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I recently started writing a regular wine column for WHRO, the local Public Broadcasting Station here in southeastern, VA.  I do not plan to repost each WHRO article here on the blog, but am posting this month’s article in celebration of Virginia Wine Month.

The facts below may not be news to Virginia wine fans, but I hope readers outside of Virginia, or Virginians not familiar with the new era of our state’s wine industry, find the following factoids informative.

Ten Facts Virginians May Not Know About Virginia Wine

This isn’t your parent’s Virginia wine,’ I overheard a Virginia vintner tell a customer at a local wine tasting.  The vintner was responding to the customer’s remark about how good that winery’s red blend tasted and the fact that she was surprised it was a Virginia wine.

Unbeknownst to some wine enthusiasts living in the Commonwealth, Virginia wine has come of age. The Virginia wine industry has not only grown in size, but more importantly, quality has increased significantly over the last decade.

Though our state is often overshadowed by larger and more notable regions, Virginia is known in many wine circles as the next big U.S. wine region. Thomas Jefferson’s dream of ‘making as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe,’ is being realized.

With continued record year-over-year sales growth coupled with a number of recent enthusiastic profiles in notable national publications – like Food & Wine Magazine, New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal – this is an exciting time for Virginia wine.

Here a few facts wine enthusiasts may be surprised to learn about wine in Virginia:

  • Virginia has a rich viticulture history.  Though our third president — and Virginia’s second governor — is often referred to as Virginia’s first vintner, Thomas Jefferson was unsuccessful in his attempts at cultivating grapes for wine production at Monticello.  Virginia’s viticulture roots predate Jefferson by over 150 years.  Act 12, one of the nation’s earliest laws passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619, required each male colonist to plant and tend at least ten grapevines.
  • The first recorded international shipment of a wine made in Virginia was in 1622 when colonists shipped a small sample (which spoiled en route) of wine to London.   However  Today, Virginia wine is sold in a number of other states and exported to international markets like China and the United Kingdom.
  • October is Virginia Wine Month.  Launched in 1988 by then Governor Gerald Baliles, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of Virginia Wine Month.  Readers can find a complete listing of Virginia Wine Month events throughout the month of October at the VirginiaWine.org Events page.
  • In May 2011, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier is Virginia’s official Signature Grape.
  • Virginia is now home to over 230 wineries.
  • The Virginia wine industry employs 4,700 people and contributes almost $750 million to the Virginia economy each year.
  • The Commonwealth is tied with Texas for fifth in the U.S. for wine grape production (behind California, Oregon, Washington, and New York).
  • Over 60 different grape varieties are cultivated in Virginia for wine production.  In addition to popular grape varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, and Merlot, many lesser known varieties like Verdejo, Nebbiolo, and Vermentino are thriving in Virginia.
  • Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Virginia as one of the 10 best wine travel destinations for 2012.
  • Over 1.6 million people visited Virginia wineries last year.

Baker’s dozen:

  • Virginia’s wine history is a fascinating subject to explore.  Though several of our nation’s founding fathers — Washington, Jefferson, Madison — had a deep interest in viticulture, Charles Carter also played an important role in the early days of Virginia viticulture.  In 1763, Royal Governor Francis Fauquier (then governor of the Colony of Virginia) certified that the Carter was successfully growing European vines at their Cleve plantation.  This is the first official record of successful grape production with European vines in Virginia.

If you haven’t experienced Virginia wine lately, the cooler temperatures of autumn along with the yellow, orange, and red foliage juxtaposed against a green backdrop set among rolling hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains make October the perfect time to visit Virginia’s wine country.

Drink what you like, with people you like!

Thank you to Aaron a Hogs Head Wine for providing a sanity check of this article.