Virginia is for Wine Lovers

Reporting from the Wine Bloggers Conference


Another successful Wine Bloggers Conference came and went! Our own editor-in-chief, Greg Dal Piaz, attended, as did our itinerary contest winner, Shannon Jones of the wine blog, Grape Occasions. Read on for her coverage of the fourth annual industry meetup in the charming town of Charlottesville, Virginia, and be sure to check back for a follow-up article. We're already looking forward to next year's conference, set to take place in Portland, Oregon!

As a native of the great state of Virginia, I was extremely proud to see my home state's burgeoning wine industry and hospitality highlighted as host of the fourth annual North American Wine Bloggers Conference this weekend in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. The three-day event brought together wine bloggers and wine industry leaders to learn and discuss wine in the new media world. It was the perfect group to see, sense and sip Virginia wine.

We are now the fifth largest wine producing state in the country and home to six of the United States' 187 AVAs (designated grape growing regions). With 193 wineries in production, 35 added just last year, the state saw a 13% increase in sales over the prior year, although the entire state still only produces 500,000 cases annually.
Virginia wine dates back four centuries to the original English settlers of Jamestown in 1607. They were required to grow 10 grapevines each of European origin but diseased vines and other priorities prevented anything from coming of it. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, was determined to grow grapes and make fine wines to rival those of Europe. He planted his first grapes in 1807 with the help of Italian viticulturist Filippo Mazzei (still a great winemaking family in Tuscany) and tried for over 30 years to grow vines at his home and farm in Monticello, but again disease kept any wine from ever being produced. The mid-1800s showed promise when the Virginia Norton wine, made from Native American grapes, was named "best red wine of all nations" at the 1873 Vienna World's Fair and received a gold medal at the 1889 Paris World's Fair. Unfortunately Prohibition in the early 20th-century stopped all wine production.

Finally in 1976 the vines took root! That year Italian vintner family, Zonin, brought over Gabriele Rausse from Italy (both are from the northern Italian town, Vincenza) to grow and harvest grapes for their newly started Barboursville Vineyards. The land was actually purchased on April 13 - Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. Gabriele did what many said could not be done and in 1979 produced his first vintage for Barboursville. Gabriele, now known as the father of modern Virginia wine, is still making great wine in our state!

Virginia continues to build its reputation in the wine world, with its Old World-style reds, Cabernet Francs and Viogniers helping put it on the map. Viognier is even the state grape! A grape and wine variety that originates in the French region of Condrieu in Northern Rhône, Viognier grows very well in Virginia's climate and soil. Typically a dry or slightly off-dry white wine with a lovely bouquet of tropical fruit, pear and honey in nose and taste. Virginia Viogniers tend to be closer to the French versions than the often heavier California versions. Many say as Virginia sits right between California and France, its wines are a blending of both styles creating something that is truly Virginian.

In addition to the classic Virginian wines, conference attendees also found Chardonnay, Petit Manseng, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc in Virginia whites; Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Norton, Petit Verdot and Chambourcin in Virginia reds; and a few nice rosés and sparkling wines.

With nine wine regions and 22 different wine trails to explore across the state, there's a lot of Virginia wine to love! Conference attendees got a chance to hit the wine trails on Saturday of the conference. In my next article I'll take you along on a day trip to some of the great wineries of Virginia.

Stay tuned for more of Shannon's coverage of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. She also writes about wine on her blog, Grape Occasions.

Mentioned in this article


  • It's nice to see the Virginia wine world get some love. I lived in C'ville for a stint a while back back and had local wines on both ends of the quality spectrum - but the good ones were/are memorable (especially due to the forgiving labeling law that allows up to 25% out-of-state grapes for a Virginia appellation):

    Aug 01, 2011 at 6:11 PM

  • Snooth User: pgg1313
    838174 60

    Virginia has some great wines that don't get the love that they should. I would put Barboursville's Octagon up there with some of the best reds in the world. Barboursville's collection of reds is as good as some of the finest in Califorinia.

    Aug 01, 2011 at 7:00 PM

  • As a lifelong Virginian I am really happy to see our wine expanding even as the quality of it is so rapidly improving. I've been attending Vintage Virginia and the other Virginia wine festivals since the late '80s and have suffered through its growth from nearly undrinkable gasoline it once was to the fine varietal and blended wines that now can compete with the best California and France have to offer.

    I am particularly fond of Barboursville (for their reds), Linden (for their whites), Philip Carter, Horton, LaGrange (a surprising merlot!), and Delaplane. I live in the D.C. suburbs and I was really pleased when Paradise Springs opened right nearby in Clifton, and almost immediately won the Governor's Cup for their excellent chardonnay.

    It's annoying that, as far as The Wine Spectator is concerned, we don't even exist. I suppose we'll need some kind of "Bottle Shock" of our own to get on their map.

    Aug 02, 2011 at 7:03 AM

  • Snooth User: Kirsy
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    880543 1,786

    What a great educational article, rich with history, yet light and pleasant to read. Well done!

    Aug 02, 2011 at 2:31 PM

  • ah, nice, looking forward to visiting some of the wineries in VA. This was the perfect intro before arrival. Cant wait to see the article about the wineries.

    Aug 02, 2011 at 2:37 PM

  • Wine frontier? I don't think so. Every state in the union has licensed wineries now. Virginia is ranked 5th in number of wineries. And the grow the same grapes as the 4 in front of them, with the exception of 'Norton'. What is so pioneering about that?! Sounds conformist to me. Look at what other states around the union are doing, growing new varieties and new types of grapes. Shake off the wine snobbery and be a real pioneer. Explore the real wine frontier.

    Aug 03, 2011 at 8:26 AM

  • I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Kluge yet. Granted PK is *shudder* a piece of work, but they made some damn fine red blends and sparkling. I'm curious to see how their post-bankruptcy, Trump-buy out operations evolve.

    (Apologies if this posts twice--technical difficulties)

    Aug 03, 2011 at 8:18 PM

  • Slight educational correction here; Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, 50 years to the day after the Delcaration of Independance was signed. If his wine growing efforts started in 1807, he didn't get to do it for 30 years.

    Aug 04, 2011 at 2:12 PM

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