-5pm. Each day, selected local wineries offer choice vintages for tasting and sale under the Ash-Lawn pavilion. Zydeco and jazz music, gourmet foods, and crafts demonstrations. $10 advance, $15 at the door (reduced rates for children). 293-9539. Ash-Lawn Highland is located off Interstate 64 (Exit 121) 2.5 miles beyond Monticello.

Read more on: ash-lawn