It's been a long week. With finances run amok and the government hurrying to stabilize the economy, many Washington insiders and Wall Street traders are saying the same thing today: I could use a glass of wine.
Luckily, finding one won't break the bank. And weekend travelers looking for a short yet affordable trip are just in time for prime wine-tasting season between Washington and Richmond.
"On one hand, what's more disposable than a $20 bottle of wine? On the other hand, wine makes people happy," said Susan Westbrook, who owns White Fences Vineyards and Winery in Irvington, Va., with her husband, Bill. "We're still hanging in there at a time when, I think, it's sort of seen as an affordable treat when people sort of need it."
Pete Johns, one of the owners of New Kent Winery in New Kent, Va., said, "Truthfully, I think to a degree, the wine industry is recession-proof. People drink when they're happy, and they drink when they're sad."
Tucked between the Potomac and Rappahanock rivers, the stretch of land known as Virginia's Northern Neck harbors ideal conditions for growing grapes.
But the fertile territory is a fairly recent discovery for many of the area's vinters. Of eight wineries that stretch through the region, nearly all have opened up their doors to visitors since 2002.
"It's just the momentum that the wine industry has been gaining, not just in Virginia, but all over the country," said the area's veteran proprietor, Doug Flemer, who has run Ingleside Vineyards since 1980 on Flemer family-owned land hailing back to 1890. "People are becoming more interested in wine not just as a hobby but as a business."
Still, Flemer said Virginia vineyards, like so many businesses, are struggling in the face of a sinking economy. Whether paying double or triple for petroleum-based products necessary for wine production, or seeing visitors buy a bottle or two instead of a full case to save money, Flemer said the wineries are taking a hit.
"It has definitely affected our industry," Flemer said. "Everything has been affected by the oil prices, particularly. And now people are not traveling as much. I often hear that people are staying closer to home, but they're also staying off the roads, too."
If you do decide to venture out for a stress-free weekend reprieve, autumn weekends are an ideal time. Though harvest came a bit early this year -- "the grapes really tell us when to pick 'em," Westbrook explained -- October is a great month to visit.
"People like taking that fall drive through the country," Westbrook said. "It's a beautiful time, particularly in Virginia, to sort of sit out on the porch, take in the crisp fall weather and have a glass of wine."
At Vault Field Vineyards in Kinsale, owner Keith Meenan said now is the time for travelers to get out and see the fall foliage "before they have to hunker down."
Some attractions sprinkled from north to south include:
Potomac Point Vineyard & Winery
275 Decatur Road, Stafford, Va., 22554, 540-446-2266
Tasting: Starting at $5 for eight wines and olive oil bar