This yawning brick skeleton is all that remains of the grand mansion designed by the local demigod, Thomas Jefferson, for his friend James Barbour, Governor of Virginia and, later, the US Secretary of War. The mansion burned down on Christmas Day of 1884 (candles in drying Christmas trees–who thought that was a good idea?). Lucky for them, the Barbour family had an elegant Georgian villa just next door, now part of the inviting 1804 Inn & Cottages. Off they went, while the Ruins remained, perched upon a hill overlooking the smooth waves of the Blue Ridge mountains and framed by old chestnuts, grand magnolias, and manicured boxwood.
Barboursville was a last-minute detour on our sunny autumn weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. We were here to visit the presidential homes: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello–a UNESCO’s World Heritage site–James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier (all dressed up for the Constitution Day celebration), and James Monroe’s modest Ash-Highland Lawn. Barboursville is a serene 10-minute drive from Montpelier and about 30 minutes away from Monticello. The Ruins lie within the 900-acre Barboursville Vineyards, the oldest (c. 1976) of the boutique wineries along the Monticello Wine Trail.
Barboursville put this region on the viticultural map with its signature red, Octagon. The wine and its label celebrate the centerpiece of the ruined mansion–its octagonal drawing room. Tastings and an Italian restaurant, Palladio, are just down the road in a large white building, overflowing with excited crowds. For a moment, we relaxed outside: grape vines and chestnuts whispered in the breeze, clouds played with their own shadows. Slowly, dusk was approaching.
- For another, much more thorough take, see The History Tourist’s excellent post “Wine Among the Ruins“
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