[Only two weeks late posting this one.]
My latest column for The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press newspapers:
Includes a few of my favorites from recent tastings. A few of these will be off the radar for some, others will be right in the bull’s-eye. I hope you’ll try them all.
The original intro that included a summary of Virginia’s wine history, which was cut from the print version, follows.
October is Virginia Wine Month!
There were just 40 wineries in the state and about 1,300 acres under vine in 1988 when then governor Gerald L. Baliles established the month-long celebration of Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry.
Today, the state is home to more than 300 wineries and over 5,000 acres of grapevines spread across eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) and over two dozen wine trails.
The local wine industry continues to grow and play an important role in the Commonwealth’s economy. According to a study commissioned by the Virginia Wine Board, the local wine industry generates $1.7 billion in economic impact and 10,420 jobs across the state.
For wine enthusiasts with an interest in U.S. history, the Commonwealth of Virginia is a great place to explore and taste the intersection of these subjects. Virginia has a deep history of grape growing dating back four centuries.
Though most accounts of Virginia’s wine history tend to focus on Thomas Jefferson’s many attempts and failures with grape cultivation at Monticello — he never made a drop of wine at his beloved home in Charlottesville — the Commonwealth has a long history of viticulture before and after the man described as America’s first oenophile.
In 1619, the House of the House of Burgess passed Acte 12 of 1619 requiring all colonists to plant and tend ten grapevines.
Nearly a century and a half later, Charles Carter, a member of the House of Burgesses, planted grape vines at his estate, Cleve, in King George County.
In 1763, Royal Governor Francis Fauquier, governor of the Colony of Virginia, certified that the Carter family was successfully growing European vines at Cleve, marking the first official record of successful grape production with European vines in the Commonwealth.
A century on, a German farmer living in the Charlottesville area founded the Monticello Wine Company, a farming cooperative that produced wines made from grape varieties like Delaware, Catawba, and Norton.
A Monticello Wine Company wine made from Norton grapes found international acclaim, including an award for ‘best red wine of all nations’ at the 1876 Vienna Exposition.
Because of economic conditions, vineyard diseases and Prohibition, Virginia’s early wine industry was largely dormant for a century.
In 1973, Lucie Morton planted her first vineyard on a three-acre plot on her family farm along the banks of the Potomac River in King George County.
This vineyard served as the catalyst for Morton to pursue viticulture studies at Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique in Montpellier, France.
Today she is a renowned viticulturist and ampelographer (one who identifies grape varieties by their leaves) and has helped establish some of the most notable vineyards across the state.
In 1976, sixth-generation winegrower Gianni Zonin, who was head of Italian wine brand Zonin, purchased an historic 820-acre property in Orange County that would be home to Barboursville Vineyards, perhaps the most recognized winery in the state.
Over the next few years, Virginia would attract talented and adventurous wine growers — like the late Dennis Horton, founder of Horton Vineyards, Jim Law, founder of Linden Vineyards, Patricia Kluge, founder of the former Kluge Winery (now Trump Winery), and Patrick Duffeler, founder of The Williamsburg Winery — who recognized the potential of this promising region and would devote considerable resources to establishing Virginia’s modern wine industry.
The work of those pioneers, many of whom are still working in their vineyards today, is being continued by a generation of young winemakers fiercely dedicated to making world-class wines and writing the next chapter of Virginia’s wine story.