I recently had the opportunity to go to Charlotteville, Virginia for a conference on wine blogging. The vineyards of Virginia opened their arms wide, making us feel welcomed.
University of Virginia alumnae Gwendolyn Osborn from wine.com started the event by giving a tour of her alma mater.
Although Virginia is the fifth largest producer of wine (behind California, Washington, New York and Oregon), I had never tasted a Virginia wine prior to making this trip.
This region considers Viognier and Cabernet franc to be their signature grapes, although many varietals are grown here.
During my time in Charlottesville, I was able to visit two different vineyards with fellow food and wine lovers Richard and his lovely wife Juanita, Andrew, and Adam.
Ducard, nestled into the foothills of the Shenandoah mountains, was our first stop where we were invited in by owner Scott Elliff.
The charming tasting room was recently constructed using reclaimed woods.
The facility was constructed to be as green as possible, with solar panels on the roof that are often able to feed energy back to the grid. Lightweight bottles are used to further reduce their carbon footprint.
Out in the vineyard, Scott showed off his cabernet franc vines, walking us through all the threats that they face from Mother Nature. Between the birds, vine destroying insects and deer, “it’s a miracle that we get anything in the bottle.”
In addition to being an environmentally friendly vineyard, Ducard runs a program for wannabe vineyard owners. Each participant in the program is given a row of vines to manage all the way through harvest.
It’s a good test for folks as about 50% of graduates decide that they are not cut out to run a vineyard.
Sweely Estate Winery
Sweely Estate was next, and could not have been more different than Ducard. With 40 acres under vine, owner Jeff Sweely expressed his belief that the quality of wine in Virginia is improving over time.
The facility is gorgeous and we were treated to a wonderful lunch while hearing from Frantz Ventre, Sweely’s French born winemaker about his approach to winemaking.
Sweely has invested heavily in the future of Virginia wine. The gleaming production facility was built with all the latest equipment, based on visits the owner and winemaker made to California and to take advantage of gravity.
What are the biggest challenges in making wine in Virginia? “Finding consistency with the weather,” answers Frantz. “Distribution,” states Sweely.
Virginia wine typically isn’t made in very large volumes or distributed far and wide, although this production facility has the ability to dramatically ramp up production over time.
If you find yourself in the Virginia area, or are looking for an East Coast wine experience, there are 25 vineyards on the wine trail.
You can stop in Monticello for a bit of history and to check out Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar. Is Virginia wine consistently up to California or Oregon standards? Not yet, but there are some pretty good ones being made and the area is committed to increasing quality and awareness of its wines.
Barboursville Vineyards: Be sure to try the Octagon wine, a nice blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot
Gabriele Rausse Winery: Unfortunately this vineyard is not open to the public. Gabriele is known locally as the father of Virginia wine and is a passionate speaker about the wines of Virginia. Be sure to enjoy a glass or two of his in a local restaurant.
Lovingston Winery: For me, the standout wine from the Virginians I tasted was the Pinotage from this small vineyard.
Charlottesville is a perfect place to stay during your Virginia wine adventure.
Filled with adorable shops and great restaurants, it’s an easy drive to most vineyards. Be sure to take a tour of the historic University of Virginia and Monticello.