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In the spirit of totally accuracy, I’m not sure if Hume Vineyards is technically Virginia’s newest winery – it’s possible another winery has completed requisite paper work and opened, but close enough.

“Respectful of tradition, unbound by convention.”

This is certainly an exciting time in the Virginia wine industry, as a new winery seems to be opening every week.  Following on the heels of Hume’s opening will be DuCard Vineyards in Madison County, which is set to officially open in the next few weeks (check back next week for an interview with DuCard’s proprietor Scott Elliff).

I recently had the chance to catch up with Hume Vineyards proprietor, Stéphane Baldi, to talk about Virginia’s newest winery.

The basics: Hume Vineyards is located in Hume, VA, population 263 – and their official grand opening is July 10th.  Current releases include 2009 Vidal Blanc, 2009 Chambourcin, 2008 Detour (blend of Cab Sauv and Merlot), and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (with a splash of Cab Franc blended in). Stephane currently has 5 acres under vine – 1.5 acres of Viognier, 1.5 acres of Merlot, 1 acre of Petit Verdot, and 1 acre of Chambourcin.  Hume will add six acres next year that will include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc plantings.  Future wine releases include a Chambourcin Rose, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

DWYL:  Stéphane, congratulations on the upcoming opening of Hume Vineyards (and for surviving the paperwork nightmare).  Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Both my wife (Andrea) and I are social scientists who consult to a variety of clients (mostly government).  She has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Florida State and I have a Ph.D. in Sociology from Ohio State.  I was born and grew up in France and lived in several wine regions, which is where I got the bug.  Because of our background, we really approach everything in the vineyards and winery analytically.  What does the research suggest, what has been learned, etc.?  However, we do let our instinct and palate make the final call!

DWYL: There are a lot of regions you could have selected to open a – why did you select Virginia as the place to open your winery?

Because we couldn’t afford California :)  Kidding aside, we love the Virginia Piedmont and as a wine aficionado I realized a few years back that Virginia held a lot of promise to deliver outstanding wines. We want to be part of something and be instrumental in the growth of the industry (as opposed to just one more winery in CA), which is why Virginia is the perfect place for us.  Virginia has so much potential and opportunities.  And the soil and climate are here to make it work (with lots of hard work!).

DWYL: What is your inspiration for starting Hume Vineyards?

Many of the small boutique wineries in CA dedicated to small lots and experimentation have served as our inspiration.  Here I’m thinking of what’s happening right now in Santa Barbara and Paso Robles:  places like Foxen, Tablas Creek, Linne Collodo, etc.  Like them, we’re dedicated to trying new things, blends, etc., and experimenting –whether it be in the vineyards or in the winery.

DWYL:  Describe the most challenging aspect of starting Hume Vineyards.

Having to fight the still widespread perception that no decent wine can come out of VA. While slowly changing, this perception is still widely held by sommeliers, distributors, and much of the general public.  It will take time to convince folks that a lot of knowledge, dedication, and capital are being invested in Virginia wine and that we can create wines that have distinct personalities (that infamous “terroir”) and that can rival any region. (Editorial note:  Your humble correspondent couldn’t agree more – Virginia’s wine time has come, and the national spotlight is now beginning to highlight the potential of wine here in the Commonwealth.   All the years of hard work from the wineries/winemakers that have been here in Virginia is gaining exceptional momentum.  Although some readers will disagree with me on this point – I feel that Virginia will eclipse New York and Washington state in both wine quality reputation and wine sales in the near term.)

DWYL:  Describe one unexpected challenge you’ve encountered and how you handled it.

I can’t think of just one, as everyday is a new challenge for someone starting a winery, but at the top of my list would be the Virginia climate.  It is a lot more work than we had expected to nurse fruit to where we want it to be.  We have to work a lot harder than most because the Virginia weather can be so unpredictable.  This year is a good case in point:  Record heat in April, followed by frost, and now draught-like conditions.  We can make it work, but with a lot more effort than if we were in Sonoma County!

DWYL:  The velocity of new winery openings here in Virginia is certainly increasing which is great for the industry as a whole and a benefit to wine consumers, but presents a challenge to the new wineries in terms of getting noticed.  What makes Hume different?

Our spirit of innovation and experimentation is our primary differentiator with a focus is on very small lots that offer something unique.  There is still a lot of room in Virginia for experimenting, both with viticulture practices and in the winery.  At Hume, we want to be the folks who will experiment with new blends or ripeness levels, or something else that no one else has attempted yet.  Not for the sake of being different, but in a spirit of learning about how we can make better wine.  We are also learning how we can shift form our reliance on conventional farming to organic practices.  This latter one is a real challenge in light of Virginia’s climate, but we believe that with exchanging ideas and know-how with other producers who have done so (e.g., Shinn Estate on Long Island) we can do it here as well.

Having not tasted Hume’s wines yet, I am unable to attest to their quality, but I suspect they will be excellent and interesting given Stéphane and Andrea’s commitment and spirit of experimentation!  Hume is definitely one to watch!

If you are out and about on the Virginia wine trail, stop by Hume’s official grand opening celebration on July 10th.  Check out www.humevineyards.com for details on their wines and grand opening celebration.

Aerial photo of Hume property.

Sunrise at Hume Vineyards.

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