Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Part III – Paddle & Pour

Paddle Your Glass Off

I’ve been to wine tastings before. I’ve been kayaking before. But I have never kayaked to a wine tasting. I never even knew you could do such a thing. But you can, and I did!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism office arranged for me to go on Southeast Expeditions‘ Paddle Your Glass Off tour. We drove the short distance from Cape Charles to a tiny village on the bay appropriately named Bayford. It was a beautiful day for November – nearly 70 degrees, and the water of the Nassawadox Creek was calm and still. Perfect kayaking conditions!

The waterman's wharf at Bayford, on Virginia's Eastern Shore

Dave from Southeast Expeditions was there when we arrived. He has over 15 years of experience as a  professional guide and expedition leader. But more than that, he’s knowledgeable about the area and very easy to have a conversation with. We chatted with Dave for a little bit, and once everyone had arrived, we set about starting our expedition.

Dave offered us a brief “paddling clinic” to teach us how to hold the paddles, how to steer the kayak, and so on. This was incredibly helpful for someone like me, who has only kayaked once before and needed some pointers.

We paddled for about 45 minutes south toward Church Creek. The Southeast Expeditions web site says that they always see wildlife on this expedition, and they were right – a beautiful blue heron took off from the marshes and flew right past us. (Sadly, no photo as it caught me by surprise and my camera was stowed. I had already learned that sudden movements tend to make the kayak wobble a lot and feel like it’s about to tip over. I’m not a fan.)

We chatted with the other kayakers and with Dave as we paddled and the 45 minutes passed quickly. Before I knew it, we were pulling our kayaks up onto the shores of Chatham Vineyards, which is the only winery on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore will give you many opportunities to see wildlife and explore waterways.

As we walked up from the creek and our landing site, we saw a gorgeous Federalist style house in the distance. Dave told us that we were looking at the main entrance/front of the home because when it was built, visitors would come via the water. The rear of the house faced what is now the road. Now, however, the front and the back of the house look pretty much the same, with a symmetric design and columns gracing the main door.  Here’s the view from the road.

The Chatham estate, a working farm for four centuries and now a vineyard & winery. Just one of the many places you can discover when you go kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore

The land at Chatham was patented in 1640, and the house dates to 1818. Major Scarborough Pitts built the house and named it for William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, who was a friend of the American Revolution. Chatham Farm has been a working farm for four centuries!

There are 20 acres of grapevines at Chatham vineyards. We were there so late in the season that no grapes remained on the vines, but we did at least get to see the plants.

Only vines, no grapes. Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore to Chatham Vineyard & Winery.

As we walked from the vineyard to the winery, Dave told us about the owner, John, and how he had studied wine-making techniques and the science behind the production. He’s a second generation winegrower, and he has also made numerous trips to Europe to continue learning about his craft.

Just before we reached the winery, we met Chester, a happy-go-lucky Labrador retriever who greeted us with a great deal of enthusiasm and let us shower him with affection for a few minutes. Then it was time to get down to business, sampling the wine made on this very property.

We entered the winery and saw lots of oak barrels, some wine-related merchandise, and a lovely woman behind a bar area who was eager to talk about the wines and answer our questions. It was interesting to learn that the grapes are grown in soil with a high mineral content. The mineral content came from a meteor strike at the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore some 35 million years ago.

I know almost nothing about wine. I just feel the need to say that upfront. If you are a wine aficionado, please keep that in mind when I express my opinions below. Descriptions are straight from the Chatham website because to me, wine tastes like wine.

The first sample was of the Church Creek steel-fermented Chardonnay. As the name implies, the wine undergoes its fermentation  in steel tanks. This wine has won several awards (including being in the top 100 out of something like 12,000), but I preferred the oak Chardonnay, which was the second one we tasted. Again, as the name implies, the oak chardonnay is fermented in oak barrels.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can take you to a myriad of places, including the Chatham Vineyards & Winery.

The steel has notes of honeysuckle, pineapple, and mineral elements on the nose. Its palette is pristine, with ripe, sweet stone fruit tangerine acidity, and just a hint of grapefruit. The oak, on the other hand, has a round mouth feel with a creamy texture. The result is a pleasing combination of ripe pear and apple, notes of clove and lemon zest with fresh acidity.

Then we moved on to the Rosé, which was a 50-50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It was a dry Rosé, with notes of raspberry and white peach.

The Merlot, which takes over 18 months to age, is a well-balanced wine full of cherry and black currant, with a soft tannic structure. Hints of brown spice linger on the palate.

The Cabernet Franc is a blend that is 82% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. This wine is lush and ripe with prominent berry flavors of raspberry, cherry and a touch of cranberry.

The Vintner’s Blend is hand-selected by the owner, and differs every year. The blend we tried, from 2016, consisted of 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Cabernet Franc. Blend offers fresh acidity and bright fruit flavors of cherry and black current. Coffee bean, chocolate and spice, too, make-up the flavor profile of this blend. I quite liked this one and it was probably my favorite of them all.

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore can lead to many fun adventures - including a wine tasting at Chatham Winery

The final sample was a Red Dessert Wine.  It had 3% residual sugar as a result of leaving the fruit on the vine to dehydrate slightly. With hazelnut, spice, tobacco and notes of dried fruit, this wine lingers on the palette. It was Hubs’ favorite.

After the tasting, we sat at some tables overlooking the vineyard and enjoyed a cheese and bread platter. I was kind of hungry and ate a slice of the olive bread before I thought to take a picture… sorry!

Virginia's Eastern Shore - Kayaking to Chatham Winery

It was delicious! And just the right thing to enjoy after wine.

We had a bit of a snafu with the timing on this trip. We had all forgotten that we “fell back” for the end of daylight savings time the previous night. So even though our clocks said that it was nearly 5:00, the sun was setting fast and it was as dark as it would have been at 6:00 the night before. The prospect of kayaking back in the dark didn’t sounds like much fun. But before we could fret about it, John, the owner of the winery, loaded everyone up in his van and took us back to our vehicles. That was so nice of him!

The price for the Paddle Your Glass Off expedition includes a free bottle of wine for every two kayakers.  Hubs picked the dessert wine, which we hope to enjoy at home soon.

This was an excellent end to a wonderful day of adventure. I cannot say enough nice things about Southeast Expeditions and Chatham Vineyards. Everyone was so welcoming and hospitable! The scenery was lovely and the wine was first class. If you’re in the area and you want to experience kayaking on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, I highly recommend taking the Paddle Your Glass Off tour from Southeast Expeditions!

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism bureau provided me with tickets for Paddle Your Glass off. However, all opinions expressed here are my own. 

Kayaking on Virginia's Eastern Shore - Travelasmuch.com

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