When settlers hit the shores of Virginia some 400 years ago, the hope was that the New World would become a new source of wine. In 1619, the British government even signed into law that every male settler must plant and tend at least ten grape vines. Unfortunately this hit some resistance when the vinifera grape, or traditional European grape, wouldn’t take to the land because of diseases and pests. Furthermore, the booming tobacco industry in Virginia swayed many farmers away from growing grapes.
It wasn’t until the late 1950s that vinifera started to show some promise in Virginia. By the 1970s, new wineries were beginning to pop up in the Shenandoah Valley and in the Monticello region. The real push occurred when Gabriele Rausse, a famed Italian vintner, started growing and harvesting grapes outside of Charlottesville. This lead to the creation of Barboursville Vineyard, which is one of the strongest wineries in the state. Currently there are 192 wineries in Virginia, which only places California, Oregon, New York and Washington ahead of this East Coast state in numbers of wineries.
Virginia has five distinct climate regions, each with established wineries and vineyards. The climate tends to be temperate and the varying weather patterns allow for an extended growing period. There are six American Viticultural Areas across the state, which are the Eastern Shore, Monticello Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob and Shenandoah Valley.
In the Shenandoah Valley, some of the top wineries include Linden Vineyards, Naked Mountain Winery and the Three Fox Vineyard. A stand out at Three Fox is the award winning Volpe Sangiovese Italian blend. If touring in this area, consider an overnight at the country-chic L’Auberge Provençale in White Post, which has an incredible French restaurant run by Avignon born chef, Alain Borel.
In the Monticello Northern Neck, start off where Virginia wines began, at Jefferson Vineyard. Tastings are offered daily and the standouts include the Petit Verdot and the Pinot Gris. Further down the road, the Keswick Winery, which is located at a plantation that was used as a Confederate campsite, is home to the 2007 Governor’s Cup Gold Medal Winner, the Chambourcin, which is an oaked hybrid blend. If you are looking for something a little more hip, stop by Dave Matthew’s vineyard, Blenheim.
Out on the Eastern Shore, which combines both parts of Virginia and Maryland, there a few vineyards trying hard to make a name for themselves. The Little Ashby Vineyards in Easton was the first licensed vineyard on the shore. Its Super Talbot, which is a Bordeaux blend, has won numerous awards. At agricultural economist Don Tilmon’s winery, Tilmon’s Island, be ready to taste forward wines with clean flavors. His wines are based off of Concord grapes, with the Cabernet and the Merlot being his best products. If out on the Eastern Shore, look into bunking at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which is a restored waterfront estate with both antique and modern rooms.