Ridgefield Farm + Maggie Malick Wine Caves

Where: 414 Kidwiler Rd., Harpers Ferry, WV
When: Thursday- Sunday, 10 am- 5 pm

I remember once in high school chatting with a classmate who said he had never left the state of Georgia. “Not even to go to Florida?” I asked, because every Georgia kid I ever grew up with had taken at least one trip to Florida at some point in their life. He confirmed: not even to Florida. This kid was 18 years old and had been confined to one state his entire life. It was an utterly foreign concept to me.

I thought of this today as my car breezed over the dividing line between Virginia and West Virginia and I crowed “We’re in a new state, kids!” and my friend yelled “Woohoo!” and the kids didn’t even stop watching their movie to acknowledge it. Well, and why should they I suppose. Maryland is under 30 miles away, as is West Virginia and Washington, D.C. I can drive to a new state faster than I can get through Tyson’s Corner in rush hour traffic.

Still, taking a weekday trip to another state retains a sense of special-ness to me. We are ON THE ROAD, exploring our world. We’re gonna see new things! We are officially tourists!

Our reason for traveling to West Virginia was a trip to Ridgefield Farm and Orchard in Harpers Ferry, WV and here’s where I’m going to remind you yet again to sign up for Certifikid, which is how I discovered this place. Certifikid is an amazing resource because not only does it enable you to go places you love at a discounted price, it introduces you to places you’ve never heard of before. I was checking my email one day last week and saw that the deal of the day was $10 for a voucher good toward two bouquets of flowers that you pick and cut at Ridgefield Farm and Orchard. Sold. Then I texted my friend and told her to go buy one as well. Two sold. Peer pressure is awesome.

As we were driving out to Harpers Ferry along route 9 I kept saying “This is so pretty! Look at this, it’s so beautiful!” I know I say this in pretty much every single one of my posts, but it’s true: yes it’s a bit of a drive. BUT THE DRIVE IS SUCH A TREAT. Rolling green Virginia hills, stone houses in Hillsboro, the Shenandoah River, vineyards everywhere. How can you possibly dislike driving in Virginia?

We arrived at Ridgefield Farm around 11:30 and were greeted in the yard by the owner, who welcomed us and explained the process of cutting flowers. It goes like this:

Step 1: Pick up scissors.
Step 2: Cut flowers.

I’m here to answer the hard questions, folks.

Ridgefield Farm provides scissors and baskets for you to take into the flower fields and cut to your heart’s content, but you’re also welcome to bring your own if you’re the sort of person who owns things like special flower baskets. Our voucher was good for “two bouquets of flowers” and we asked to have that specifically defined because I mean, I can make “a bouquet” that’s the size of my Nissan Armada if there’s no restrictions placed on me. We were told a bouquet is roughly 20 stems and assorted greenery, so our voucher could be redeemed for approximately 40 stems and and any green stuff we wanted to cut to fluff it out.

And then we were free to go!

The garden is filled with zinnias and sunflowers- not just regular yellow sunflowers, but a deep reddish black sunflower that I googled and have determined is most likely a Moulin Rouge sunflower.

Aren’t zinnias just the best? If I were gutsier my daughters would have been given flower names and would be walking around the world right now as Magnolia and Zinnia.

As a natural result of there being a garden full of flowers, Ridgefield is swarmed with butterflies! The farm very considerately provides butterfly nets for kids to use to “catch” butterflies. I put “catch” in quotations because although I happily let my kids tote the nets around, when I saw my oldest plop her net down and snare a large Monarch, I immediately told her to take it off and let the Monarch go. Something about seeing that butterfly in a net made me feel an immediate sadness about the human desire, upon witnessing something beautiful in nature, to take possession of it. Kind of like cutting flowers from the ground in which they grow to stuff into a vase in which they will inevitably die. I didn’t claim to be a creature of consistency.

So, rather than “catching” butterflies, the kids settled for “ineffectually chasing” butterflies, which was just as entertaining.

My friend and I meandered around the garden for a good 30 minutes, selecting the perfect stems for our bouquets and clipping peacefully. We rarely even spoke, but just enjoyed the simple pleasure of partaking in relaxing work side by side. If I were a certain type of person, I suppose I could claim it was calming and meditative.

