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Growing up in the Tidewater region of coastal Virginia — considered the northern border of the South — grits, greens, lima beans, Edwards ham, peanuts, oysters, and fried chicken were staples.

Once confined to the family table, these ‘southern foods,’ rooted in deep traditions of the south, are now part of the mainstream culinary narrative.

“America has fallen hard for Southern food and drink,” declares Southern food evangelist and Founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance John T. Edge, in his article about the rise in culinary prominence of the Tidewater region, published in the July/August 2017 issue of AFAR travel magazine.

While Southern food has moved from the south into the culinary mainstream of America, southern drink, in particular wine, has not been as widely embraced.    

Beer and spirits made in the south may part of the ‘Southern food’ movement but wine grown in the southern region is rarely on the same table.  

With no shortage of ubiquitous Napa Cabernet, oaky Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Prosecco, on southern food restaurant wine lists from Atlanta to Charleston to Raleigh to Norfolk, there is an opportunity for regional wine representation in the culinary capitals of the southeast.

Virginia is arguably best suited to be the wine region of choice for the southern food citadels of the southeast.   

Recognizing this opportunity, Ankida Ridge Vineyards, Veritas Vineyards & Winery, Stinson Vineyards, and Early Mountain Vineyards formed a partnership — called the Commonwealth Collective — based on a shared vision to raise awareness and drive sales of Virginia wine in the southeast.  

“One of the purposes of the Commonwealth Collective is to educate industry and consumers and raise awareness of Virginia wines,” says Tamara Vrooman Lucas, Marketing Director of the Commonwealth Collective, who has worked in the wine and food industry in Atlanta for a decade.  “Initially we’re focusing on the important food-centric cities of Atlanta, Athens, Savannah, Charleston and Greenville.”

Building on the work the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office has done in recent years to raise awareness throughout the east coast, the collective will initially include 12 wines that showcase the potential and diversity of the central part of the state.

“The [Commonwealth Collective] portfolio is curated with an eye toward highlighting the winegrowing diversity, variety, and spirit of innovation of our region while also representing four very distinct winemaking philosophies,” said Dave Kostelnik, Early Mountain Vineyards General Manager.

Early Mountain Vineyards, located in Madison, about 25 miles north of Charlottesville, will include the Rosé, Five Forks (white blend of Petit Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc), and Novum Bordeaux-style red blend, made by winemaker Ben Jordan, in the Commonwealth Collective portfolio.

Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc from winemaker Rachel Stinson Vrooman at Crozet-based Stinson Vineyards, and Scintilla Sparkling wine, Viognier, Petit Verdot and Petit Manseng crafted by Emily Pelton at Veritas Vineyards in Afton, VA, will also be included.

Ankida Ridge Vineyards, situated on an eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Amherst County, about 82 miles southwest of Early Mountain Vineyards, will include their much-heralded Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made by Nathan Vrooman.

“The portfolio showcases our individual strengths and collectively creates a compelling argument for the quality of wine coming from Virginia and the Monticello AVA,” said George Hodson, General Manager of Veritas Vineyards, via email. “The foundation is the common goal held by each of the member wineries, which is to elevate Virginia wine to national and international relevance.”

These four wineries and winemakers are brought together by a shared vision of quality and helping write the next chapter of the Virginia wine narrative in new markets.

“We’re firm believers in the power of collaboration to achieve significant goals,” said Kostelnik. “Teaming up with Ankida Ridge, Stinson, and Veritas, to further extend the reach and awareness of Virginia wine seemed like a tremendous opportunity as they share our vision for the future of the industry.”

Beyond showcasing the quality and diversity of wines grown in central Virginia, attracting wine tourists from the southeast is an important objective of the collective.

“By focusing on the southeast region, especially the local food-centric metropolitan areas popular with international visitors, we will present a beautiful example of world-class wines and attract visitors from these regions,” said Christine Vrooman, shepherd of the vines at Ankida Ridge Vineyards.

According to a study (‘Wine travel in the United States: A profile of wine travellers and wine tours’) published in Tourism Management Perspectives (Volume 23, pages 53-57), 85 to 93% of wine tourists also participate in cultural and other events and attractions in addition to visiting wineries.

The success of the Commonwealth Collective — raising awareness, driving sales, and attracting wine tourists — is important to the entire Virginia wine industry.

Learn more about the collective here.

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