Virginia Corner: Selections from the Old Dominion

Two hundred years after Thomas Jefferson planted a vineyard on his estate, Monticello – driven by his vision that the United States could “make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good” – the Virginia wine industry is booming.  Several thousand acres are planted to wine grapes throughout the state, and there are now over 200 Virginia wineries (there were only 64 in 2000).  Most are small-scale operations, but their collective impact on Virginia’s economy and wine culture is significant.  Thanks to the expanding presence of Virginia wine in stores and restaurants, burgeoning wine tourism and hospitality, and an assertive state promotional campaign, the Virginia wine industry generates over $1 billion in state and local tax revenue each year – and plenty of wine to explore and enjoy.

Virginia wineries produce a wide variety of wine types and styles, from dry table wines to sparkling wines to sweet fruit and honey wines.  Although Virginia doesn’t really have a “signature” wine, there are several varieties that are showing strong potential for quality and character.  Standouts include Viognier, an aromatic white variety native to France’s Rhone Valley; and Cabernet Franc, a red Bordeaux variety.  Bordeaux-inspired blends are showing particular promise, as demonstrated by Philip Carter Winery’s 2010 Meritage ($29), a blend of Cabernet Franc (42%), Petite Verdot (32%), Cabernet Sauvignon (21%), and Merlot (5%).  Fresh out of the barrel but very much approachable now, this full-bodied wine offers well-rounded aromas and flavors of red berries, spice, a dusting of cocoa and toasty oak.  It’s a fitting steak wine, and easily one of the most expressive Virginia reds we have ever tasted.  Philip Carter Winery is nestled deep in the Virginia Piedmont, in Fauquier County, 62 miles west of Washington, D.C.  For information on the winery and its wine selections, visit them at:  www.pcwinery.com.

Some really unusual and fun-to-try wines can also be found in Virginia.  A case in point is Molon Lave Vineyards’ Kokineli ($20), a rosé wine made in the “Retsina” style traditional to Greece.  This style is characterized by the infusion of pine resin into the wine, a technique that harkens back to the Greeks’ use of pine resin to seal wine containers in order to prevent the wine inside from oxidizing.  This rendition, crafted by Molon Lave owner/winemaker Louizos Papadopoulos, is utterly unique among Virginia wines, offering bracing aromas and flavors of pine and herbs that cry out for charcoal-grilled meats and fresh Mediterranean cuisine.  Molon Lave Vineyards (which is named, by the way, after an ancient Greek phrase meaning “come and get them”) also is located in Fauquier County, just outside of Warrenton, a little over 50 miles west of Washington, D.C.  For information on the winery and its wine selections, visit them at www.molonlavevineyards.com.

The growth and success of the Virginia wine industry hasn’t come without challenges.  Virginia’s mid-Atlantic climate presents a number of threats to grape crops over the course of the growing season.  Abundant moisture (especially wilting humidity) is a major culprit, as it attracts pests, causes excessive vine vigor (vegetation on the vine), and fosters growth of powdery mildew, black rot, and other destructive diseases – all of which can threaten the quality of the fruit destined for the bottle.  Thanks, however, to advances in vineyard management techniques, selecting appropriate sites for grape growing, identifying grape varieties best suited to the state’s climate and soil, and other trial-and-error efforts, Virginia grape growers and winemakers are making progress in overcoming these menaces and producing quality wine.

For more information on the Virginia wine industry in general, and Virginia wineries in particular, visit:  www.virginiawine.org.

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