Virginia Wine Country, Maryland Polo, Offer Offbeat Options Well Offsite

The Washington metro area abounds in offsite venues of historical, governmental and public interest. But if planners want to range further afield, they'll uncover offbeat options for even more unique memories and experiences.

Across the Potomac, Virginia's nascent wine industry is forging a positive national reputation. One of the most hospitable, and beautiful, of the state's 84 wineries is Barboursville Vineyards, about two hours from Washington by motor coach.

Barboursville's 124 planted acres of grapes produce 15 different award-winning wines. Barboursville also features Palladio, a fine Italian restaurant, group tours and tastings, and a small number of exclusive guestrooms in restored 18th century buildings.

"This area has the same soil and climate as my native Piedmont or Tuscany, in Italy, so guests are surprised by the quality," said Luca Paschina, Barboursville manager and wine maker. "Groups typically come in the late afternoon for a wine tour and tasting, then a private dinner in Palladio or in our arcade during good weather."

Guests also can dine in the nearby restored mansion of early 19th century Virginia governor James Barbour. Also on the grounds is the evocative ruin of another Barbour mansion, where outdoor receptions for 150 under the stars can be held.

"The winery is absolutely beautiful," said planner Michel van Eersel of Meetings Etc. in nearby Charlottesville, Va., who recently brought a group of 30 pharmaceutical company salespeople to Barboursville. "It's especially nice in the fall when the leaves are changing."

Afterwards, for a real change of pace, planners can take attendees to a horse ranch in Maryland for polo lessons. Yes, you read that correctly.

At the Red Eagle Ranch, in Poolesville, Md., about an hour northwest of Washington, famed international polo player Charles Muldoon and his assistants provide total novices with real helmets, modified mallets and quiet, well-trained polo ponies, and teach them the general aspects of the "Game of Kings."

Broken into teams, players maneuver big rubber balls toward goals within a large corral. It's a placid, sometimes hilarious version of the true sport, but an exciting team-building event that provides life-long skills in the process.

Afterwards, Muldoon provides a gourmet barbecue under the oaks.

When he's not playing international polo or teaching, Muldoon is a sales rep for Washington's The Madison Hotel, which late last year reopened after a $40 million refurbishment. Instead of a ribbon cutting, Muldoon and his teammates stopped downtown traffic for a goal shot through The Madison's newly installed glass doors.

The doors were open at the time, of course.