When we assessed our harvest and agreed we each had something close to 40ish stems apiece, we returned to the farmstand and rang the bell, which alerts the farm that you’re ready to pay for your flowers. I had thought ahead and brought a vase from home, so I spent a few minutes at the work table pulling leaves off stems and arranging my flowers in the vase for the ride home. A water cooler is provided to fill your vase with water, so I highly recommend bringing a vase along to keep your flowers as fresh as possible for the ride home.

I am not a particularly talented individual, yet I have an innate hopefulness that reassures me each time I try something new that THIS will be my heretofore untapped hidden talent. I have yet to uncover that hidden talent that my brain is just so sure lies dormant inside me somewhere, but the optimism keeps my life entertaining. That being said, the natural beauty of these flowers makes it impossible to arrange them in way that doesn’t look lush and gorgeous, but you can still tell yourself the end result is a product of some natural ability that you possess for arranging flowers.

This wild and wonderful bunch of West Virginian flowers is currently sitting on my kitchen island, making me smile each time I see them. (The big heavy straggling green on the far right has been moved to the center of the bouquet and now stands tall and erect, pointing straight toward the ceiling, fulfilling its destiny of being a Tall Green Thing.)

Aside from flower picking, Ridgefield Farm has a play area for children with picnic tables (we were told picnic lunches are welcome), a pirate ship, and a choo- choo train.

Before you leave, pop into the small store and get a look at all the jams, jellies, condiments and soy candles made from produce picked on the farm and its orchards. My friend bought a jar of cranberry relish and a jar of bread and butter pickles.

We had a wonderful time at Ridgefield and are already planning on making a return trip in October for the farm’s fall activities, which include pumpkin picking (the pumpkins are already growing!), hayrides, and corn mazes. On weekend nights there’s also a haunted hayride that culminates in a trip through the corn maze in the dark (though this is not recommended for children under 10).

Make a day of it: 

The road to Ridgefield is paved with wineries and vineyards. You could spend an entire day simply driving from one winery to another along route 9. I saw at least 7 that have been on my list to try, and a few I had never even heard of. We made spontaneous plans to stop at one on the way home for a glass of wine and lunch, settling on Maggie Malick Wine Caves, located in Purcellville, for two reasons: burning curiosity about WHAT IS A WINE CAVE? and a giant yellow flag by the entrance that said FOOD.

A wine cave is a structure built into a hill that looks like those bunkers Doomsday Preppers build to survive the impending apocalypse, only instead of being filled with guns and canned goods, this bunker-type structure is filled with WINE (and snacks). I’ll meet you at the Maggie Malick Wine Cave in the event of an apocalypse; we likely won’t make it very long, but we’ll have a good time while we can.

Maggie Malick’s has a wonderful covered patio out back with tables, chairs, cornhole, and a beautiful view of the property. We purchased some crackers and cheese (try the Buffalo Feta dip), three glasses of wine, and made our way out back to enjoy a couple hours all to ourselves on the property.

We selected a glass each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose, and an Albarino to split because we wanted to cover all our bases while there. It was for research!

All were delicious but I gotta say: the Rose was the best I’ve had all summer. It’s made from the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon and is dry and fruity. Rose can be very hit or miss and this one was the best I’ve tried in a long, long time. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying a bottle while I was there.

Our kids had a great time at Maggie Malick’s. Two labs reside at Maggie’s and roam the property at their leisure; they realized we were there after an hour or so and came over to play with the kids for awhile. Abby and Moxie are the sweetest dogs you can imagine, and gentle with children, so don’t be afraid of them. (The folks at Maggie’s do ask that you not feed them, so make sure your kids don’t sneak them any snacks.)

Maggie Malick’s also offers wine tastings- an astounding $8 for 10 pours, which is one of the most reasonable tastings I’ve seen. A tasting gets you pours of four whites, five reds, and their rose. Eight of these ten wines have earned medals at competition, and three of them have earned gold medals, so you will probably not find a tasting with a better combination of quality + price than this.

These two destinations combine the best of what this area has to offer- a chance to explore nature and take in the natural beauty of the region, to enjoy delicious wine made from Virginia grapes, and best of all, to support local businesses. I think you’ll find the whole day is enjoyable for everyone in the family.

