Updated: May 9
This Sip with me Sunday, I’m not on the trail but I am catching up on a fun adventure I had a few weeks ago with Cork and Keg Tours. You may have recalled I hopped on one of their “blended tours” recently for a fun-filled Virginia wine excursion in Loudoun County. I met owners Renee and Don Ventrice at their luxury bus parked in a convenient Ashburn location and joined 7 other folks for a day of wine tasting, education, fellowship, food and more.
I often talk about the experience of wine – and, well, this was one of them.
The bus was stocked with water, light refreshments, and a fun playlist that was created from our own personal selections prior to the trip. Our tour included stops at three Loudoun County vineyards including Two Twisted Posts, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, and 868 Estate Vineyards where we also had lunch at their on-site restaurant. I’ve been to each of these in the past but not in recent years so it was nice to get a taste of their new vintages while learning more about each of the vineyards and their wine making. And, each stop was crafted for our group with personal touches and special tasting experiences.
It was a highly memorable day on the trail and by the time the day was done I had met some great new friends. After the trip, I was able to chat further with owner Renee to learn more about how Cork and Keg began and her and Don’s overall love for wine.
Q: What was the genesis behind Cork and Keg Tours?
A: When my husband was laid off from his job in 2016, it was taking longer than expected for him to find a job, and we were stressed out. It was during this time we went for a long drive and he came up with an idea to start our own business. Being an entrepreneur at heart, his idea was all it took to get my buy in – it was music to my ears! So, we came up with the idea of Cork and Keg Tours. Even though it would be based in Northern Virginia, we decided to choose a name that could be a fit for different regions as we expand and we also wanted the growing craft beer scene, so after a bottle of wine and lots of creative ideas, we came up with the name. We proceeded to register our business, build a plan and launch Cork and Keg Tours, LLC. But just a few days later my husband landed a job which he still has today. So, we started as a weekend only operation (since we both worked full time) but in September 2019 I left my full-time job and we have officially expanded to weekday operations as well. It’s an exciting time for us!
Q: Was there a specific need you saw that needed to be met?
A: Yes, absolutely. We have been taking winery tours in Sonoma for over a decade and were always impressed with how our guides had extensive knowledge of the regions, the wines, and had strong relationships with the vineyards being able to provide guests with exclusive behind the scene access. It was never just transportation. We saw a great need for a service like that in Virginia because no one business offered the same level of personalized service and special access. So, we did our research and took our business model to the next level of hospitality.
Q: What’s your wine story? When did you get into the wine business and/or realize it was an area of passion for you?
A: My husband and I discovered and fell in love with wine together. In 1999 on our 5th wedding anniversary we dined at the Fish House in Pensacola Florida and enjoyed a sushi and wine pairing with an early 90’s Dr. Thanisch Riesling that paired so incredibly with our meal. That was truly the first wine and food pairing that I actually “got”. In 2003, we moved to Loudoun County and began to explore the local wineries. We developed a taste for the Virginia grapes and at that time something was awakening in us. The following year we made our first trip to Sonoma, and that is where our passion for wine hit its stride and we were discovering a variety of wines that really knocked our socks offs – from Pinot’s to Zinfandel’s to Cabernet Sauvignon’s. The more wine we tried, the more it became clear that my palate was sharp and my passion for wine was growing, so I obtained my WSET2 certification and I am currently studying to be a Certified Specialist of Wine.
Q: Lastly, what’s your favorite Virginia wine varietal and why?
A: For most of us in the Virginia wine industry, this is always a tough question because there’s so much to be said. But since you asked about “varietal” – I think that Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from Virginia are excellent choices. We usually lay them down for 2-3 years before opening to really get the full body effect. We aren’t big white drinkers, but paired with Thai and Indian food, nothing beats a Virginia made Petit Manseng. A lesser known varietal that I adore here is Albarino. It’s bright and crisp like a Pinot Grigio yet mellow and medium bodied like a Chardonnay. I didn’t expect to love it, yet I do – and it’s my go-to Virginia wine to pair with soft cheeses.
It was a great chat with Renee and I am so thrilled to see the level of personalized service their business is bringing to the Virginia wine scene. And, in addition to their business and busy lives, Renee even finds time to produce a podcast called “Start Wine-ing” which is all about wine, craft beer, relationships, parenting, and a variety of other topics. Renee wants her listeners to feel like they are sitting across from her chatting in their living rooms.
If you’re looking for a great time venturing throughout Virginia wine country – definitely give Cork and Keg Tours a try. In addition to the “hop on-style” blended tours you can also arrange a private tour for even more VIP services! Learn more about my tour experience in my recent Instagram post at @vawineknow.