Virginia Is for Wine Lovers
Each state makes wine—even Hawaii, even Alaska. The one with the massive repute, after all, is California, which produces greater than 80 p.c of this nation’s vintages and most of its finest ones. After these, oenophiles are likely to favor bottles from Washington, Oregon, and, to a lesser extent, New York.
There’s one other state that deserves a outstanding place within the dialog, nevertheless: Virginia. In just about each nook of the commonwealth, vineyards massive and small are turning out high-quality wines from a variety of grape varieties. I’ve tasted quite a lot of them. My daughter went to varsity in Richmond, and on my frequent visits, we emptied many a bottle collectively within the metropolis’s higher eating places. “Southern wine” could also be shorthand for the sticky-sweet stuff made out of indigenous muscadine grapes, however we discovered repeatedly that Virginia’s best vintages stand as much as nearly all different American competitors.
So, why aren’t they better-known or extra extensively appreciated? There are a number of causes, the primary being that, whereas winemaking of a form started in Virginia 4 centuries in the past, a real wine business didn’t get began there till the mid-Seventies.
The early historical past of Virginia wine is a chronicle of failure. In 1619, the Home of Burgesses (the colony’s legislative physique) inspired English settlers to plant vinifera grapes—the species that features chardonnay, cabernet, and many of the different varieties we take pleasure in as we speak. The vineyards foundered. No lesser personages than George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would strive subsequently, to no avail. The nonnative vines merely refused to cotton to the state’s sizzling, humid local weather, falling prey to mildew, black rot, and the harmful pest phylloxera.
Native curiosity in vinifera didn’t revive till after the introduction of contemporary agricultural practices, together with pesticides and fungicides, in the course of the mid-Twentieth century. Then it nonetheless took a European enterprise to lastly kick manufacturing into excessive gear. I’m talking of the large Zonin, from Italy’s Veneto area, which established its Barboursville Vineyards simply outdoors Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1976. At this time, the state claims greater than 300 wineries, although solely a handful are licensed natural. As is the case alongside many of the East Coast, nature proves too formidable a foe.
Challenges persist. Michael Shaps of Michael Shaps Wineworks, certainly one of Virginia’s premier producers and a contract winemaker for a number of wineries within the area, says that space vintners stay “in a battle with new ailments and pests.” Shaps credit Dr. Tony Wolf of Virginia Tech’s Viticultural Extension Service for analysis that “has yielded an infinite enchancment in grape and wine high quality,” by means of higher varietal picks and winery administration strategies like cowl crops, strategic pruning, and extra targeted remedies for these aforementioned ailments and pests.
On account of such difficulties, Virginia wines are typically dearer than their US counterparts and are not often exported past the state. Many endure, too, from a scarcity of distinct regional id. Chardonnay, Virginia’s most generally planted grape, can yield glorious wine there, but it surely’s usually indistinguishable from chardonnay made in, say, California or Australia. The state’s high wineries additionally produce stable reds from traditional vinifera grapes (suppose cabernet sauvignon and merlot); once more, these superb wines may come from nearly wherever.
To me, essentially the most fascinating Virginia wines are derived from much less well-known vinifera grapes: reds like petit verdot and tannat, and whites like viognier and petit manseng. Shaps, who works with all 4, thinks petit manseng is “with out query” essentially the most promising white grape within the state. Among the many different space wineries utilizing much less frequent vinifera varieties are Keswick Vineyards (verdejo), Otium Cellars (dornfelder, lemberger), Breaux Vineyards (nebbiolo), and Blue Ridge Winery (gewürztraminer and a vinifera-native hybrid known as traminette).
Then there’s norton, a local American red-wine number of the aestivalis species, thought of to be our nation’s oldest cultivated grape. It isn’t cloying like muscadine, although the 2 do Share the same resistance to mildew. The premier examples are Locksley Reserve from Chrysalis Vineyards and Horton Norton (sure) from Horton Vineyards—each plummy, complicated, scrumptious, and fairly completely different from all the pieces else. Perhaps norton would be the Virginia export that lastly will get the wine world’s consideration.
Find out how to Choose a Winner
So, which Virginia wines are finest? One key indicator of excellence is inclusion within the annual Governor’s Cup Field: a case of the 12 months’s high 12 native wines, as chosen by outstanding wine authorities from across the US and overseas. The field—despatched to journalists and members of the commerce in an effort to advertise the state’s burgeoning business—usually consists of bottles from Barboursville Vineyards and Michael Shaps’ Virginia Wineworks. However 868 Property Vineyards, of Loudon County, holds the present first-place title, for its 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito, a dessert wine made out of the vinifera-native hybrid vidal. You’ll in all probability have a tough time discovering it, and different 2020 victors. By no means concern! The winners of the 2021 Governor’s Cup might be introduced this month. (For extra data on the competitors, or to trace down presently obtainable vintages, go to virginiawines.org.)
Colman Andrews, a founding editor of Saveur, has received eight James Beard Awards for his meals writing.