Virginia is for Wine Lovers: Getting to Know Virginia’s Wine Country

By Mandie Vasquez, Host Committee Member

Virginia is for wine lovers! There are over 300 wineries in Virginia and it is the 5th largest wine-grape growing state. Many are small family-owned places, where you are likely to meet the owner or the wine maker. Virginia’s vineyards and wineries are laid back compared to their California counterparts. Most offer a family friendly atmosphere that encourage you to bring a picnic, spend the day, listen to local musicians, and enjoy the state’s picturesque landscapes.

Three Fox

Three Fox Vineyards, Delaplane, VA

A Rich History

One of our nation’s earliest laws was in support of wine making, in 1619 the Virginia House of Burgesses required every man to plant and tend at least ten grapevines. America’s “first distinguished viticulturist” was Thomas Jefferson. He cultivated grapes for over 30 years at Monticello in an attempt cultivate European wines in America. Jefferson’s vines struggled with pests and disease. Consequently, his efforts were fruitless and he never produced a bottle of wine . Another founding father, George Washington, also attempted to grow grapes for wine.

By the 1820s Virginians started having success with growing native American grapes and using them to produce wine. A few decades later, the Virginia native varietal Norton was named “best wine of all nations” at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. This was followed by the Norton winning a gold medal at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair.

Prohibition brought winemaking in Virginia to a halt. The industry was slow to recover, in the 1950s there were only commercial 15 acres under vine in the state. Before long,  winemakers once again began to experiment with European grapes, and six wineries were established during the 1970s. In the past few decades the Virginia wine industry has been expanding rapidly, improving both the quantity and quality of wine made in the state. In 1995 Virginia had 46 wineries, but by 2005 this number grew to 107. Currently there are over 300 wineries in Virginia.

winery 2

Fauquier County Winery

What‘s Growing

Virginia’s climate is similar to Europe, and this influences many winemakers decisions about growing grapes and making wine.  Virginia has hot humid summers, which can be challenging for grape vines. There are several microclimates within the state and the geography ranges from coastal to mountains. This has resulted in 7 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within Virginia.

The most popular grapes in the state are Chardonnay (with 441 acres under vine), Cabernet Franc (382 acres), Merlot (332 acres), Cabernet Sauvignon (289 acres), the state grape of Virginia, Viognier (259 acres), Petit Verdot (198 acres) and Vidal Blanc (150 acres). There are over 60 varieties grown in Virginia, including Virginia’s native grape, Norton. As a wine, Norton is a deep red with dark fruit notes that can be served slightly chilled.

Aspen Dale

Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn, Delaplane, VA

Where to Go

If you are short on time, but also want to feel like you need to escape the bustle of Washington, DC, There are two wineries in nearby Fairfax County. Both are approximately 45 minutes outside of the city. The Winery at Bull Run located in Centreville, VA near the Manassas National Battlefield Park, is a great place for a Civil War buff to visit. Visitors can sip wine on the HIllwood ruins, the salvaged remnant of an 1800s estate house. In the tasting room they have cases full of Civil War artifacts that were found nearby. The Winery at Bull Run is known for their white wines and often have live music. Another option is the charming and scenic Paradise Springs Winery, located in Clifton, VA. Here you can find live music, weekly wine education classes, and excellent red wines. This winery property was originally part of a 1716 land grant from Lord Fairfax to the Kincheloe family and has remained in the family ever since. The winery still has a 1700s log cabin that they use for special events.

winery

Potomac Point Winery & Vineyard, Stafford, VA

If you are looking to adventure out a little further, I recommend traveling out I-66 and exploring the Fauquier County Wine Trail or taking Route 7 to explore Loudoun County 6 wine clusters.

As you edge towards the mountains the scenery becomes more bucolic and you will find many charming wineries and vineyards, each with their own history which they will gladly tell you over wine.

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