Posted by: jdantos | June 1, 2012

Ride Report: Biking through Loudoun Wine Country

A pitstop on the W&OD. It was all part of the “training.”

Did you ever learn a bit of a foreign language, read up on some history, or read a travel guide for a foreign country before you went there on vacation? In other words, did you ever “train” for a vacation?  Well, last weekend, we did.  So in a couple weeks, K and I are headed to France for two weeks of biking through Provence and Burgundy. We’ve signed up with a tour company which every morning gives you a map and cue sheet to the next hotel where your luggage will be – such luxury. We imagine the days will be filled with bike riding, punctuated by rest stops to eat great food, see the scenery, sample wine, and generally laze around. So, we needed practice for all the above – including the 40-50 miles a day we’re to be expected to cover.

And, alot of that experience can be found right here in our backyard, as a day trip from Washington even, in Loudoun County VA.  So, last Sunday, we headed out the W&OD trail from Reston, bound for Civil War sites, countryside, and wineries. We even convinced Kevin (aka @BicycleBug) to come join us on the adventure (we missed Lauren due to technical and interweb difficulties, but next time!).

Our bikes, looking very rural and country-like

Sunday was a hot day, with temps breaking 90 and a sticky humidity. We hit the W&OD around 10am, heading west along with the “triathlon” crew, easily identifiable by their armrests on their handlebars, the long straws thrusting up from their water bottles toward their faces. They were smart – up and out before the heat of the day began. Despite our promised pace of 15mph (on average!), K rocketed out in front of us (must’ve been the fresh legs) on her racing bike, Kevin and I struggled to keep up on our tourers, and we were making good time the first 15 or so miles. Those sections follow an electric power line right of way and can be pretty exposed to the sun, so we drank water plentifully. One of my favorite spots is an old train trestle across Goose Creek, where it feels like you jet out into thin air, and soar across a river bed.

Tour group at Ball’s Bluff

First stop was Balls Bluff north of Leesburg, a cemetery and battlefield site where, we learned, the north lost badly due to terrible communications and general inexperience. We happened to hit a guided tour just as it began, but the tour guide was so rambling that we bailed and took a walking tour of the battle site, and down to the Potomac River. It was a great break from the heat of the trail, and an educational moment, too. The tour guide even had replica rifles and bayonets and swords and whatnot, if you’re into that. (As a Massachusetts native, I’m always a bit curious to see how prominently the Civil War seems to sit in the collective consciousness here, whereas further north it seems less so. Maybe because so many of the battles were fought so close to here.)

Wine tasting and resting at Sunset Hills Vineyard

Back on the trail, we stopped in Leesburg for sandwiches and welcome hydration and air conditioning. Leesburg is a really nice downtown.

Second stop was Sunset Hills Vineyard, a few miles off the W&OD trail, for a wine tasting and soaking in the ambience. The only tough part was the steep, unpaved driveway up to the vineyard, but we had arrived. The tasting took us through their catalog, from Chardonnay to Viognier to the bigger reds, including a great Cabernet Franc. The Viognier won our hearts, so a bottle went into the saddlebags for the ride home.

Leaving Sunset Hills Vineyard

Third and final stop was Dry Mill Winery, just a half-mile off the W&OD on Dry Mill Road (it parallels the trail, and there are a couple of trails leading between them). Their tasting was a bit larger, including a pretty complex Petit Verdot, a truly dry Rosé with a peppery finish (a rare find), and two different styles of Chardonnay.  Unfrotunately, their excellent Cab Franc was on the “endangered list” so no tasting. The Rosé was the winner this time, so a bottle went into the saddle bags.

2 different kinds of Chardonnay (steel and barrel) at Dry Mill winery.

One of the things I like about Virginia wine tasting is that it’s beginner-friendly, no snootiness, and there are no dumb questions. Heck, I doubt they’d blink an eye if you asked what the difference between a red and a white was. All the wines are young, within a year or two. It’s all about how you taste it, whether you like it, and what food it will pair well with. And, no one blinks an eye when you show up to a tasting room in sweaty, stinky bike clothes, and ask for a water bottle refill! In fact, one of our tasting leaders was a bicyclist himself. We each decided on a glass of our choice, and sat on Dry Mill’s great patio and devoured a hunk of cheese and a baguette. Kevin regaled K and me with amazing stories of bugs and bicycles, from house centipedes to spiders, from fenders to frame styles. It was great, and the food seemed to fly off the table.

BicycleBug riding the W&OD

We rolled out of Dry Mill, along the road and into Leesburg to pick up the W&OD trail again, for the last 20 or so miles back to the car. We stopped halfway to refill water and take yet another snack. On this last leg, I was wishing my chamois was even thicker, and that I wasn’t lugging around two heavy bottles, but the skies had clouded over giving a break from the heat.

We arrived back at the car in Reston around 7pm. Ravenously hungry, all 3 of us downed “smoothies as big as your head,” loaded the bikes on the car, and headed back to DC.

Our post-ride reward – smoothies as big as your head!

All in all, a fantastic ride and a great adventure. Doing this kind of trip by bicycle really let us experience our surroundings, see the countryside, and travel flexibly. Four bottles of wine toted home, three riders, two wineries, one historic cemetery, and a great day. 64 miles total (route map), broken up into manageable 10-20 mile chunks. Clyde’s new Vélo Orange fenders performed mostly flawlessly.

As for the wine, you ask? The Viognier was indeed excellent, since we drank it the other night. The Rosé is still chilling in the fridge.

As to how any of this helps us train for the trip, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.  In any case, we sure had a blast.

If you’re interested in joining on the next ride, let me know! We’re thinking of a similar ride in July.



  1. Awesome post! I felt like I rode along with you. I know those giant smoothies tasted good. You will write about the tour in France, right? We rode on Sunday too, 31 miles from home-BWI loop-Patapsco Park-back home. Hard to stay hydrated on such a hot day. In fact I can safely say I have never sweat (sweated?) so much in my life. We’re training too, for the Finger Lakes Bon Ton Roulet tour. Also through wine country! We did it last year, so now we know what to expect in terms of terrain (lots of hills, some of them really tough), wineries (plentiful) and ice cream (best ice cream ever right outside of Ithaca).

  2. down for july tour!

  3. Count me as a maybe– I’d love to go, but things have a way of creeping into my schedule. Looks like you guys had a great time!

  4. […] W&OD trail recreating the fun of Justin (and wife) and Kevin on their recent trip to a pair of Loudoun County wineries. Proposed […]

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