Virginia is for Wine Lovers!
The landscape and climate of Virginia offers countless choice sites for vineyards. Each of the state’s main regions boast vineyards and wineries. Given Virginia’s varied grape-growing sites with ideal soil conditions, fine wines now come from all over the state.
Spectacular landscapes, picturesque vineyards and fascinating people make up Virginia’s wine industry. Whichever direction you travel, you’ll experience world-class wines, and the realization of a dream shared by many.”
When you uncork a bottle of Virginia wine, you’re tasting not only the uncommon flavors of Viognier, Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot, but also how those grapes grew in one of Virginia’s distinct soils and climates across the state.
Seven American Viticultural Areas are in Virginia. These grape-growing regions are defined by geographic features that influence the wines they produce.”
Jamestown settlers had such hopes that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire that in 1619 they signed into law a requirement for each male settler to plant and tend at least ten grape vines. Little came of it. Every effort to grow vinifera, or vines of European origin, met with failure from an unknown pest, Phylloxera as well as diseases in a new environment. The booming tobacco trade diluted British interest in the possibilities of American wine. Americans themselves lost interest. While fine wine could be had only from Europe, cider, whiskey, beer and brandy were plentiful.
In hopes of one day realizing the promise of fine Virginia wines, Thomas Jefferson cultivated European grapes for more than 30 years. His experiments at Monticello vineyards never produced a single bottle of wine. He wasn’t alone in trying. After 11 years of efforts at Mount Vernon, George Washington, too, had nothing to show for it.
In the 1820s, wines made from Native American grapes met with great success. Then a Virginia Norton wine was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873; plus a gold medal for Norton at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 when the Eiffel tower was constructed. The discovery in the late 1800s that native and European vines could be grafted gave Virginia’s nascent wine industry a lift – but in the early 20th century, Prohibition promptly brought it to a standstill. The industry was slow to bounce back. Some 17 years after Prohibition’s repeal, Virginia had all of 15 acres of commercial wine grapes.
In the late-1950s, experimental plantings of vinifera showed promise. With the establishment of six new wineries in the 1970s, the recovery was officially underway. A renewed effort to grow a European Chardonnay succeeded at the Waverly Estate in Middleburg in 1973. Then in 1976, Italian pioneer vintner Gianni Zonin hired Gabriele Rausse to grow and harvest vinifera grapes near Charlottesville. He established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped other vineyards do the same. By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, there were 107. In 2014, Virginia surpassed 254 wineries and counting today, only California, New York Oregon and Washington State have more wineries than Virginia. The persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is now coming true.”
Tasting Virgina Wines!
These days you don’t have to look far to find great wine in America. Great winery experiences? That’s another thing. Unless one is a wine connoisseur stepping across the threshold and into a winery tasting room can be a daunting experience. Not so in Virginia where the winery experience is anything but stuffy and pretentious. Virginia’s wineries are festive, spirited, welcoming places that put a premium on giving guests a fun, happy and memorable experience. Oh, and the wine itself? Virginia’s is among the very best produced in America.
The Virginia winery experience usually starts with a flighted tasting guided by friendly staff who help you find that certain wine destined to become your new favorite. A behind-the-scenes tour of the barrel room and crush pad gives new insight into how great wine is made. Then comes a lovely afternoon in the vineyard, on the winery’s deck or verandah, at a table with friends sharing a bottle of that wine you just discovered, with good music and tasty munchies as accompaniment. That’s the essence of the Virginia winery experience – the best of times shared with friends.
What could be better than that? Maybe a Virginia wine festival. Starting in the spring you’ll find wine festivals big and small and suited just to your liking. The big festivals might feature 20-30 Virginia wineries, with local food vendors, live entertainment and perhaps something extra-special such as hot air balloon rides. Sit in on short classes, lectures and workshops with Virginia’s top winemakers to learn more about Virginia wine, how to pair it with food, how best to store it at home. Become an expert and impress your friends back home.
New experiences at Virginia wineries include oyster pairings, personal blendings, workshops, overnight stays, special events and festivals. Chrysalis Vineyards along with Locksley Estate Farmstead Cheese Company recently launched “The Ag District,” designed to connect visitors to Virginia’s rich agricultural scene. By 2016, the district will house a cheese production facility – open to the public to watch the process – and a futuristic-style tasting room where visitors use tasting cards at different stations to learn about and sample various Chrysalis wines, like their famed Virginia Norton.
Publishers Note: Many thanks to the Virginia Wine Marketing group and the Virginia Tourism gang for furnishing the information for this Grapevine column. Go out and buy some Virginia Wine for that Valentine of yours. Check out www.virginia.org/wine for information on planning a wine getaway.