Virginia Wine Country – A young wine region with a long history

So we are planning a trip to the East Coast. A little time to catch up with some friends and visit some Virginia Wineries to enjoy some Virginia Wine.

A few years ago, I made a trip to visit my best friend from college and we met another college friend for a girl’s weekend in Virginia Wine Country. We had been in each other’s weddings back in the day and this was our first time since then being all together. One spouse, (knowing how we were back in the day), took care of us by surprising us with a Limo tour to 3 wineries. We lounged in the limo, talking non-stop while the driver took us down the winding roads of the Monticello AVA near Charlottesville Virginia. You can check out the original blog posts here:

Pippin Hill Farms – Tasting in Virginia

The beautiful Pippin Hill Farm in North Garden Virginia

King Family Vineyards, Crozet Virginia

The porch in front of the King Family Vineyard Tasting room in Crozet Virginia

In Vino Veritas, A Long and Winding Adventure

Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton Virginia

Well for this trip, we will have spouses along for the ride, and as we are planning just one winery a day, we will probably drive ourselves.

We are still planning, but I am hoping to check out a winery in the Loudoun County area near DC, at least one in the Monticello AVA and possibly one in the Blue Ridge region.

Maps and online information on Virginia Wine Country from virginiawine.org

But first….I need to delve into a little background on Virginia Wines. As I plan I am immersing myself in some research on the region with the help of VirginiaWines.org , some major web surfing and a couple of books!

 

The founding of the new world was about making wine (or at least partially)

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines – The evolution of quality wine in Virginia by Richard G. Leahy

In reading Richard Leahy’s book “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia” he notes that the original colonists with the Virginia Company at the Jamestown Settlement had come here in 1607 to make money for their shareholders. They were to create a supply of silk, olive oil and wine for English merchants as those things were currently in short supply due to wars

Well, grapes didn’t grow well and being under constant attack didn’t help. So no wine then.

They did however discover tobacco, which is a native Virginia plant, grew well and birds and deer didn’t try to eat it! So screw wine they said, lets grow tobacco. It turned out to be addictive, so…better for sales! Virginia continues to be a big tobacco state. (When I lived in Richmond, Dogwood Dell did a summer outdoor arts season. Which included an annual event with Larry Bland and the Volunteer Choir. This was a huge event with an amazing gospel choir and was sponsored each year by Philip Morris.)

“The Crown” was not pleased with this and in “Acte 12” of the Jamestown Assembly in 1619, they required each male colonist to plant and tend at least 10 (or was it 20? sources vary) European grapevines, with a punishment for failure to comply, determined by the governor. Still…pests and the climate made it difficult and most chose to bag grapes for the quick money of tobacco.

Leahy goes so far as to say that this disregard for the orders of the Crown was the genesis of the bad relations with the motherland that led eventually to war.  (First we refuse to make wine for them, then we dump tea in the harbor…we did start off as quite the rebellious bunch!)

Thomas Jefferson got into wine in college (don’t we all), but really became passionate about it while in France (this does really seem like a timeless story doesn’t it?).  The trouble was, that once he returned home he had to import good wine and at that time, that was a bit of an ordeal.  So…he worked to cultivate a native wine grape and worked to plant vineyards with Philip Mazzei, a Florentine Noble who had come to Virginia to make wine.

Ah Virginia.   With it’s rolling hills, it’s easy to see why Jefferson loved it so (so much that his bargaining chip for endorsing Hamilton’s “Assumption” issue with the Federal Government taking over the State’s debts).  So Mazzei brought in vines cuttings from Portugal, Italy, Spain & France and some Tuscan Vignerons to plant a vineyard near Monticello and  Jefferson hired them too. Sadly frost took out the young vines and managed to squeeze out just a couple of barrels a few years later.  Then the war started and Mazzei’s land ended up trampled by horses.

Jefferson continued, and at the end of his 2nd term as President, re-dedicated himself to the vineyards.  Unfortunately, he had little success.

