By Bob Tagert
Mount Vernon Wine Festival Celebrating 20 years
Although the beginnings of wine in Virginia began back in the days of Thomas Jefferson, the rebirth in 1976 was led by the investment of the Zonin family of Italy in a new vineyard in Barboursville. Along with a few other small wineries, Barboursville Vineyards served as a catalyst for renewed growth in the 1970’s and the second phase of the Virginia Wine industry was born.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, many other vineyards and wineries joined the mix and by 2009, over 163 wineries were operating in Virginia. By 2012 there were over 230 wineries operating in Virginia. Except for a handful, these were all small, family-owned vineyards and wineries, and only the largest could develop a distribution network. The small wineries would learn to rely on tourism and direct sales for most of their revenue.
We have been writing about Virginia wineries since 1989 and have gotten to know quite a few. The last 12 years has brought a spike in the quality of these wines. And it is here that the wine festivals throughout the state play an important role allowing folks to taste and buy wines from all over the state.
I remember that twenty years ago my sales friends in the industry said just what we need, another festival to attend. Little did they know, that in the very first year the Mount Vernon festival would become the most favored of all festivals, and what more fitting venue for a wine festival than at the spectacular Mount Vernon home of George Washington.
The historical evolution of a wine industry in the Old Dominion was aimed at the general public. The objective in starting the wine festival was to introduce and educate the consumer public at an event located at a historical location line Mount Vernon. George Washington, like many of our nation’s Founding Fathers, was actively involved in trying to develop the raising of wine grapes and the making of wine. On the occasion of the first Mount Vernon Wine Festival in 1997 the Mansion had very few items on display that would show that General Washington drank and enjoyed alcoholic beverages, wine, hard cider and Madeira. Today following the beginning of the festival series, there are multiple items such as wine glasses, wine rinsers, wine caddies and Madeira barrels. The festival has also been a highly successful fundraising activity for Mount Vernon and a highly regarded wine festival by the wineries that participate and the industry as a whole.
Nationally, the event has gained respect as a cultural wine educational event in which George Washington and Martha Washington participate by greeting the attending public each night. The attendance level has been set at 1,500 persons for each night, and the event has been a sellout since the first festival. As of 2015, some 150,000 people have attended the spring and fall wine festivals.
At the first festival there were 12 wineries present with the number increasing over the years to 17 or 18 and up to 20 wineries for this May’s spring festival celebrating the 20th anniversary of the festival series. Of the 12 wineries that participated in 1997,only nine are available to participate in this year’s May 13th, 14th and 15th event. They are: Barboursville Vineyards, Chateau Morrisette, Gray Ghost Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, Ingleside Vineyards, Lake Anna Winery, Prince Michel Vineyards, Williamsburg Winery and Jefferson Vineyards. Rounding out the 20 wineries this year are: Breaux Vineyards, Early Mountain Vineyards, Fox Meadow Winery, Kilaurwen Winery, Naked Mountain Winery & Vineyards, Narmada Winery, Rappahannock Cellars, Rockbridge Vineyards, Rosemont Vineyards and Winery, Trump Winery and Veritas Winery.
“Every year, our wineries take steps to improve their offerings, and there is almost always something new on the horizon,” noted Gordon Murchie, president of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association and longtime consultant to Mount Vernon’s wine festival. “We have a number of very creative winemakers in the Commonwealth who know how to take advantage of our particular climate.”
The spring Mount Vernon Wine Festival will take place May 13, 14 and 15. In addition to an appearance by George Washington and Martha Washington, the Festival includes tours of Washington’s basement, which was used to store his wine collection in the 18th century. Bring a picnic, buy some wine and enjoy. As George Washington himself said, “No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this.”