Oct 19 2011
The BOOZE BIN
By Emily Valentine (@ebvalentine)
Virginians anticipate the first deliciously crisp days of October with the same fervor that Mainers look forward to summer and Coloradoans itch for each winter’s first dumping of snow. And for good reason! Autumn in Virginia brings outdoor music festivals, oyster roasts, tailgates and apple picking, all set against a backdrop of crimson and gold foliage.
Autumn is also an ideal time of year to explore Virginia’s up-and-coming wine trails. Many of the state’s best wineries are nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and among the rolling hills of Loudoun and Fauquier counties – great places to spend a leisurely fall weekend sipping wine.
Since October is Virginia Wine Month, and since Virginia wines are by many accounts “ready to take off,” I thought I’d use this week’s Booze Bin as an opportunity to document some of my favorite things about my home state’s wines.
1- They have roots – Like virtually everything else in this state, Virginia’s viticulture is steeped in history. Virginia was one of the first states to produce wine, and its favorite founding father, Thomas Jefferson, has been called “the greatest patron of wine and wine growing that this country has yet had.” Most people don’t know that Jefferson was passionate about wine and tried for 30 long years to cultivate European grapes at Monticello. Though his endeavors to produce a quality vintage never reached fruition, Jefferson’s determination in the face of obstacles has served as a model and inspiration to subsequent generations of Virginia winemakers. Ironically, 200 years later, Jefferson Vineyards now offers a lovely cabernet franc that could rival the Bordeaux and Burgundy blends so beloved by its namesake. (Read more here about Thomas Jefferson and wine.)
2- They’re approachable – Despite their grounding in French and Italian varietals, Virginia wines come without the austere flavor profile traditionally associated with their European counterparts, but also do not try to imitate the bolder, fruit saturation of New World wines. They are subtle, yet elegant, and flourish when paired with good food and company. Much like a true Southern lady, a good Virginia wine will add a layer of intimacy and refinement to a variety of occasions.
3- They pair well with romance – I’ll admit I may be biased on this point since my husband and I drank a Linden Claret the night we decided to get married and then chose to celebrate our wedding at Pippin Hill Vineyards … BUT, I do think there’s something about Virginia’s lush viogniers and Bordeaux-style blends that makes them pair well with romance. If the wines themselves don’t put you in an amorous state of mind, watching the sun set from the veranda at Pippin Hill or the terrace at King Family Vineyards certainly will.
4- They are a labor of love – Until I watched the 2010 documentary Vintage, I never realized just how much effort gets poured into each wine harvest in Virginia. Winemakers in this state face a number of unique challenges. Excessive humidity can invite disease to grapes beginning to fatten on the vine; too much rain can dilute the fruit’s sugar levels and diminish the quality of the future wine; and if a late-summer hurricane hits the East Coast, a Virginia vineyard’s entire crop can be destroyed in a matter of hours. (Read Scott Eliff’s recent Edible Blue Ridge piece for more on this topic.)
The winemakers featured in Vintage make it clear that no one comes to Virginia to churn out inventory and turn a profit the way they could and do in Napa, Mendoza or the Languedoc. They do it because they find passion in the winemaking journey … and because they’re willing to embrace obstacles as opportunities to continuously learn more about their trade.
5- They’re undiscovered – Partly because they lack national distribution, and partly because they aren’t backed by a national marketing campaign, Virginia wines are relatively unknown to the world. They are diamonds in the rough … and forward-thinking wine enthusiasts are beginning to take note.
Those who’ve dug into Virginia and uncovered some of its wine gems include Lenn Thompson, Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson, who visited Charlottesville for the Wine Bloggers Conference this summer; the sommelier at the British Embassy, who served Barboursville wines at a reception honoring the royal wedding; singer-songwriter Dave Matthews, who now owns Blenheim Vineyards in Charlottesville, Va.; and a notorious real estate mogul turned winery owner whose name I’ll let you guess.
Virginia is moving on up in the wine world, so I’m going to enjoy my juicy little secret while it lasts.
If you’ve never visited a Virginia winery or tasted one of their wines, why not take advantage of Virginia Wine Month to do just that? Here’s a list of upcoming Virginia wine events and a library of restaurants and vendors that sell Virginia wines.
Happy sipping!(Photo credits: Pippin Hill Farm, South Jersey Wine & Dine)