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Dispatches from London – Thoughts on Virginia Wines Across the Pond

Although I am a huge fan of the wines of many regions – Oregon Pinot Noir, Beaujolais from the ten Crus, the amazing reds of Gigondas, and whites of the Rhone – I have limited my evangelizing to the wines of my home state.  Admittedly, I am not a fan of all Virginia wines, but I am a passionate advocate of the Virginia wine industry, and enjoy introducing friends to the wines of Virginia.

During my work travels over the last few years, I’ve hosted several tastings in other states – Florida, California, and Colorado – to introduce friends to Virginia wine (many for the first time).   Unfortunately, distribution to these states is very limited or non-existent so my friends are rarely, if ever, able to find the Virginia wines we enjoy at these tastings.

Ironically, although distribution of Virginia wine is limited, or non-existent, in many States, Virginia wine is widely available throughout London and Southern England.  I was aware of Virginia wine being available on a couple of restaurant wine lists in the UK, but did not know that wines of the Commonwealth were available in retail locations.  It took one of my friends, who recently moved to London, to email me about finding a Keswick Vineyards wine at his local Whole Foods in Kensington.  I’ve been in that Whole Foods a number of times, but never noticed the Virginia wine section of 15 wines so I was somewhat surprised to hear that Virginia wines were available there at all.

The irony of Virginia wines being available 3,800 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, but not in many US States was not lost on me.  It seems as if many distributors could take a lesson from the importer responsible for creating the market for Virginia wine across the pond.

On a recent trip to London in April, I had the occasion to meet up with the person responsible for placing Virginia wines in restaurants and retail locations throughout the UK market – Chris Parker, proprietor of New Horizon Wines.   Chris and I met at one of London’s most prominent locations with Virginia wines on the menu, Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, to talk about the expansion of Virginia wine in to the UK.

Chris (on left) with Sebastien Crozatier, the Store Manager at The Sampler in Islington, London.

DWYL:  Chris, why did you start New Horizon Wines?

I deeply believe that the Virginia wine region has potential for considerable growth over the long term. International demand will play a significant part in the realization of that vision. New Horizon was established to develop the international market for the wines of Virginia. The strong historical connection between the UK and Virginia is a significant part of our story and one of drivers for us to focus initially on the UK market along with the fact the UK is the world’s largest importer of wines with a retail value of £7.6 billion ($12.1 billion).

DWYL:  What Virginia wine brands are currently available in the UK market?

Our current portfolio includes an exciting range of wines from a number of Virginia wineries including, Barboursville Vineyards, Breaux Vineyards, Boxwood Winery, Veritas Vineyards, Veramar Vineyard, White Hall Vineyards, Williamsburg Winery, Keswick Vineyards, and Rappahannock Cellars.  We are planning to add more wines and wineries as demand grows.

A selection of Virginia wines at Whole Foods, Kensington, London.

DWYL:   Which Virginia wines are popular with UK consumers?

The varietals of most interest so far are Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Virginia’s red blends in the classic Bordeaux styles are also very popular.

Picked up this Barboursville Viognier at Whole Foods Kensington (17.99 GBP) for a Viognier tasting with friends.

DWYL:  It’s impressive to see Virginia wine on the list at such an established brand as Bar Boulud, named for the global super chef, Daniel Boulud.  Where else can Virginia wine be found in the UK?

We now have a range of Virginia wines at top UK independent wine merchants, retailers and restaurants including the Oxford Wine Company, The Sampler, Whole Foods Market, Zuma at Knightsbridge, London.

Boxwood on the menu at Bar Boulud.

DWYL:  What’s the next step for New Horizon wines in terms of expanding the Virginia wine brand internationally?

Our immediate focus is to build on the initial demand we have created. Our longer-term plan includes wine tourism combining wine, education, and travel to Virginia. We are the international Virginia wine specialists and the wines I selected for our portfolio are being judged based on their quality and value compared to many other wines from around the world. The professional wine buyers, sommeliers and consumers in the UK were unaware of Virginia as a wine-producing region when we started our business in 2009. We are just scratching the surface and we are already experiencing a healthy demand particularly for Viogniers. The UK is an important market not just for wine export, but also as an influencing factor in how Virginia wines are perceived nationally and internationally. I started from scratch with a vision and belief and I am pleased to say that two years later some of the top wine merchants, retailers, and restaurants in the UK are our customers. I believe strongly in staying focused and we have a lot of work to do expanding our business. We have a great working relationship with the wineries and we have consistently presented the “Virginia Wine Story” that benefits the wineries currently exporting and the Virginia wine region as a whole. With continued support of the wine industry from the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am confident Virginia will become a world-renowned wine region.

As an avid fan of the Virginia wine industry, it’s exciting to be able to purchase the wines of my home state on trips across the pond, and to be able to introduce these wines to my wine friends.  I’m hopeful that overseas demand for Virginia wine will continue to increase and more of my favorite producers will be available in the UK soon.

Thank you Chris for the great Virginia wine conversation.  For those Virginia wine enthusiasts with friends in the UK, suggest they check out the Virginia wines available at their local bottle shop.

For more information on New Horizon Wines, check out: NewHorizonWines.com and WinesOfVirginia.blogspot.com.  Chris was also interviewed as part of this piece on CNN featuring UK and Virginia wines, here.

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