With over 280 vineyards, 10 wine regions and seven American Viticultural Areas, Virginia has become a state that is increasingly recognized for the quality of its wines. After California, Oregon, Washington, New York and Texas, it is the 6th largest wine producing region in the United States by volume. Unfortunately, wine production remains on a small scale. Very little wine crosses state lines and even less is exported. If you want to discover Virginia wines, the best thing to do is to go there. It’s a good thing that wine tourism has developed a lot in the last few years!
A bit of History
Virginia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the United States. Wine was already being made here in the 18th century, even before the creation of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, one of the first American presidents, was a great fan of French wines and did a lot to develop the cultivation of vines in the region. Unfortunately, he was not very successful, as most of the vines he planted were affected by disease, but the foundations of Virginia viticulture had been laid (by the way, don’t hesitate to visit Thomas Jefferson’s historic home in Monticello, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!) It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Virginia’s wine industry really took off with the installation of the famous Italian Zonin family and their Barboursville winery. During the 1980s and 1990s, numerous wineries emerged. By the end of the 2000s, there were just over 160 wineries; today there are over 280.
Geography, Climate and Appellations
Virginia is a State in the southeastern United States. Virginia’s wine regions stretch from the Chesapeake Bay in the east to the Appalachian Mountains in the west. There are no less than 10 wine regions: Blue Ridge, Central Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, Eastern Shore, Hampton Roads, Heart Of Appalachia, Northern Virginia, Shenandoah Valley, Southern Virginia, Virginia Mountains. All are accessible from Washington DC, the US capital, after an hour to four hours of driving, depending on the region visited. In addition to these 10 regions, there are seven American Viticulture Areas (AVAs): Middleburg, Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia’s Eastern Shore. During my stay in Virginia, I only had the opportunity to visit vineyards in the Monticello appellation. Virginia has very hot and humid summers, which sometimes proves to be a challenge for winemakers, especially when it comes to vine diseases.
Cultivated Grape Varieties
The most planted grape varieties in Virginia are, in order, chardonnay, cabernet franc, merlot, viognier and petit verdot. Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Manseng follow. Virginia is known for producing excellent Bordeaux-style wines, which I was able to verify for myself by tasting several. This is not surprising as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot are producing very nice results. Cabernet Sauvignon is a bit more capricious, so it is usually blended and rarely produced as a single variety. Viognier, followed by Chardonnay, appeared to me to be the white grape variety giving the most beautiful results. Petit Manseng and Albariño give very encouraging results too.
The Producers to Follow
During my trip in Virginia, I had the opportunity to visit several wineries and to participate in a tasting that allowed me to discover some of the best wines produced in this American state. However, this is only representative of the Monticello region where I stayed.
- Barboursville: Owned by the Zonin family, who have been making wine for generations in Italy, the estate is one of the most renowned in Virginia. In my opinion, it is a must in the region, with its chic restaurant and superb tasting room. You absolutely must try their Octagon vintage, one of Virginia’s flagship wines. But the entire product line is superb. I particularly liked their vermentino, viognier and… nebbiolo! bbvwine.com
- Early Mountain: named the 2018 Best American Winery of the Year by the prestigious Wine Enthusiast magazine, Early Mountain has in just a few years positioned itself as one of the very best wineries in Virginia. The tasting room is absolutely beautiful, and the wines are worth the trip. I loved their rosé and their plot-based Cabernet Franc cuvees. Their newest Rise (57% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 14% Petit Verdot, 14% Tannat) has the potential to be one of Virginia’s greatest wines. earlymountain.com
- Afton Mountain: surrounded by mountains, the view of the vineyard is superb. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to taste their wines, except in barrels. The Bordeaux-like blends are promising. They also make a superb maury type wine : aftonmountainvineyards.com
- King Family Vineyards : I didn’t have the time to visit them, but I had the chance to taste several of their wines, and I had a real crush, especially their viognier and their ”Bordeaux blends”. Their French oenologist Mathieu Finot is very nice. kingfamilyvineyards.com
- Veritas: very nice wines, among the best in Monticello County. Their 100% petit verdot is very good, their viognier too. veritaswines.com
- Blenheim Vineyards: another estate known for the quality of their wines. I liked their roussanne, an often capricious variety. blenheimvineyards.com
- Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard: the place is known to organize weddings and we can understand why! The site is absolutely superb with a view on the vineyards and the surrounding mountains. The wines are decent, without being of the same quality as the previously mentioned estates. The food on the other hand is superb. They have a beautiful garden and farm on site and the vast majority of the ingredients used to cook are produced on site or come from the best producers in the area. A great place to relax with family and friends. https://www.pippinhillfarm.com/
For More Information
I had already heard about Virginia wines, but had never had the opportunity to taste them or even to set foot in the region. It is now done and I am very happy. And most of all, I hope to have the opportunity to go back there very soon!
So, are you convinced to take a trip to Virginia? If you want to know more about Virginia wines, don’t hesitate to go to the Virginia Wine Marketing Office website: virginiawine.org. You’ll find a list of wineries, maps, and information on Virginia’s different regions, appellations and wine history.
For more general tourist information, such as attractions, accommodations, and restaurants, visit the Virginia Tourism Office’s page at virginia.org.