You may be surprised to learn that wine has been produced in Virginia since the early 1800s. While considered a novelty until recently, Virginia wine production has matured dramatically in the last decade, and wine from the region has garnered international recognition. Learn why Virginia is for wine lovers!
Early Experiments and Modern Success
While American pioneer winemakers such as Thomas Jefferson experimented unsuccessfully with European hybrid grapes, modern vintners are enjoying success with French varietals from Bordeaux, the Rhone Valley, and beyond. The success of a few winemakers, such as those from Linden Vineyards and Horton Vineyards, has attracted talent from Italy, France, and California, who are producing small-batch wines to international acclaim. Virginia now has seven American Viticulture Areas that define separate wine identities. More than 250 wineries have sprung up in these areas, creating a Wine Trail that rivals California’s Napa Valley.
The secret to Virginia’s modern success as a wine producer lies in the “terroir,” the French concept that soil and climate contribute to wine’s character, as does the vintner’s ability to match the right variety of grape to the soil. Virginia’s climate is much like that of the Loire and Rhone valleys in France, so Virginia winemakers are experimenting with lesser-known grapes from those regions such as Tannat, Petit Manseng, Petit Verdot, red Cabernet Franc, and white Viognier. Some of these grapes, such as Petit Manseng, don’t do well in Napa or Oregon but are ideally suited for the Old Dominion state.
Wine made from these grapes is hard to find in the U.S., so oenophiles are especially excited about Virginia wines. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, Petit Manseng makes an acidic, tangy, light wine with hints of apricot, mango, and lime, similar to that of Viognier, which makes bolder white wine with hints of mango and tangerine. Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are known for their dense fruit flavors and are a favorite of wine lovers who like notes of pepper and spice in their reds. Virginia wine connoisseurs are also taking an interest in Tannat, a Basque varietal known for notes of spice and intense fruit.
Tasting Virginia Wine
Ready to try Virginia wine? Though most of Virginia’s wineries are a couple of hours from Sandbridge Beach, you can find Virginia wine at many local restaurants, wine bars, and wine shops.
Lubo Wine Tasting room has several Virginia wines available, including a delicious Viognier by Gabriel Rausse. In addition to owning his own vineyard, Rausse is the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, and his wines are made from vines grafted from Thomas Jefferson’s vines. Also of note at Lubo are Michael Shaps Cabernet Franc from Monticello and their local, seasonal dessert wines.
The Sonoma Wine Bar also features Virginia wines on their extensive menu. You can make your own tasting flights by ordering a 2-ounce pour of any of their by-the-glass wines. Of note on their menu is Church Creek “Steel” Chardonnay, a wine with the intriguing description of lemon curd, citrus, melon, apple, and a “sea-spray finish.”
You can buy several Virginia wines by the bottle here, including Wild Meadow Chardonnay from Michael Shaps Vineyard, Viognier from Whitehall Vineyards and Michael Shaps at Monticello, and the not-to-be-missed “Celebration” Petit Manseng by Holly Grove Vineyards. Sonoma Wine Bar also has a Bourgogne Blanc (Chardonnay) made in Bourgogne, France, by Virginia winemaker Michael Shaps. If you’re interested in terroir, do a side-by-side tasting of his French wine and his Virginia wine.
Want to see a local winery in action? Nearby Pungo Ridge Winery’s tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday. Tastings are $7 per person, and tours of the winery are free if you buy a bottle of wine. All of Pungo’s wines are single-vineyard, meaning they’re made from fruit grown on site. Their Blackberry Wine is an award winner and is the perfect after-dinner treat.
Martin Vineyards also has a wine-tasting room where you can sample their dry reds and sweet whites. They also have a scenic picnic area on Knotts Island Bay that makes an excellent lunch spot.
Coastal Virginia Magazine WineFest
If you’re intrigued by Virginia wines, come back to Sandbridge Beach in January for the Coastal Virginia Magazine WineFest at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. The 2017 event will take place January 28 and 29, and will feature tastings from dozens of local wineries, specialty food, and arts and crafts. There’s even a beer garden, music, and grape stomping competition. This event is the perfect place to learn about Virginia wine, join wine clubs, and sample wines you won’t find anywhere else.
Virginia wine is making a splash with wine experts, and for good reason. While you’re in Sandbridge Beach, make a point of sampling wines from Virginia and take a few bottles home to make your vacation memories last.