There were others though that were having success, not with European Grapes but with native varieties.  And here also you find the story  of Norton a native Virginia grape named for Dr. Daniel Norton.  You can find the full story of this grape in “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine”

Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine by Todd Kliman

Time goes on and of course Prohibition happens…

Then in the late 1960’s, post Prohibition wineries popped up and planted French hybrids like Chambourcin, and Seyval Blanc.  Then in the 80’s things really got going with the Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board and the Virginia Winegrowers Productivity Fund.  Then came the shift to European varieties which settled into Cabernet Franc being one of the varieties for the region.

Now in 2017 there are 260 Wineries in 10 Winemaking Regions in the state with 7 different AVAs.

I’m just getting started with this research folks.  Standby, while I get all geeky.  My next venture, to investigate the Virginia AVA’s, their soils and climates.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on Virginia Wine Country as I continue my research.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Wine in the Commonwealth

Virginia is Wine Country! This historic part of our country was challenged for centuries to make good wine is indeed at last producing some VERY good wines!  When the Pilgrims landed they found a countryside with wild grapes growing abundantly and the crown was pleased!  This would be their opportunity to have British wine and not have to import and pay the taxes for wine from France!  Unfortunately, the grapes did not make good wine.  Often noted as “foxy” with a funky musky aroma the grapes here were not the European V. vinifera.  These were rather V. Labrusca, the fox grape. In an effort to try to cultivate the grapes landholders were required to plant a small vineyard.  After a while with no success they all just gave up. Even Thomas Jefferson.

We did our tastings in and around Charlottesville and passed by Monticello where Jefferson’s one failure haunted him.  He was never able to produce a wine of quality.  The land in Virginia so different from Europe and France where he had grown to truly appreciate wine.  He spent 30 years trying to cultivate European vines to no success.

At long last wines in Virginia are coming into their own.  The Viogniers and Cabernet Francs here are becoming first class, as I can attest to after tasting them.  Still with almost 200 wineries in the state, it is a stuggle to find them on a wine list.  We had a lovely dinner in Charlottesville at the Downtown Grille and I made sure to let the waitress know that the reason I was getting the Viognier was because it was the ONLY Virginia wine on their wine list that I could purchase by the glass!  When you dine support local wine!

Norton is the official native Virginia Grape while Missouri also grows quite a bit.  I was reading “The Wild Vine” while traveling, but unfortunately the vineyards that grow Norton were further North than we were going.  It gives me an excuse for more tastings on my next trip that way.

Norton we believe is a hybrid of the grape Bland and Petite Meunier.  This grape abounded in the state and in the late 1800’s garnered high awards in Vienna and Paris at the World’s Fairs.  Unfortunately Prohibition hit and the wine industry in Virginia was a long time coming back. In the mid 70’s 6 vineyards popped up and now with almost 200 only California, Washington, Oregon and New York have more vineyards.

Boars Head, Walk Side View

We drove in to Charlottesville in the morning and headed to the Boar’s Head Inn where we were staying.  As we were 3 friends from College meeting for a reunion to wine taste, we had booked a suite which was more affordable than 3 individual rooms.  The suite was across from the main hotel and encompassed the entire upstairs above the Inn Gift shop.  It had recently been renovated and unfortunately the heating and cooling was not working, but the night was pleasant and we ended up opening windows for a cross breeze.  There was a sitting room with a pull out sofa bed and a fireplace as well as a small area with a sink and beverage service a bedroom with 2 queen beds and a lovely bathroom.  I wish we had been able to spend more time exploring the property.  As it was  we managed a stroll down to the lake between the beautiful period buildings after a wonderful and elegant breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant in the main building.

One of my friends has a wonderful husband who insisted on hiring a car service to take us to the vineyards.  He is my hero.  This allowed us plenty of time to chat and catch up as we drove from vineyard to vineyard.  More on that in the next post!

For great in depth information on Virginia Wineries go to Virginia Wine!  The site is overflowing with information on the history of Virginia Wines as well as directions for the different wine trails and all the vineyards and wineries!