With more than 16 million visitors each year, Washington, D.C., is one the most popular travel destinations in the country, and for good reason: from monuments and museums, to parks and historical sites, it is a city with enough activities to keep most visitors happily occupied for days on end.
Perhaps it’s because Washington itself has so much to offer that so many visitors fail to consider the many attractions in the surrounding countryside. Indeed, many visitors to the D.C. area would be surprised to learn that within an hour’s drive of the White House there are breathtaking sites of natural beauty such as the Great Falls National Park on the Potomac River, not to mention all of the picturesque agricultural communities dotted throughout both Virginia and Maryland.
However, what very few visitors (or residents) of D.C. know is that in the last few years Northern Virginia has become home to both a kosher distillery and a kosher winery, and starting this summer, both of these kosher producers will be selling their products, and giving on-site tastings. A visit to both of these producers, along with a stop at George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill at Mount Vernon, would make for an enjoyable day trip for the kosher drink enthusiast visiting Washington.
Start the day with a visit to Catoctin Creek Distilling in Purcellville, Va. The distillery is located about an hour’s drive west of downtown Washington. (If you are entering Virginia via Maryland, and would like to take a more scenic drive, cross into Virginia on White’s Ferry, in Poolesville, Md., the last ferry operating on the Potomac.) This organic micro-distillery produces about 20,000 bottles of spirits annually, including four kosher-certified spirits: an un-aged rye whisky, a young rye whisky, a gin, and a pear brandy.
Catoctin Creek Distilling, which is located in a small industrial park about half a mile from its eponymous creek, is run by husband-and-wife team Scott and Becky Harris, who opened the distillery in late 2009 and started production last year. The Harrises are both new to the spirits trade. Scott, who worked in information technology as a government contractor for two decades, runs the front of shop, while Becky, who is trained as a chemical engineer, runs the still and fermenters.
Starting with their initial production last year, the majority of the distillery’s products have been made under the supervision of Star-K Kosher Certification. “We became kosher to help serve a group of consumers with limited choices [in spirits],” says Scott. (Catoctin Creek Distilling is located at 37251-C E. Richardson Lane, Purcellville, VA 20132. For more information visit www.catoctincreekdistilling.com. Starting July 1, a new Virginia law will allow the distillery to sell bottles and serve samples of their products on-site.)
About 45 miles south of the distillery, near the farming town of Warrenton, Va., is Molon Lave Vineyards, which is in all likelihood the first winery in Virginia to produce kosher wine since Prohibition.
This picturesque winery, which opened in 2007, is located on 50 acres of farmland, which includes vineyards, a small pond, an outdoor pavilion (used primarily for weddings) and multiple tasting rooms. Bring along a picnic lunch to enjoy on the winery’s grounds.
Molon Lave (which means “come and get it” in ancient Greek) is run by Owner/Winemaker Louizos Papadopoulos, and produces light and medium bodied varietal wines from both classic European varietals, and native-American/European hybrid grapes, all of which are grown in the winery’s 8-year-old vineyards.
Last year, in partnership with Avi Jacobowitz, a longtime friend of Papadopoulos, the winery added two kosher wines to its portfolio, both of which were made under the supervision of the Orthodox Union. The winery just released the first of these wines, a Riesling; the second wine, a Noiret (a red native-American/European hybrid grape created at Cornell University) will be released before Rosh HaShanah.
According to Papadopoulos, in upcoming years, as he becomes more comfortable with the production restrictions involved in making kosher wine, the winery plans to increase the size of its kosher portfolio, and perhaps even become a solely kosher producer. (Molon Lave Vineyards is located at 10075 Lees Mill Road, Warrenton, VA 20186. For more information visit www.molonlavevineyards.com.)
The final stop on your itinerary should be a visit to George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill at Mount Vernon, (which is about 60 miles east of Molon Lave Vineyards). While the distillery’s products are not produced under kosher supervision, the distillery itself is a must-see site for any drink enthusiast visiting Northern Virginia.
It is a little known fact that towards the end of his life George Washington became a producer of rye whiskey. In 1797 Washington built a distillery with five copper pot stills, at the southern end of his estate, close to his gristmill. And by the time he died in December 1799, the distillery had produced approximately 16,000 gallons of whiskey. This distillery was destroyed in a fire in 1814.
In 1997 archeologists uncovered the foundation of the distillery, and in 2007, using archeological evidence along with information gleaned from Washington’s papers, a working replica, built on the sight of the original distillery, was opened.
Both the distillery and the waterwheel-powered gristmill are fully operational, and visitors will see workers in period costume operating both. (Although on most days the stills are only used to distill water.)
The distillery sells miniatures of a commemorative whiskey, which was blended, aged and bottled at the distillery. (George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill are located 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22309. For more information visit www.mountvernon.org/visit/plan/index.cfm/pid/356.)
For those wishing to dine in Mount Vernon, the Mount Vernon Inn, located at the entrance to the estate, 8500 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Alexandria (approximately three miles north of the distillery) can provide prepackaged kosher meals by prior arrangement. For more information or to make a reservation, call (703) 780-0011.