Old Aldie Mill + Quattro Goomba’s Winery… and John Mosby

It’s been a busy week over here as we try to cram as much as we can into the last 5-ish weeks of summer before school starts. My friends back home in Georgia are all preparing to send their kids back to school in the next 7-10 days and I must say, this is where that Kings Dominion Law comes in real handy- instead of back to school shopping right now, we’re still planning new things to do and hanging out at the pool. Virginia is for lovers slackers.

The other day my kids and I set out to see Old Aldie Mill in Aldie, Virginia. Aldie is a straight shot up US 50/ John Mosby Highway and I want to share something with you about John Mosby and why this highway is named after him. Four or five years ago, before we moved here to Northern Virginia, I bought the book April 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jay Winik. The book discusses April 1865 and the cascade of events that happened during that month that eventually led to the end of the Civil War. I really can’t tell you how entertaining this book is, and once we moved to Virginia it became even moreso because suddenly, so many events and people within the book became real for me, because I’m constantly seeing them or hearing about them living in an area that was so integral to the Civil War. One of those people is John Mosby, a guerrilla leader whose followers were known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.” I’m just going to share a direct quote from the book about John Mosby because I want you to see what kind of character we’re dealing with here:

“His fame rapidly spread with such exploits as the capture of a Northern general, Edwin H. Stoughton, in bed with a hangover- a mere ten miles from Washington, D.C. in March 1863. “Do you know who I am” bellowed the general, upon being so indiscreetly interrupted.” Mosby shot back: “Do you know Mosby, general?” Stoughton harrumphed: “Yes! Have you got the rascal?” Mosby: “No, but he has got you!”

So whenever you drive on John Mosby Highway, or pass a neighborhood like Mosby Woods, now you know who they’re named for. NOVAdventuring: come for the winery trips, stay for the Civil War History.

Anyway, as you go up Hwy 50, you come upon several roundabouts, which my 5 year old thinks are called merry-go-rounds and which I do not correct because that’s adorable. The first of these roundabouts has a sign that indicates if you take the lefthand exit off the roundabout, you’ll end up at Mount Zion Old School Baptist Church. I had some time to spare so I figured why not, and turned into the lot.

Mt. Zion was built in 1851 and during the Civil War, served as a hospital for Union soldiers as well as a barracks and a prison. And here is where we meet our friend John Mosby again: on July 6, 1864, there was the Battle of Mt. Zion, right here at Mt. Zion church, which brought Union forces up against John Mosby and his guerrilla fighters. This was an hour-long fight and I don’t want to give too much away, but Mosby’s men won. Game: blouses.

Getting back on the highway, you go through two more merry-go-rounds until you enter the town of Aldie. “Jessica, how damn cute is the town of Aldie?” you might be asking. So damn cute. If you’re just not going to make it out in the summer, try to come back in the fall for the Aldie Harvest Festival which is an arts and crafts festival that also features a duck race where you buy as many numbered rubber duckies as you wish and toss them in Little River. From there I suppose they float on downstream and at some point, someone picks up the first one to reach the designated “finish line” and the person whose name matches that duck’s number wins a million dollars or something. I’m not entirely clear on all the details, it’s just fun to toss a duck in the river. (You can tell I’ve never won the money.)

Old Aldie Mill was a big commercial operation back in the day, grinding wheat into flour for commercial sale. The Mill was powered by waterwheels which still exist today around the back side of the mill:

I have been inside Aldie Mill (during the arts and crafts festival) but right now it is closed for tours on the weekdays and only open for tours and demonstrations on the weekends. My kids were happy just to walk around outside and see the waterwheel, but come back on the weekend if you think you’d like to see all the machinery inside.

Just off to the right of the picture above is a small walking trail that connects the Aldie Mill complex to the Aldie Volunteer Fire Department. The best thing about this trail is it contains two small bridges which cross the Little River, and which in the fall you can toss rubber duckies from, or in the summer, leaves and small twigs. My kids and I spent 15-20 minutes on the bridges tossing leaves into the water and watching them coast downstream. Little kids can be easy to please sometimes, what can I say.

