The wineries in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains are a great treat after a day of driving and hiking while enjoying deep-woods scenery and high-elevation breezes. Wines with character? Peaks of Otter Winery has plenty of choices ... and characters that provide extra incentive to stop in for a free wine tasting.
The Johnson family harvests apples, berries, plums, peaches, and other fruits grown in their hilly orchard to make about 30 varieties of wines. Their monikers are amusing-Vino Colada, Blueberry Muffin, and Cinfulicious-as are the labels and tasting notes. The wines, however, are seriously good and made without any animal-derived ingredients. Some have merited awards: Chili Dawg won a Scovie, an honor bestowed in an annual spicy-foods competition. Kiss the Devil is even spicier, best used to season foods or clear heads.
The winery is off milepost 86 from the Blue Ridge Parkway; its driveway is marked by a 15-foot statue of Johnny Appleseed. The family has a guesthouse, "Elmo's Rest," that travelers can rent during their visit. The farm's goats, turkeys, and other animals are companion animals.
I visited the day after a refreshing hike on single-track dirt and rock paths up McAfee Knob, reputedly the most photographed stop on the 2,179-mile Appalachian Trail. I accompanied Appalachian Trail club volunteers who help build, maintain, and reroute trails with the authorization of the National Park Service. Reroutings are made to bypass eroded stretches or to give hikers sweeping views of the woods and valleys. We hikers owe these volunteers thanks.
The hike to the 3,197-foot summit is rewarded with breathtaking vistas of Catawba Valley and the Peaks of Otter, whose mountains include the aptly named Flat Top and Sharp Top. Some say the name "Peaks of Otter" came from the Cherokee word for "high up"; others believe that the inspiration was from the otters who can be spied in creeks and in Abbott Lake. You're likely to also see "through-hikers" trekking the entire Appalachian Trial.
The town of Bedford (also accessible via the parkway's milepost 86) packs a number of engaging shops into a colorful downtown center. Restaurants serving vegetarian selections that can easily be made vegan include Bedford Social Club and Artisan Café. The latter is based in the Electric Company Center, displaying works by local artists and crafters. Wine buffs can take the Bedford Wine Trail to several wineries between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Smith Mountain Lake.
You can hike and camp most of the year in the Peaks of Otter area, in which you can see and hike three mountains: Sharp Top (3,862 feet), Flat Top (3,994 feet), and Harkening Hill (3,372 feet). Hiking trails include a mile-long loop around Abbott Lake and a more challenging 1.6-mile trek to Sharp Top's summit.
For information about the town of Bedford, check out VisitBedford.com.