October is Virginia Wine Month, and the time is ripe for visiting Virginia wineries, learning about grape growing and winemaking in the state and, most importantly, tasting Virginia wines. Its also a good time to reflect on Thomas Jeffersons dream of making world-class wine in Virginia and to consider how very close winemakers across the state have come to achieving his vision.
Jefferson is the patron saint of Virginia wine. Ever the connoisseur, he visited the great wine estates of France, Italy and Germany, imported vast amounts of fine wine from Europe, assembled what at the time was the countrys largest private wine collection at Monticello, and established the White House wine cellar. As much as he revered Old World wine, he nevertheless believed that America could become self-sufficient and successful in grape cultivation and winemaking. We could in the United States, Jefferson wrote, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.
Aspiring to lay the groundwork for American winemaking at Monticello, Jefferson partnered with Philip Mazzei, an Italian wine merchant and doctor, to plant a vineyard on the estate. He tirelessly experimented with cultivating classic European grape varieties (Vitis vinifera) 30 varieties, all told using vine clippings he had collected during his travels, and tinkered with native American varieties (Vitis labrusca), as well. Sadly, though, he never succeeded in producing wine, in large part because of the then-uncontrollable pests and diseases that damaged the vines and diminished the quality of the fruit.
While Jefferson suffered disappointments in the vineyard, his enthusiasm and advocacy for American viticulture left a lasting legacy that has inspired the emergence of a modern and thriving winemaking industry in Virginia. Two hundred years after Jefferson planted his vineyard at Monticello, there are around 3,000 acres under vine and 140 wineries (and counting) throughout the state producing some 350,000 cases of wine each year. Virginia is home to six American Viticultural Areas, which are officially designated grape-growing regions with unique geographic characteristics. They include the Shenandoah Valley AVA; Monticello AVA; Virginias Eastern Shore AVA; George Washington Birthplace AVA; North Fork of Roanoke AVA; and Rocky Knob AVA.
Most Virginia wineries are small-scale operations, but their collective economic impact is significant. Thanks to the expanding presence of Virginia wine in stores and restaurants, booming wine tourism and an assertive state promotional campaign, the Virginia wine industry generates upwards of $35 million in tax revenues each year.
Virginia wineries produce a wide range of wine types and styles, from dry table wines to elegant sparkling wines to sweet fruit and honey wines.
Although Virginia doesnt really have a signature wine, there are several particular varieties that are showing strong potential for quality and character. Standouts include Viognier, a white variety traditional to the Frances Rhone Valley; Merlot and Cabernet Franc, red Bordeaux varieties; and, perhaps the most interesting, a red variety called Norton, which is native to Virginia.
The growth and success of the Virginia wine industry hasnt come without challenge, however. As in Jeffersons days, the hot, wet and humid mid-Atlantic climate presents a number of threats to grape crops during the growing season. Abundant moisture is a major culprit, as it attracts pests, causes excessive vine vigor (too much vegetation on the vine), and fosters the growth of powdery mildew, black rot and other destructive diseases all of which can result in poor quality fruit. Thanks to advances in vineyard management techniques and the selection of grape varieties that are best suited to the climate and soil of the states vineyards, Virginia grape growers and winemakers are making progress in mitigating these menaces.
Scott Hendley can be reached through his wine blog at www.alextimes.com, or at
Time to Enjoy Virginia Wine
During the month of October, there are ample opportunities to experience first hand just how far Virginia wine has come since Jefferson planted his first grapevine. These include wine and harvest festivals, winery tours and special Virginia wine tastings. Heres a sampling of notable upcoming events in Alexandria:
Mount Vernon Fall Wine Festival and Sunset Tour, October 2-4, 6 to 9 p.m. Sample wines from 17 Virginia wineries on the historic estates east lawn overlooking the Potomac River. Sunday tickets are still available at www.mountvernon.org.
Old Town Food and Wine Festival, October 9-11, 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Take part in a grand tasting of Virginia wines, wine seminars, vintner dinners and cooking demonstrations featuring Virginia winemakers and Old Town Alexandria chefs. For tickets, visit www.oldtownwinefestival.com.
La Fte de Lafayette, October 17, 7 to 10 p.m. The Gadsbys Tavern Museum Society is hosting a wine party in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. Taste and compare selections of Old World French and New World Virginia wines. Visit www.gadsbystavern.org for tickets.
