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I recently had the opportunity to spend the day with First Lady of Virginia, Maureen McDonnell, Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, Annette Boyd and Amy Ciarametaro of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office as part of a Central Virginia winery tour for the wine trade.

I was very honored to have been invited to be included in this event with the First Lady.  Joining me were members of the press, restaurant owners, Virginia Wine Lover Magazine Editor Patrick Evans-Hylton, and my friend and fellow wine blogger, John Witherspoon of Anything Wine.

This Virginia wine trade tour is part of the First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort (FLITE) that recognizes programs, activities, organizations, or individuals who embody the ideal of “getting involved and giving back.”  Its purpose is to bring attention to the great work being done by selfless people around the Commonwealth who are taking the opportunity to leave Virginia a better place than they found it.  One of the four focal points of FLITE is promoting and growing the Virginia wine industry.

Governor McDonnell’s recent approval of doubling the Virginia Wine Board’s budget coupled with the First Lady’s organization of and participation in this Virginia wine trade tour are great examples of matching words with action.  This level of commitment to promoting Virginia wine and growing the Virginia wine industry is exciting for those of us who are passionate about our states wine.  Wine Bloggers Conference 2011 attendees take note!

I was impressed with the First Lady and her proactive approach to supporting, promoting and learning about Virginia wine.  I can only imagine that her calendar is extremely packed; yet she took an entire day out of her schedule for this first of three Virginia wine trade tours. The second and third legs of the First Lady’s winery tour take place this week in Loudoun County area with scheduled visits to Breaux Vineyards, Philip Carter Winery, Tarara Vineyards, Pearmund Cellars, Rappahannock Cellars and Chrysalis Vineyards.

The day started with breakfast at the Governor’s Mansion in Richmond, Virginia.  After breakfast and an impromptu tour of the downstairs of the Governor’s mansion, the First Lady, Todd Haymore, and the rest of the group boarded the bus en route to Charlottesville.  On the ride to Charlottesville our group had the chance to chat with the First Lady and Secretary of Agriculture and watch a preview of the forthcoming PBS documentary, VINTAGE, which tells the story of the Virginia wine industry.

Our group on steps of Virginia Governor's Mansion.

Our first stop of the day was Jefferson Vineyards – known for growing grapes on the original vineyard sites from Thomas Jefferson, which were originally planted in 1774 just one mile away from Monticello. Upon arriving our delegation was greeted by Jefferson Vineyards General Manager, Chad Zakaib, and winemaker Andy Reagan.  Both Chad and Andy provided our group with an insightful overview of Jefferson Vineyards and led us through a tasting of each of their current releases. My favorite of the tasting was definitely the 2009 Viognier – awesome.

Jefferson Vineyards General Manager, Chad Zakaib, and First Lady.

The next stop on the tour was Veritas Vineyards and Winery located in scenic Afton, Virginia.  Veritas owners, Andrew and Patricia Hodson, and their daughter and winemaker Emily Pelton greeted our group upon arriving.  Emily led our group through a tasting of Veritas’ current releases and then provided our group with a delicious meal paired with Veritas wines.  No doubt, the standout wine that afternoon was the 2009 Veritas Sauvignon Blanc – fresh and lively tropical fruit with racing acidity. If you haven’t visited, be sure to add Veritas to your ‘must visit’ list as this is one of the most beautiful wineries in the state.

Andrew Hodson providing tour of Veritas.

Veritas Winemaker, Emily Pelton, and me.

First Lady with the Hodsons.

View from the loft at Veritas - First Lady preparing for an interview with local television station.

Our final stop of the afternoon was Whitehall Vineyards – another example of the beauty of Virginia’s scenery.  Our group was greeted warmly by the Champ family and provided a tasting and tour of their winery.  My favorite of the tasting was the Cab Franc.

Lisa Champ presenting the First Lady with a bottle of Whitehall wine.

A special thank you to First Lady, Maureen McDonnell, to the First Lady’s office, the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office and to three of Virginia’s most hospitable wineries – Veritas, Whitehall, Jefferson – for a great day!

The First Lady of Virginia with famous wine blogger Frank Morgan.