Virginia Rising

I don’t know about you; but for me, thinking about Virginia doesn’t (or at least didn’t) immediately conjure up images of wineries and vineyards. It may then come as a surprise to learn that the wine industry in Virginia is now estimated to be worth just over three-quarters of a billion dollars. What’s even more impressive is that the figure has more than doubled in the last five years, from $362 million to $747 million, this whilst the country has been faced with one of its worst economic recessions on record.

Even though grapes have been planted in Jamestown ever since 1607, making them some of the earliest plantings in the United States, Virginia wineries only began to find their identity in the early 1980’s. We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for importing what are believed to be some of the first French grape vines to his Monticello estate. Even though TJ wasn’t successful in cultivating vinifera vines (mainly due to the prevalence of Phylloxera), he would no-doubt be pleased to know that the remedy to root-eating louse was finally discovered in the late 1950’s. The growth of Virginian wine has seen substantial increase ever since.

Virginia wineries have garnered their fair amount of press over the last couple of years, especially after Donald Trump purchased the 1,000 acre Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in April of 2011, effectively bringing it out of bankruptcy. The purchase price of around $6 million seems like a veritable bargain, when you consider former owner Patricia Kluge invested the majority of her $100 million divorce settlement (from entrepreneur John Werner Kluge) into the property. Originally agreeing to keep Patricia part of the Trump Winery operation, Trump has since uttered his famous catchphrase “You’re fired!” to the famously wealthy socialite.

Trump isn’t the only celebrity laying claim to vines in Virginia. Dave Matthews himself has owned the Blenheim Vineyards winery since 2000; choosing to focus on affordable small-production wines, with their Viognier, Petit Verdot and Painted Red being the highlights. Located 20 minutes southeast of Charlottesville, it was not too far from the Blenheim property where Thomas Jefferson and his wife are said to have “rested and warmed themselves” after their coach stalled nearby during a snowstorm.

Virginia is currently home to seven American Viticultural Areas (with more suspected to be on the way): Middleburg, Monticello, Shenandoah Valley, the Eastern Shore, the Northern Neck, the North Fork of Roanoke and Rocky Knob. Vineyards of note throughout these AVAs include:
- Horton Vineyards, especially known for their Sparkling Viognier, made in the true Methode Champenoise style.
- Delaplane Cellars, with their single-vineyard “Maggie’s Vineyard” Viognier shining through.
- The ultra-modern Cooper Vineyards, making one of the best Cabernet Franc’s coming out of Virginia.
- King Family Vineyards with a Petit Verdot that will give some of the best California wineries a run for their money.
- Barboursville Vineyards and their Reserve Barbera, Reserve Nebbiolo and “Octagon” red blend.
- RDV Vineyards with two highly-rated, $75+ red Bordeaux blends.
- Jefferson Vineyards with its Meritage and Petit Verdot.
- Sunset Hills, excelling with Cabernet Franc and Viognier.

Before attending the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, I have to admit that I had very little time for any domestic wine hailing from outside “the usual suspects” of California, Washington, Oregon, and even New York. Maybe my view has been more than a little skewed by all the Florida wines I’ve tasted! However; after tasting through over 50 different wines from Virginia wineries, it’s fair to say my stance has considerably changed. Of course, the real litmus test will be how well the wines are accepted outside of their home turf. I would like to say that if they keep focusing on their strengths, which in my opinion is their Cab Franc, red blends and Viognier, I think they’ll do just fine.

Published: Dec. 2, 2012

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