A Weekend At Wedmore
The Aquitaine Suite at Wedmore Place, Williamsburg
After journeying across waters and driving through unfamiliar countryside, my significant other and I arrive at a luxurious inn, designed in true European style and surrounded by vineyards and forests. Upon opening the door to our suite, we discover a lavish sitting room, painted a delicate blue-gray and bedecked in extraordinary furnishings that reflect XIX Century France. The suite itself mirrors the style of Aquitaine, the Southwestern region of France, which holds the capital of Bordeaux, the world’s most famous wine-producing region. My attention turns to an impressive and appropriate mural on the wall, depicting Bacchus, the god of wine, falling in love with Ariadne, the abandoned lover of Theseus. An open-hearth fireplace beckons to be lit, and a bottle of wine pleads to be chilled. But only half of our suite has been explored.
In the adjoining bedroom, a stately king-sized bed faces a bold, dark green striped tapestry with circled olive branch wreaths. Next to the bed sits a fragrant satchel of French lavender to be sprinkled in the most decadent bath, and just in the next room, I fixate the most decadent, oversized jetted tub.
The view outside of our window presents a courtyard, complete with a fountain and swimming pool, opening during the warmer months. Tonight, however, a winter chill requires hearty fare from the European café just down the hall, along with a full-bodied glass of red. The wine, however, won’t be from the Bordeaux region of France. It will hail from the Williamsburg region of Virginia, where we’re retreating for a romantic weekend.
European Charm in Williamsburg
Our accommodations for the weekend are at the extravagant Wedmore Place, a boutique hotel with 28 rooms, each named and designed after a European province. All the rooms feature individually and thoughtfully selected antiques and paintings, a wood-burning fireplace, tall ceilings and plush king-sized beds.
Wedmore Place is located on the property of Wessex Hundred, 300 acres which also hold The Williamsburg Winery, Café Provenҫal, the Gabriel Archer Tavern and rows upon rows of grape vines, which house the fruits of some luscious—and award-winning—labor.
The property dates back to the Colonial era when the newly-formed Virginia Company sent three ships to the New World to settle an English colony in 1606. Second in command, Gabriel Archer insisted that the land was perfect to call home. The ground was high (easily defendable), and the soil was excellent. He was outvoted, and the expedition continued onto Jamestown—and well, you know the story from there.
Later known as Archer’s Hope, the farm was subject to the Twelfth Acte of 1619, which indicated that each settler plant at least 10 vines for the purpose of making wine on his property. Imbibers can relive a bit of this history upon sipping the winery’s aptly named Acte 12 Chardonnay.
In the following years, the property had various owners and uses—but our favorite use is that of a vineyard and winery. The Duffeler family (who still owns Wessex Hundred today) purchased the land in 1983, the first vineyards were planted in 1985, and the first crush was in 1987. The winery’s most popular vintage, Governor’s White, was released in 1988 and was awarded a gold medal within just two weeks. Today it’s the best selling wine in the Commonwealth, and The Williamsburg Winery has established itself as the largest winery in Virginia—as well as the most visited. The most recent accolade came in 2014 when the winery’s 2010 Adagio was awarded the Virginia Governor’s Cup.
There are a couple factors contributing to the success of the winery—aside from the excellent terroir that Archer recognized. For starters, classical music plays to the fermenting wine 24 hours a day as it ages. Michael Kimball, marketing director for the winery, explains that wine is a living, breathing organism. “It deserves the luxury of hearing music and being soothed,” he says.
Another factor comes from the winery’s experienced vice president and winemaker, British-born Matthew Meyer. Meyer graduated from the University of California at Davis, one of the world’s premier wine schools, before honing his expertise at two prestigious wineries in Napa Valley, Calif. He brought his passion to The Williamsburg Winery in 2002 and has been achieving excellence since. However, for him, choosing a favorite wine, he explains, is like picking a favorite child. “Sometimes one outshines the other,” he says, “but we treat them all the same.”
There are many enticing foods to pair with the winery’s 24 varietals at the two on-site restaurants, the upscale Café Provenҫal and the casual Gabriel Archer Tavern. Executive chef for both restaurants, Ika Zaken, grew up in Jerusalem, Israel, where he became accustomed to hand-selecting his food each day, choosing from vegetables that were grown locally and meat that was butchered just down the street. He kept these concepts vital when opening his own butcher shop in Jerusalem, studying French cuisine in Paris and opening his own restaurant in Belgium. It was love that brought him to Williamsburg (his wife, Molly, is a native), and he’s continued with his dedication to using local foods as he works with Williamsburg Farmers Market and Produce Source in order to ensure the freshest ingredients for his astounding dishes. “
During our dinner at Café Provenҫal, we are first presented with a sampling of asparagus gazpacho to cleanse the palate, followed by a rich crab ravioli—which we’re instructed to slice down the middle to discover a surprise—a poached egg. My favorite flavors of the evening—aside from the glass of Lord Botetourt Red—are the jumbo lump crab cakes, sitting atop manchego polenta and smeared with saffron and espelette pepper aioli.
The dessert menu looks absolutely divine, but we’ve indulged so copiously that we’ll have to return for another visit to sample some of the delicacies. For now, we’re retreating back to Aquitaine. After all, there’s a fire beckoning to be lit, and surely, there’s wine just pleading to be drank.