A few miles away from the Aldie Mill is Quattro Goomba’s winery, which is where we met friends for a pizza and wine lunch playdate. We had a discussion while there that to people who don’t live here, it may seem weird that parents here are taking their kids to hang out at wineries. Or that said kids greet their fathers in the evening with a jubilant “We went to a new winery today!” (Just mine?) That’s just one of the great things about living in Virginia wine country though- it is totally acceptable and commonplace to bring your kids to wineries to hang out for the afternoon and play. In fact, Quattro Goomba’s has a small basket of balls they keep on hand specifically for the younger visitors to play with.

The other great thing about Quattro Goomba’s: pizza. No precious little cheese plates here (well, you actually can buy local cheese and freshly made baguette, but you know what I mean). Goomba’s makes their own Sicilian style pizza fresh every day in the Pizza Shop. Don’t know what Sicilian style pizza means? I didn’t either. The best way I can describe it is it looks like Pizza Hut pan pizza but rather than tasting like grease and the unsettling feeling that you’re letting your family down, it tastes light and crispy and perfect. Look, I’m not a food critic, that’s the best I’ve got.

We had three adults + five kids and ordered a full pan of pizza, but you can also order it by the half pan or by the slice (which are squares, not triangles). FRIENDS WITH PEANUT ALLERGIES: THIS PIZZA IS SAFE FOR YOU! My friend’s two daughters are both severely allergic to peanuts, so she did her due diligence and asked about the dough and all ingredients and the cashier and kitchen manager assured her that everything is made on site and there are no peanuts or peanut products anywhere around. Pizza for everyone.

The Piney River rose had just sold out the day before (insert whining/crying face emoji) so I had a glass of the Piney River white which was a solid white wine that is a little on the sweet side. The Sorelle Riesling they offer is actually drier with less residual sugar but because I’m a know it all, I ordered the Piney River white assuming the Riesling would be sweeter. It’s not, because it’s evidently made in the French style vs. the German style. Learn from my mistakes, don’t pretend like you know everything there is to know about residual sugars and just ask.

We’ve got beautiful weather forecasted this weekend so this three-stop trip would be a perfect weekend outing, and although I usually include a “make a day of it” feature at the bottom of each post, these three stops are a day of it and we were thoroughly worn out when we got home. Enjoy the weekend!

Rust Nature Sanctuary + The Winery at Lost Creek

Where: 802 Children’s Center Rd. SW, Leesburg, VA
When: Open year-round “during daylight hours”

I think I’ve mentioned this, but my almost-6 year old is currently obsessed with birds. What began with a fondness for flamingos as a toddler a few years ago has expanded into a deep love that encompasses all birds. We have many conversations about birds all day long, that usually go something like this:

Her: What’s your favorite bird?
Me: Uh, a peacock.
Her: No, it’s a goldfinch.
Me: Okay.

Her: What do geese eat?
Me: Berries and bugs and stuff.
Her: What about toucans?
Me: Froot Loops.

Me: (pointing to a tire cover on a Jeep we’re sitting next to in traffic that has a bald eagle on it) Hey, what kind of bird is that?
Her: That bird is an American.

I wholeheartedly support this interest and have spent a good chunk of the summer finding whatever activity I can that involves birds in some way. Awhile back, my friend told me about Rust Nature Sanctuary, a nature preserve in Leesburg that works in conjunction with the Audubon Society to offer nature programs for young children. I kept it in my back pocket until our differing vacation schedules had us both home at the same time and we were able to go together.

I do think I should admit that we were a bit turned around on the concept of what Rust Nature Sanctuary offers. We were under the impression that there would be an exhibit or display of animals that we would be able to visit. In actuality, Rust is really just a designated spot in nature where you could see animals. In nature. Duly noted.

There is a small area near the parking lot with trail maps, a display of Native Virginian Birds of Prey, and a cool little board with the wingspan of various outstretched birds painted on it so that you can go up next to it and hold your arms out and see what bird you most closely match up to in size. Kind of like at Hersheypark when you have be as tall as Twizzlers to ride a roller coaster. There’s also a small butterfly garden, and a play area tucked into the woods that the kids claimed was an “Eagle’s nest.”

