FLITE Through Central Virginia – On the Road with the First Lady
According to the US Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), Virginia is the 5th largest wine grape producing state in the US. Although the Commonwealth ranks behind California, Oregon, New York, and Washington, and is close in production volume to Texas and Michigan, our state certainly ranks 1st in terms of industry support from state government (your correspondents opinion). From allocating more state budget to the wine industry at a time when budgets in every corner of the US are tightening, international trade missions to promote the goods of Virginia, to the First Lady of Virginia and Secretary of Agriculture touring wine regions with local media, retail, and industry members to raise awareness of Virginia wine.
Raising awareness and promoting Virginia wine is an important component of First Lady, Maureen McDonnell’s FLITE program (First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort). The First Lady works to increase ‘home-state’ awareness in a number of different of ways, one of which is winery tours with members of the trade/media including winemakers, journalists, retail shop owners, restaurateurs, sommeliers, and even wayward bloggers.
On Monday I had the pleasure of participating in my second central Virginia FLITE tour that included visiting three wineries in the Monticello AVA. Along with the First Lady, Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore, and Annette, Amy, and Mary Catherine from the Marketing Office of the Virginia Wine Board, the day-long tour included nearly 40 industry participants – including Paul & Warren from Virginia Wine Time blog, and Patrick Evans-Hylton, author and editor of Virginia Wine Lover Magazine. I was glad to see several Tidewater locals in the group including Jeff Maisey, Publisher Norfolk-based VEER Magazine, as well as representatives from several Virginia Beach and Norfolk restaurants.
Our group started the day by gathering at the Virginia Wine Board office in downtown Richmond for breakfast. After coffee, pastries, and introductions, we boarded the bus en route to our first stop of the day, Pollak Vineyards.
After an hour drive westbound on interstate 64, we arrived at Pollak where we were greeted by Pollak winemaker, Jake Busching, and a local Charlottesville news crew from NBC29. (View NBC29 news coverage of the tour here.)
Jake and the team at Pollak led our group through a tasting of their complete lineup, and then a tour of the facility.
For me the 2008 Merlot and the 2010 Viognier were the standouts of the tasting. Sadly the 2008 Merlot is sold out, but the 2010 Viognier – characterized by loads of stone fruit – was just released and available for just $20.
Our second stop of the tour was to one of Virginia’s most established wineries, Barboursville Vineyards, which was founded in 1976. Upon arriving, our group was greeted by Barboursville winemaker, Luca Paschina, one of the most gracious people I’ve met in the wine industry. Our group was treated to an amazing lunch and wine pairing in Barboursville’s Palladio Restaurant.
Although each of the three Barboursville wines paired perfectly with each course, I am partial to the Viognier. The peach and honeysuckle flavors make this an ideal warm weather sipper. As I’ve stated here a number of times, I feel Viognier could be the future of Virginia white wine (just my opinion, but I’m rarely ever wrong).
Luca and the team at Barboursville may agree about the potential of Viognier in Virginia as they have recently planted an additional 11 acres (16,000 vines) of Viognier. This 11 acre Viognier planting is part of a significant expansion at Barboursville this year that includes planting 36,000 new vines over 24 acres, a 20% expansion! The vineyard expansion also includes Petit Syrah (3 acres), Cabernet Franc (3 acres), Merlot (5 acres), and Moscato Ottonel.
Our final stop of the tour was one of my favorite wineries in Virginia – Keswick Vineyards. Our tasting at Keswick was held outside under tent to enjoy the beautiful 75-degree day.
The surprising standout for me was the new Verdejo, which is new to Virginia, but has long been grown in the Rueda region of Spain. I believe Keswick has the only Verdejo planting in Virginia.
A great time was had by all – thank you to the First Lady’s office, to each of the wineries for the hospitality, and to Annette, Amy, and Mary Catherine from the Marketing Office of the Virginia Wine Board for organizing another great day of exploring Virginia wine. A special thank you to the First Lady of Virginia and to the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for taking time out of your schedule to spend with our group!
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