Fall is undoubtedly my favorite season. Crisp mornings, warm sunny days, the changing colors of the leaves and that gorgeous golden glow of the sun that casts a beautiful spell everywhere as it sets. Typically I make my annual pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge Parkway at this time. But, this year, I was deep into my radiation treatments and driving that far seemed a touch daunting. I still wanted to take a drive out into the country so my mother, Heather and I headed to Upper Shirley Vineyards last Sunday afternoon. It was a gorgeous fall sunny day and along with hundreds of other people who had the same idea, we arrived at the Vineyards ready to indulge.
The building itself is impressive and as someone who is a lover of fine porches, I’m in awe! It’s interesting that the design is definitely modern given its location in a very historic corridor amongst the plantations that line the James River. I don’t know what the design concept was intended to be, but it sure feels like a breath of fresh air with its clean lines and relative simplicity.
The hostess informed us that there was an hour and a half wait for lunch but that there was wine being sold outside and they would call us when our table was ready. We had all been here previously, so opted out of doing the wine tasting again. It’s definitely worth doing though! When we were last here, we were a party of 12 and occupied a huge table in the center of the room and ordered the tasting along with two servings of every appetizer. It was divine and we had been looking forward to returning.
As instructed, we headed outside to sit by the river for a while. We decided on a bottle of their excellent Viognier and found a spot under a tree. It was an absolutely perfect day; clear sunny skies and about sixty-five degrees. Having worked hard the day before, catering a wedding, we all just enjoyed relaxing outside. There was great people-watching that day; groups of friends, couples, all enjoying this lovely place.
We were surprised, not even half an hour later, to be called for our table. Seated inside, we enjoyed excellent service by Chris, our waiter, who was happy to make some great recommendations. I really like the wine here, but I REALLY like the food. We opted for 5 appetizers and another bottle of Viognier.
First up were 6 of the plumpest fried oysters I’ve ever had. Perfectly fried and served with a Collard Green & Sweet Potato Slaw with Virginia Ham & Smoked Tomato Aioli. Simply divine.
The next recommendation made was the Crispy Brussels & Pork Belly tossed in Sweet Chili Sauce with Japones Chilis. It’s so funny how this often maligned vegetable has made such a comeback in the last few years. Flash-fried and tossed in the sauce, these were ridiculously good! I abandoned my plant based diet for the day and savored the way the Pork belly just took this dish to a new level with its saltiness complementing the sweetness of the sauce.
At a winery, you have to have some cheese, right? I’m not kidding when I say I was prepared to abandon the vegan lifestyle for the day…. Warm Brie with Apple Walnut Compote with Crostini provided a subtle and comforting addition to our table. Lovely soft, fall flavor and well balanced with the crispness of the crostini.
The three of us are lovers of French Fries, so when they involve truffle oil and Parmesan and Garlic Aioli…..we are ALL about it. Decadency at its best and to hell with the calories. Just best not to eat them every day!
So, with all this richness, we had to counteract with a fresh green salad. And wow, it was the best I’ve had in a long, long time. Beautifully fresh lettuces ever so lightly dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. Exquisite.
There was absolutely no room for dessert but we all marveled at the glorious food, the setting and our impulse decision to come out here on such a beautiful day. We still had wine left so we headed outside once again to lay in the grass and relax, and enjoy the start of that warm glow of the autumn sun setting. Thank you, Chef Bannister, for allowing us to slip into a lovely food coma, in such a lovely location. And thank you to all those responsible for this gem just a short drive from the Tri-cities, Williamsburg and Richmond. We will be back, a lot.