Whether something near this structure identified it as an Eagle’s nest or the kids just made that up, I don’t know. Imagination can be a powerful thing when your mothers have promised you’ll see lots of animals and you realize you’re going to have to just play on some sticks and pretend instead.

The highlight of Rust Nature Sanctuary for me was Rust Manor House. You can’t go inside (unless you’re there for a wedding or have booked it for an event) but you can admire it from the backyard. Which, as you’ve read, I tend to do anyway out of respect for these great homes which do not need to be infiltrated by rambunctious children. That’s what Chibis is for.

The manor house (called Yeocomico) was owned by various members of the Rust family from 1928-1995 at which point it was donated to the Audubon Naturalist Society. NVRPA stepped in in 2013 to help preserve the house and maintain the grounds when upkeep grew to be burdensome for the Audubon Society. And there it sits today as part of this park. Teamwork!

I loved these two trees flanking the entrance to the backyard of the manor. They just looked like a pair of mismatched friends to me.

Along the paths of the manor grounds you’ll see a plot of milkweed that houses monarch butterflies, a small fountain, and a fleur de lis statue upon which we spotted the carcass of a cicada. I was just about to pick it up and show the kids how we used to hang them off our shirts growing up (did you do that?) when, as I turned around to call them over to me, I spotted NATURE:

That would be a (approximately) three foot long black rat snake casually coiling itself up and around the trunk of a large tree. I know I, as a happy dweller of suburbia, tend to forget that snakes are just out and about in the wild and don’t exist solely in small tanks with fake logs inside them, so although I am not afraid of snakes (particularly these, which are harmless), it was definitely a surprise to just see it sharing the space with us. And fascinating to watch!

There are hiking/walking trails in the park that I would love to come back and explore but it was a blistering 98 degrees in the sun the day we went and the gnats were in a frenzy (BRING BUG SPRAY) so after we came down from the excitement of the snake sighting we did what any sane people would do and we put our kids in the car with the AC blasting and headed to a winery.

Though I tend to try and group our outings close together so that we’re not spending more time in the car than necessary, we branched a little further out for this trip due to the fact that many wineries aren’t open on weekdays early in the week. One that is is The Winery at Lost Creek, which is about 10 miles away from Rust Sanctuary, so that’s where we headed.

Lost Creek is located right before you get to Lucketts off of Spinks Ferry Rd. along Rt. 15. It is aptly named because after following the sign that directed us to continue nearly a mile off Spinks Ferry Rd. to reach the tasting room, my GPS did that thing where it shows your car trekking through a completely blank screen with no markers or terrain, like, “You’re on your own now, let me know if you get there safely.” It looks a lot like the wagon progress screen on Oregon Trail actually, except (hopefully) nobody in your party dies of dysentery along the way.

The winery and tasting room itself is beautiful. It did feel a bit monastic in how silent and still it was, but this was a 98 degree Monday afternoon so that’s probably why. We had the grounds entirely to ourselves and the kids played hide and seek while we sat and drank a glass of wine (The 2014 Vidal Blanc was delicious!) and snacked on a cheese plate.

Make a day of it: 

These two excursions themselves took up several hours and would have taken longer if we had attempted the hiking trails at Rust. However, if you’re still looking for more things to do, The Winery at Lost Creek is located right next door to another winery, Hidden Brook Winery, and you could always stop in for a 2 for 1 tasting while you’re there. Just down the road on Rt. 15 is Brossman’s Farm Stand, which is a family-owned farm stand we visit often in the summer. Farmer Rick is warm and friendly and will often take time to chat with kids about the crops- he once brought out a flat of tomatoes to restock the tomato table and let my toddler help by handing her tomatoes to stack.

Leesburg Animal Park

Where: 19270 Monroe-Madison Memorial Hwy., Leesburg, VA
When: Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am- 5 pm (Closed Mondays)

Over the winter, in the midst of a seemingly neverending string of snow days, I purchased a Certifikid deal for a visit to Leesburg Animal Park on a weekday to play in their new indoor play area. I thought this would be a great idea for something to do the next time school was canceled. However, I never used it, because it turns out, if the weather is bad enough to cancel school, I’m not particularly inclined to go out and drive in it. Go figure.

