24 Mar 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:
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.
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)
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”
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.