After our tasting we took a short 20-minute tour of the facility led by Shelley, a Starr Hill employee who obviously loves his job and his product! Starr Hill got its start in Charlottesville-proper as a brew-pub and then expanded operation in this converted chicken-processing plant in nearby Crozet. They currently distribute to six states with plans to branch out farther very soon. After a few purchases for us and for friends, it was time for some lunch. From literature we found at Starr Hill we decided to try what else - another microbrewery! After punching in the address in the handy Magellan, we traveled east to another small town called Afton just in time to join a big crowd already assembled at the small, but obviously popular, Blue Mountain Brewery and Restaurant.
All the tables were full for lunch but we were offered a sofa, an armchair and a coffee table if we wanted immediate seating. Yes, please! Blue Mountain like a lot of this region we noticed by way of town and road names has a heavy German influence. Their beer offerings were of the Bavarian nature as was their menu (and our selections from it). We started off sharing a big soft pretzel dipped in their own delicious home-made mustard, followed up a bigger-than-we-thought-it-would-be Brat Pizza...yep, pizza with brat slices..ingenious and oh so good. We also got a beer sampler (photo above) which was also very impressive. So much so that Rob had another pint and we bought a 750ml bottle to take with us (again, more info on the beer in Rob's beer blog). With daylight fading in the cold winter afternoon, we decided to check out one more spot that Rob had researched and was recommended by Bon Appetit magazine for their wine, The Kluge Estate & Winery. This beautiful place happens to be just a few miles from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home and the area's most well-known attraction, but it seemed many miles away from any crowds. We were able to easily and quickly try a flyte of their wines (photo below where Ashlee might be enjoying the fire even more than the wine). The wines were superb as was the ambiance here and we would have loved to linger for a while more, but as the sun began to set in the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo above) we knew we had another long drive ahead of us into the darkness of southern Virginia to the state line and the city shared by two states, Bristol, TN-VA. Plus, we had one more thing to see before we crashed again at another Doubletree Hotel in nearby Johnson City, TN - the famous World's Fastest Half-Mile Bristol Motor Speedway decked out in Christmas lights and a chance to actually drive on the high-banked oval! The drive south did indeed turn out to be long (2oo+ miles), but we made it with just enough time to spare to drive through the impressive Speedway in Lights Christmas Display in and around the Bristol Motor Speedway Complex. This expansive display includes the grounds surrounding the football-stadium-shaped racetrack, the adjoining drag strip and then concluding inside and on the track itself with a carnival of food and rides available in the infield. Despite Christmas being over for a week, this experience was well worth it and highly recommended if you find yourself in the Bristol area around the holidays (or just want to make a fun holiday road trip). They have been putting on this show for several years now, and according to their advertising it only gets bigger every year. Plus, you get to drive on the steep-banked track! (photo above) Even at 5 MPH it's pretty exhilarating and addictive. It took everything we had not to get a speeding ticket on the way home the following day! January 3 - Johnson City to Home Four hours of squabbling over the radio and complaining about the car being a mess. Yep, it's a good thing this road trip is coming to an end! But in all seriousness, this turned out to be one of the best trips we've taken together(and we take a lot of trips!). We thoroughly enjoyed Atlantic City which has really cleaned up its act from the reputation it had gotten in the past of being dirty and crime-ridden. The Charlottesville area turned out to be a great surprise and a real hidden gem. Very undeveloped in terms of touristy crap and instead incredibly pristine in terms of the preservation of history and nature, while still having tons of things to see and do and interesting places to eat and perhaps have a drink or two. What a great way to usher in 2010! We got a feeling it's gonna be a wonderful year as well as a great new decade.!