All that is to say when my neighbor and I took our kids to Leesburg Animal Park last week, it was the first time I have been there since the remodel and expansion that now includes the indoor play area, discovery room, indoor small animal exhibits, Lemur Island, and so much more. What used to be a small barnyard with a ticket shack is now a rather impressive little animal park.

Admission for my two kids and myself came to something like $37. I want to unpack this amount a bit, though. My toddler, under 2 years old, was free. My 5 year old was $14.95 because I bought the VIP pass that includes a pink souvenir cup with a bag of food to feed the animals tucked inside. (In theory, you get a free drinking cup to use at home! In reality, I haven’t seen it since we left the park. Whoops.) My admission as an adult was $11.95. Rounding out the total is a stuffed cockatoo my 5 year old saw in the gift shop area that is (conveniently!) located right at the entrance where you wait in line to pay admission. She’s currently very into birds and I’m a chump, so I bought it, but if you aren’t like me and are not a chump, your total would be considerably less once you subtract the cost of a stuffed cockatoo and/or a plastic cup with animal food in it. If you’re trying to avoid the allure of the gift shop, buy your tickets online and bring your confirmation email to the counter.

In any case, all four kids on the trip that day (who ranged in ages from 1.5-8) had a blast at the park for the two hours we were there and I do believe had we not made them leave they could have easily played well for another hour at least, so I considered $37 money well spent. If this is a bit steep for you, consider subscribing to Certifikid, which frequently offers discounted tickets or special admission rates.

Animals at the park include a variety of small mammals in indoor exhibits (chinchilla, sloth, lemur), several reptiles, and outdoors, a variety of animals you can feed and pet.

Lemur Island is accessible via a small bridge that crosses a pond filled to the BRIM with carp and bass. They teem at the edge, trained to expect a shower of kibble from the nearby gumball machine to rain down into their mouths. I have zero doubts some kid has reached down and picked one up straight out of the water with their bare hands. (I didn’t. But I could have.) (It seems there is actually a fishing tournament coming up where visitors are welcome to bring their own poles and compete to see who can catch the largest fish from the pond!)

After crossing the bridge you arrive on Lemur Island. You’re going to look at lemurs in their pen and sing “I like to move it move it” a few times. The lemurs will pay you zero attention.

In the original barnyard area of the park there are still various animals you can pet- alpaca, goats, ox; and a few you just admire- porcupine, kookaburra bird, and a giant tortoise. Various play structures are scattered around the main lawn of the park- several small playhouses, a wooden pirate ship, your traditional tot lot structures to climb and slide down, a castle, a bounce house, and two tube slides built into the hill (which are currently closed until fall). Outside food is permitted and if you pack a lunch, there are picnic tables and umbrellas scattered about.  If it gets too hot outdoors, the indoor play area is fabulous- there’s a smaller area for toddlers and babies to play in, and a large foam-padded climbing structure for the bigger kids.

Make a day of it:

My friend and I had packed a lunch planning to eat at the park, but decided instead to head up the road to Stone Tower Winery, which I have mentioned before but can’t recommend enough. Before leaving Leesburg Animal Park we swung through the produce stand in the parking lot and grabbed a bag of fresh peaches to eat at lunch, then drove two miles up the road to Stone Tower to eat lunch and drink a glass of wine. Here at NOVAdventuring we believe in keeping things entertaining for not just the kids, but the parents as well, which is why you’ll see us recommending not only kid-specific activities, but various places the whole family can enjoy. I can attest after several trips there that not only do the adults love Stone Tower Winery, so do the kids. There’s an open field to run in, cornhole, and if you’re there on a weekday, the place is uncrowded and peaceful. And you just can’t beat the scenery.

If you’ve already visited Stone Tower or are looking for a change of pace, Willowcroft Winery is also near Leesburg Animal Park. Previously reviewed Oatlands Plantation is just five miles up the road as well.

In the fall, Leesburg Animal Park hosts Pumpkin Village, a festival that runs from September 20- November 4. Admission grants you access to the regular sites and activities available at Leesburg Animal Park as well as some additional seasonal activities such as a maze, a spider web crawl, and a pumpkin patch from which you can select one free pumpkin per child. If you don’t make it out this summer, be sure to set aside a day in the fall to attend this festival!