If you’re looking for the future of great wine in the U.S., sure you could head to California, drive up and down the Central Coast, and pop into one affordable winery after the other that’s making high-quality vino, but if you’re looking for the place making the most interesting and dynamic wine right now, you’ll need to head to Virginia. Before you turn your nose up, and say we’re crazy, have you been to Virginia and tried the juice? The answer to that question is probably a no, so you’re going to have to trust us and the other Virginia wine converts that have, because there is no other region in the U.S. that’s as exciting for wine right now as Virginia.
From the time of Jefferson, Virginia has always been a place many knew was capable of making great wine, but the region’s weather – it can get muggy – as well as its lack of romanticism when compared to the other major U.S. wine regions – the coasts and valleys of California have a much stronger allure than the picturesque farmland and mountains of Virginia – always seemed to handicap the state.
But that wasn’t always the case. In 1873, a wine from Virginia, made from the Norton grape, won the title of best red wine of all nations at the Vienna World’s Fair, and then another red won gold at the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. Then Prohibition struck, Virginia’s wine industry died, and it took a long time to come back. During that time, America fell in love with the West Coast, and the reputation among elitist wine drinkers became that a good wine from Virginia was as strange and impossible as quality coffee from Antarctica, but this is just wine snob bias, not facts. And if you still don’t believe us, listen to someone who might convince you, grand poobah of wine enthusiasts Jancis Robinson, who on a recent tasting of Virginia wines referred to many of them as “thrillingly good,” even going so far as to compare the wines of RDV Vineyards to high-quality Bordeaux from the subregion of Margaux – that’s very high praise.
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The fact is, wine from Virginia has been very good for quite some time, but recently the state, as well as outside influencers, have been pouring increasing attention and investment upon it – Steve Case, the former CEO and Chairman of AOL has even opened a vineyard there called Early Mountain.
As we see it, the Virginia wine revival really began with the creation of two wineries, which ultimately became the standard bearers of their specific wine regions in the state, Linden Vineyards in the northern Virginia area known as The Piedmont, and Barboursville in the wine growing area around Jefferson’s Monticello, just outside of Charlottesville. The wineries respective winemakers, Jim Law of Linden and Gabriele Rausse of Barboursville, didn’t just ensure they were producing great wine, they made it their mission to ensure their colleagues and neighbors were producing fantastic wines too. They created a community of collaboration in the region that is still very much alive decades later, and it’s one of the best reasons to visit. There isn’t a winery in Virginia that won’t recommend another winery to try and tell you who their other favorite winemakers are.
A visit to the region — which mostly makes Bordeaux style reds, similar to Napa — is what we assume it was like to visit Napa before the Judgement of Paris — the blind tasting where California wines beat out the French and the region simply skyrocketed from there. We like to think that prior to Napa becoming a tourist mecca with massive tasting rooms and large expense accounts, a visit was similar to the one you’ll have in Virginia, with the winemaker often serving as one of the main people in the tasting room pouring the wine, and offering anyone and everyone a tour of the vineyard and cellar, no matter the size of the person’s checkbook.
For the most part, Virginia wine has stayed in Virginia, but recently, as word has begun to get out, bottles have leaked out across the border, winding up as far away as the wine shops of London, though most of it has stayed on the East Coast. As word spreads, we expect so will demand, which will mean more availability but also higher prices, so we suggest if you want to check out our country’s most exciting wine region before it becomes the East Coast Napa, go now.
Two handy travel guides to help you plan your visit:
VinePair’s Guide to Virginia’s Piedmont Region (Northern Virginia)
VinePair’s Guide to Virginia’s Monticello Region
Header Image via Barboursville