To travel is to leave the environment of day to day life to experience new spaces, interact with different people, and be exposed to new ideas. To take a trip is to travel with a plan and sense of purpose. Time, resources, and creativity all go into the formulation of a great trip, and organization, commitment, and attention to detail ensure that the trip goes well. John Steinbeck once said that “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” On the one hand, Steinbeck is referring to the eye-opening and formative potential of travel. At the same time, we can understand that a trip also “takes us,” in the sense that it requires time and effort from the traveler in order to succeed.
At the end of August, the Virginia Distillers Association (VDA) hosted a group of high-profile spirits writers on a two and a half day-long tour of seven Virginia distilleries across Northern Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and Central Virginia. To facilitate our journey across the Commonwealth, we had the pleasure of working with Cville Hop On Tours as our transportation provider. Hop on Tours is based in Charlottesville, but they also offer tours of in Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Their repertoire of stops currently includes 16 breweries, 19 wineries, 5 distilleries, and 5 cideries and continues to grow. The VDA and Cville Hop on Tours have a natural partnership, as Cville Hop On Tours already has relationships with three of our member distilleries, and shares the VDA’s commitment to exploration and promotion of local producers and craft libations. Moreover, I was familiar with Cville Hop On Tours’ reputation of exceeding expectations and general excellence in hospitality.
Jon Craig, Co-Founder and COO of Hop On Tours, not only joined us on our Virginia spirits adventure, but played an integral role in working out logistical details and ensuring that everything went as planned. Their professionalism and promptness were remarkable, but I especially appreciate their ability to cultivate a convivial environment among the group, both through providing a comfortable space and great amenities as well as sharing anecdotes, jokes, and stories about Virginia and their adventures across the state throughout the trip. All of this goes to say that a trip with Cville Hop on Tours is more that just a ride from Point A to Point B.
Our journey began on a Monday morning when my colleagues and I met Jon and Sharon at Ragged Branch distillery before heading to connect the rest of our group in Northern Virginia. After months of working towards the perfect three-day long experience for our media guests, I was well aware that there were a lot of moving parts to the operation, and immediately relieved to see that transportation was not going to be one of the things into which I would need to invest much concern. Pulling up to Ragged Branch, we saw the most charming, colorful, quirky little bus – one of their 14-passenger shuttles 10-member fleet – and Jon and Sharon looking enthusiastic and ready to go!
As we hit the road and I began to settle into my seat on the shuttle, at first I found myself taking in some of the breathtaking mountain scenery that we moved through, and I had missed during my ride in, deterred by a blanket of fog and focused on the road ahead. This segued into a bit of chatter with some of my fellow travelers about past excursions hiking in the Blue Ridge, preferred local products from Central Virginia makers, and of course, our excitement for the days to come. It was not until I realized I wasn’t thinking about my surroundings on the shuttle that I noticed that we had grown immediately totally comfortable. Satellite radio played gently in the background, the ride was smooth, the temperature was not too hot and not too cold.
When we rolled into Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg around 2PM, right on time despite August traffic in Northern Virginia, it was full speed ahead! We started off the distillery tours at Catoctin Creek; the trip to Catoctin was the first time that our media guests rode the shuttle. On the short ride over to= the distillery, they seemed excited about all of the conveniences: outlets to charge phones after a day of travel, wifi for a quick e-mail check, and a stash of chips, water, and ice, that we all agreed would be critical ingredients to the following day when we had four distilleries on the itinerary. When our time at Catoctin Creek was through, the Hop on Tours shuttle was there ready and waiting for us so we could continue our evening back at Lansdowne and rest up for the first full day of the tour!
On Tuesday morning, Jon and his team loaded up our luggage and we headed from Leesburg to Manassas, home to KO Distilling, our first destination of the day. This first leg of the trip in Northern Virginia to Loudon, Leesburg, Manassas, etc. is not currently in Hop On Tour’s travel radius, but we like to think of ourselves as a test run, as Hop On Tours has plans to expand there soon. From KO in Manassas we hit the Sperryville branch of Copper Fox before sliding down to Belmont Farm in Culpepper and finishing up back at Ragged Branch. Through it all Jon remained conscientious of everything from whether we liked the music to the excessive Virginia heat, and even ended up pulling over to buy everyone ice cream when the Virginia summer humidity became too much for even the most formidable air conditioners. Never once did these extra perks get in the way of our plan, either, as we stuck to the schedule impeccably well and made it to all of our destinations on time.
Wednesday was a whirlwind – from Virginia Distillery Company in the morning to Reservoir Distillery at midday to the September Virginia Spirits Month Kick-Off event and dinner in Richmond. By the end of it all, our group, which had begun as a collection of accomplished media producers with a shared interest in craft spirits, parted ways as a group of friends who now had in common deeper insights on what it means to be involved in craft spirits in Virginia. As students, colleagues, travelers, and, now, friends we had gone on an adventure, made complete by camaraderie and taken to the next level by the Commonwealth’s wonderful hospitality industry. It wouldn’t have been the same without our lovely participants, our dear friends of the VDA, or Hop On Tours – it was a trip that took all of us.