For a complete listing of Virginia Wine Month events across the state, take a look at www.virginia.org. If youre interested in reading more about Thomas Jeffersons passion for wine, I recommend the book Thomas Jefferson on Wine, by John Hailman. And, while youre relaxing with a glass of Virginia wine, I invite you to listen to a podcast I co-hosted on Virginia wines featuring an in-depth interview with Virginia winemakers. Go to my blog page at www.alextimes.com/blogs/wine-times/ and click on The Wines of Virginia.
OTHER OCTOBER WINE VENUES IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA
Linden – Oct 3 – Sunset in the Vineyard at Fox Meadow – Come enjoy great wines while you relax on our deck, listen to classical music and view the spectacular sunset over the vineyard.
Lorton – Oct 3-4 – Art, Wine and all that Jazz – Come to the Workhouse Arts Center for wonderful local wineries, spectacular art and all day jazz performances. The two-day event will be filled with artists, exhibits, national and international jazz performers, award-winning wineries from Virginia, an eclectic food village, childrens performances and storytelling.
Fredericksburg – Oct 3-4 – Fredericksburg Area Wine Festival – Annual Wine Festival with eight area wineries and more than 50 varieties of wine to sip and or purchase. Live music and childrens entertainment.
Middleburg – Oct 3-4 – 9th Annual Norton Wine and Bluegrass Festival – Enjoy the bluegrass pickings of Jackass Flats, Hickory Ridge and Lisa Kay Howard throughout the weekend, craft and food vendors, hay rides and vineyard tours.
Culpeper – Oct 10 – Old House Vineyards Gourmet Wine Dinner – Join Old House for a five-course gourmet dinner paired with their award winning wines. Seating is limited and reservations are needed.
Washington – Oct 10 – The Colors of Fall at Gadino Cellars – Get ready for goblins with pumpkin soup paired with the fruit and spice flavors of Viognier. This perfect combo for fall weather can be enjoyed in Gadino Cellars Italian-inspired tasting room or while taking in the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from their spacious deck.
The Plains – Oct 10 – Wine and Chocolate Pairing – There is chocolate and then theres Wanders gourmet, oh my God, is this stuff really incredible chocolate. Are you with me so far? Okay, now pair that with a great wine. Ones from Virginia . . . maybe some whites.
Culpeper – Oct 11 – Taste of Culpeper – Tempt your palate at Taste of Culpeper featuring the very best in local cuisine from Culpepers unique restaurants and caterers and Virginia wineries and microbreweries. Other activities of the day include childrens activities, live entertainment and artist displays.
ulpeper – Oct 17 – Old House Vineyards 8th Annual Chili Cookoff – Fall is in the air, so join the folks at Old House for wine tasting, chili and live music. No fee, no reservations required.
Leesburg – Oct 17-18 – Loudoun Farm Tour at Tarara – Live a day in the life of a Loudoun County local with a taste of luscious wines and an afternoon lounging next to Shadow Lake. Lakeside wine tastings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Live music from noon to 4 p.m.
Leesburg – Oct 24 – Seeing Stars – Sip all-star wines, stargaze and enjoy classic movies projected on a lakeside stage.
Linden – Oct 24-25 – A Taste of the Harvest at Fox Meadow – This activity will be held in the wine cellar where there will be a tasting of wine-in-process from the current harvest. Taste the white wines recently fermented and the young red wines in the barrels or bins.
Stafford – Oct 30-31 – Haunted Taste&Treats – Come enjoy some delectable treats at Potomac Point Winery as prepared by their chef and paired with their wines.
Bluemont – Oct 30 – Bring your friends and family out to the country for an evening of Bluemonts warm hospitality. Dress for the weather and take in a night out under the stars, or cozy up in the tasting room with a little live music.
Leesburg – Oct 30-31 – Franc-n-Stein Halloween Masquerade and Dinner – Have a fun, spooky treat at Tarara Vineyard and Winery.
Haymarket – Oct 30-31 – Halloween Fun at The Winery at La Grange – The 18th century Manor House is full of ghosts that are coming out for Halloween. Is that a bat hanging from the chandelier? Is someone screaming to get out of that closet?
Fredericksburg – Oct 31 – Harvest Festival at Hartwood Winery – Join Hartwood Winery and a guest winery to sample the harvest fruits of the vine and usher in the winter air. Enjoy hayrides, scarecrow-making, games, pony rides, live music and more. Adult admission is $15. Children get in free.