Today marks the beginning of Virginia wine month.
When former Governor Gerald L. Baliles launched October Virginia Wine Month in 1988, there were just 40 wineries.
Virginia is now home to over 300 wineries and nearly 4,000 acres of vineyards spread across nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and 25 different wine trails.
The local wine industry generates about $1.3 billion in economic impact and over 8,200 jobs across the state.
With a wide range of soil types, climates, and about 80 grape varieties cultivated for wine production, the state boasts a diverse viticultural scene.
Though Virginia’s viticulture history dates back four hundred years when the House of Burgess passed Acte 12 of 1619 requiring all colonists to plant and tend ten grapevines, the Commonwealth’s wine story began in the mid 1970s.
In 1976, 6th generation Italian wine scion Gianni Zonin purchased an 870-acre Antebellum property situated on rolling hills in Orange County, about 20 miles northeast of Charlottesville. This historic property would be home to Barboursville Vineyards, one of the most important wineries in Virginia and the eastern U.S.
Zonin hired his childhood friend, Gabriele Rausse (considered the Father of Virginia wine), to plant the first vineyards at Barboursville. Rausse went on to help establish other notable vineyards in the region and his own eponymous winery.
In 1990, Zonin called on another young winemaker from his homeland to help build Barboursville into a world-class wine producer.
Luca Paschina, who hails from the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, brought experience, vision and drive with him to the Commonwealth.
In 1983, a young farmer named Jim Law purchased a 76-acre hardscrabble farm about 60 miles west of Washington, DC. Today, Law farms about 20 acres at his Hardscrabble vineyard at Linden and produces some of the highest regarded wines in the Commonwealth.
That same year a pioneering entrepreneur named Dennis Horton planted his initial vineyard in Gordonsville, 20 miles northeast of Charlottesville. Horton was the first to cultivate some of the state’s most important grapes including Viognier, Petit Verdot, Tannat, and Rkatsiteli.
In 1992, just two vintages after planting his first Cab Franc vines, Horton, along with winemaker Alan Kinne, produced the first varietal Cab Franc for commercial sale in Virginia.
Sadly, Horton passed away in 2018 but three generations of Hortons — his wife Sharon, daughter Shannon Horton, and granddaughter Caitlin Horton — continue to build on his legacy.
Horton, Rausse, Law, Paschina and other pioneers like Charlottesville-based Viticulturist Lucie Morton, Patricia Kluge, founder of the former Kluge Winery, Patrick Duffeler, founder of The Williamsburg Winery, Michael Shaps of Shaps Wineworks, Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars, and Jeff White of Glen Manor Vineyards, have devoted years of sweat equity to help establish Virginia as one of the most promising emerging wine regions.
Building on this foundation of is a group of talented winemakers including, Chelsey Blevins of Fifty-Third Winery & Vineyard in Louisa, Corry Craighill of Septenary Winery in Greenwood, Nate and Sarah Walsh of Walsh Family Vineyards in Loudoun County, and Caitlin Horton of Horton Vineyards.
We will be celebrating October Virginia Wine Month and a small professional win tonight with one of our favorites, the Barboursville 2010 Nebbiolo.
For a complete history of the local wine industry and more information on Virginia Wine Month events and offers, check out VirginiaWine.org.