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The Diversity that Is Virginia Wine- Men, Women, Grapes and some very Americal ideals

By Nancy Bauer

The Diversity that Is Virginia Wine – Men, women, grapes, and some very American ideals

The wine world is inclusive by nature; the endless challenges call for alliance and, often, aid. Beetles invade, mildew overwhelms, and deer party in the vineyards like drunken sailors. Mysteries pop up, tractors break down. Borrowing equipment and sharing hard-won wisdom is what gets winemakers through one growing cycle and on to the next. And through the cooperation, neighbors become allies.

At harvest, the promise that lies in those yellow bins of vinifera grapes – many thought to be ungrowable in Virginia – is often brought to fruition by men and women who worked those same grapes in Italy, France, Germany, or Greece. They were tasting wine at the table while still in single digits, and through their work on generational family farms they became experts in Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Riesling, and vinsanto. Being in Virginia, though, gives them freedom to experiment beyond their cultural boundaries.

Dip into any region in the Commonwealth and you’ll see the cultural kinship: at Barboursville Vineyards, winemakers from Italy work with acres of grapes native to their homeland, but even more from France. Nearby, at Afton Mountain Vineyards, a Frenchman from Beaujolais is creating buzz with the Spanish grape, albariño. Meanwhile, a Spaniard at Potomac Point Winery in Northern Virginia shores up his red blends with tannat, the robust grape making headlines in South America. And completing the cycle, at Breaux Vineyards, a Chilean harvests row upon row of the Italian grape, nebbiolo.

Virginia has native grapes, of course, like Norton, which is made into sparkling wine at the Brazilian-owned Casanel Vineyards. Hybrid grapes are here, too, like Cayuga White, which German-born Warner Hambsch will pour for you at his Loving Cup Winery near Charlottesville, and the tannic Carmine, grown in the Shenandoah Valley at Wisteria Vineyards by a winemaker from Lebanon.

Dozens of winery owners, growers and winemakers have made their way to Virginia’s wine country over the last 40 years, by design or happenstance. Some fled rebel militias, like El Salvador’s Fernando Franco of Barboursville Vineyards. Others, like Damien Blanchon of Afton Mountain Vineyards, came to learn and grow, and just never went home; the challenges of a new wine region were too alluring for him. Today, Franco grows sauvignon blanc alongside vermentino, and Blanchon blends sangiovese with petit verdot and tannat and it all makes perfect sense to them.

Virginia’s wineries show that diversity, both in grapes and in people, is at home here, creating a blend that’s rich and balanced and settling in to age well.

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