Virginia Wine

Virginia Wine Unearthed

“Wine is … the only antidote to the bane of whiskey.” – Thomas Jefferson 

With seven recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), around 250 wineries, and more than 3,000 acres under vine within the state, the Virginia wine industry is growing rapidly and showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Virginia has a long history of growing grapes for wine production – the settlers at Jamestown were required by law to plant and tend at least 10 grape vines, George Washington cultivated vines at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson also grew grapes on his property in Monticello for 30 years. Not much of note came from these lofty aspirations and decade-spanning efforts, but the tradition of wine appreciation and production was firmly established. Virginia currently ranks 5th in the nation for wine grape production, and attracts nearly 2 million visitors to its wineries each year. This year is the 27th anniversary of October’s official recognition as “Virginia Wine Month” and the month-long celebration also coincides with harvest time. The leaves are changing, the nights are becoming cooler and beautiful Virginia wine country is waiting. Have you given Virginia wine a chance?

Virginia Grapes 101:

Virginia grows a variety of grapes, but over the decades of winemaking a few varietals have shown an affinity for the region. These varietals have developed a recognized style and gained appreciation among critics and enthusiasts alike.

Red Varietals 

Norton

Common Aromas and Flavors: Black cherry, plum, earth, spice

Acidity: Medium to high

Tannins: Medium

Alcohol: Medium

Fun Fact: Norton is not a member of the vitis vinifera vine species (most well-known varietals are); it is part of the native American species, vitis aestivalis.

Cabernet Franc

Common Aromas and Flavors: Cranberry, tobacco, bell pepper, violet

Acidity: Medium to high

Tannins: Low to medium

Alcohol: Medium

Fun Fact: Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon. The other parent is Sauvignon Blanc.

Nebbiolo (neh-bee-OH-lo)

Common Aromas and Flavors: Cherry, licorice, leather, roses, oak

Acidity: High

Tannins: High

Alcohol: High

Fun Fact: Nebbiolo, which comes from the Italian word meaning “foggy,” is the grape used to make the famous Italian wines Barolo and Barbaresco.

White Varietals 

Viognier (VEE-ohn-yay)

Common Aromas and Flavors: White flowers, honeysuckle, peach, mango

Acidity: Low

Tannins: Low

Alcohol: Medium to high

Fun Fact: Viognier is the most widely planted white Rhône (France) varietal in the United States.

Seyval Blanc (Say-VAHL-blahnk)

Common Aromas and Flavors: Citrus, melon, green apple, sometimes oak

Acidity: Medium

Tannins: Low

Alcohol: Medium

Fun Fact: Seyval Blanc is a hybrid grape; that is, it is a genetic cross between different vine species.

Chardonnay

Common Aromas and Flavors: Melon, apple, lemon, often buttery

Acidity: Medium

Tannins: Low to medium

Alcohol: Medium to high

Fun Fact: Chardonnay is currently the most-planted grape in Virginia.

Try a Few!

With the wealth of Virginia wine options, it can be a bit daunting to pick a place to start. Search out the wines below to experience some “classic” Virginia styles. Visiting the winery itself is always the best way to experience a wine, but you can now order online from many wineries. There are also several restaurants and retailers throughout the DMV who carry some Virginia wines.

Sparkling Wine 

Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay NV

Made in the classic “Champagne” method, dry, crisp

White Wine 

Glen Manor Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Citrus fruit, light, refreshing

King Family Vineyards Viognier 2014

Floral, round, lush

Rosé Wine 

Paradise Springs Winery Nana’s Rosé 2014

Merlot-based, citrus, strawberry

Red Wine 

Chrysalis Vineyards Barrel Select Norton 2012

Plum, earth, vanilla

Tarara Winery Cabernet Franc 2012

Raspberry, mint, floral

RdV Vineyards “Friends and Family” 2010

Bordeaux-style blend, black cherry, spice, elegant

Dessert Wine 

Barboursville Philéo NV

Moscato blend, sweet, floral, bright

Fall Harvest Festivals Galore

There are plenty of fun wine festivals, events, and happenings taking place throughout the month, many celebrating the most recent harvest. Check out some of our top picks to get you in the Virginia wine spirit.

Friday – Sunday, October 2, 3, 4

Fall Wine Fest, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon

Saturday October 3

Rock the Grapes Harvest Fest, Veramar Vineyard, Berryville

Fall Family Fun Fest, DuCart Vineyards, Etlan

Saturday, October 10

Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival, Chesapeake City Park

Friday, October 16

Wine, Moon, & Stars, Virginia Mountain Vineyards, Fincastle

Sunday, October 18

Fall Barrel Tasting, Autumn Hill Vineyards Blue Ridge Winery, Stanardsville

Saturday, October 24

Festival of the Grape, Powhatan Historic Courthouse Square, Powhatan

Thursday, October 29

Haunted Vineyard, Notaviva Vineyards, Purcellville

Friday, October 30

Halloween Bash, Glass House Winery, Free Union

Saturday, October 31

Harvest Festival, Hartwood Winery, Fredericksburg

Spooktacular Halloween Party, Miracle Valley Vineyards, Delaplane

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Tess Ankeny

Tess has been writing wine-related features for On Tap since 2014. She is a Certified Sommelier (CS), Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a Certified Wine Educator (CWE).