Virginia's emergence as a center for viniculture has been anticipated for almost 400 years, but it is only in the last decade that Virginia wines have established themselves.
About 50 wineries around the state now produce a variety of wines, many of which are made from vinifera grapes.
Many of Virginia's wineries are small and family owned, some producing no more than 5,000 cases a year, and many of these wines never leave Virginia - or, if they do, they make it just over the border to Washington and surrounding Southern states.
Virginia is divided into five wine regions - Eastern, Northern, Southwest, the Shenandoah Valley and Central, the last one having the most vineyards. At the heart of the Central region is Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson. Right outside town is Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate.
Jefferson was convinced that his beloved Virginia could produce wines comparable to those he had discovered in Europe during his sojourn as ambassador to France. Grapes were one of the first crops he planted when he moved into Monticello in 1772. For the following 56 years, he kept experimenting, determined to find a grape hearty enough to thrive in the Virginia climate but with enough finesse to become great wine.
The Virginia climate is considered "continental," meaning cold winters, humid summers and lots of rain, as opposed to the more Mediterranean climate (mild winters and long dry summers) of California, where delicate vinifera thrive. But the years of experimentation with French hybrids (cross-pollination between European vinifera, mainly French, and native American grapes) that began with the Jamestown settlement in the early 1600s eventually paid off. Many French hybrids grow successfully in Virginia, and, beginning with a real push in the 1970s, both vinifera and hybrids have produced reds and white wines.
The steady increase in Virginia's farm wineries has been striking. In 1979, there were six farm wineries in the state; this year there are 49, and total vineyard land has jumped from 286 acres to 1,418.
Oakencroft Vineyards and Winery, just outside Charlottesville, is Virginia's most noted winery, having bottled several wines that have won national awards. Felicia Warburg Rogan, the owner, began the winery, using the property's grapes, in 1978, with her husband, John Rogan, who died in 1988. This year, the total production of 5,000 cases includes both oak-and steel-aged chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon, as well as Jefferson claret, Sweet Virginia and three blends.
Other noted vineyards in the statre include Afton Mountain Vineyards, high up in the hills west of Charlottesville; Barboursville Vineyards, northeast of Charlottesville; Horton Vineyards, just down the road from Barboursville; and much farther east, toward Washington, Prince Michel de Virginia winery.
Pub Date: 9/22/96