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Is Virginia Wine Country Poised To Be The East Coast Napa?

The wine industry in Virginia increased tremendously in the last years. Below is a very interesting article we read on  www.forbes.com

“Is Virginia Wine Country Poised To Be The East Coast Napa?

Virgina Terroir

Ask any veteran winemaker in Virginia what tempted him (or her) to make wine in such a challenging climate and the answer is almost always something like this: I wanted to make wine in a place where good wine was on its way to becoming world-class wine. That same answer is typically followed by remarks such as “My first vintage was brutal,” “I almost quit,” or “I was afraid of the mosquitos.” Virginia wine country is a beguiling mistress to be sure, a pastoral beauty covered in long sinuous curves that fan out from the stately Blue Ridge Mountain chain. Any visitor to this fair state will be seduced within the span of an hour, so it’s easy to appreciate why many winemakers come and never leave. Climate challenges and scenery aside, the winemakers are right, Virginia terroir is fertile with potential.

It’s this same delicious potential that inspired AOL co-founder Steve Case and his wife Jean Case, CEO of The Case Foundation, to purchase Early Mountain Vineyards near Charlottesville, VA last year. “The decision wasn’t born of, ‘I like wine, let’s go and plant some vines,’” Jean Case explained to me during my recent visit to the region. “Rather, it was born of a passion for all things Virginia.” She also shares that she and her husband have a soft spot for tipping points. “We’ve seen a few tipping points. We’ve seen them in technology; we’ve seen them in philanthropy. But it’s never one thing that gets you there,” admits Case. “We might have a slog here in Virginia, but we’re prepared for that.”

Named one of the nation’s “25 Best Givers” and honored by NCoC as Citizens of the Year, the Cases are visionary benefactors and Virginia is lucky to have them. Shortly after purchasing the winery, the duo began promoting Virginia as a whole, offering tastes of the region’s best wines from their Early Mountain tasting room—an unheard of notion in the wine business. They’ve committed to donating all winery profits back to the Virginia wine industry and recently hired on sought-after wine consultant Paul Hobbs, who is credited with bringing Argentinean wines out of obscurity and into global focus. Indeed, when the Cases do something, they do it right.

Arguably, the local wines are already world-class in taste. Consider the fact that the esteemed Bordeaux enologist Eric Boissenot, who consults for all fourMédoc first-growths, offered (unsolicited) his legendary expertise to Virginia’s RdV Vineyards after tasting the wines. The steady drumbeat of award-winning Bordeaux styled blends has even attracted the attentions of the Royal family, earning one, Barboursville Vineyards Octagon, a spot at the table during the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The U.K. market is indeed quite fond of Virginia wine, but the local market is a different story.

Most locals view Virginia wine as part of a quaint weekend country drive, not something to stock the cellar with. “There is a bias against Virginia wine and we are working to change that,” notes Case. She has a point–Consider the reaction of my brother, avid wine-collector and D.C. resident, when I told him I was headed to Virginia to research the region: “Really? (I could almost hear his brow wrinkle in confusion), but you’re a wine writer, you can write about any region. Why Virginia? It’s too humid and wet here to grow wine.” He’s not alone in his perceptions, most people think of wine country as sunny and dry, but Linden Vineyards’ Jim Law, a 30-year veteran of Virginia winemaking, sees it differently. “The climate in Virginia isn’t much different than that of Bordeaux or Burgundy. When you learn to adapt to your conditions, you can make great wine.” Law also believes, along with many others in the industry, that Virginia is best suited to growing Bordeaux varietals. “Everyone wants to find Virginia’s wine, but that isn’t gonna happen. We can be sure of the Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. For us it’s all a blending game.”

Over the past 30 years winemakers have steadily notched improvements. Virginia currently ranks fifth in the number of wineries in the nation and is also the nation’s fifth largest wine grape producer. As of 2012, the Virginia wine industry employs more than 4,700 individuals and contributes almost $750 million to the Virginia economy annually. More importantly, Virginia wines are surprising critics, winning awards and fans across the globe. World-renowned U.K. based wine critic Steven Spurrier characterized Virginia as a “national contender, producing wines of bright fresh character that call for a second glass.” In blind tastings the wines consistently beat out candidates from other parts of the globe (read about the Breakfast of Champions tasting here). Virginia has momentum, but concerns over grape supply, distribution and growth demands will keep things interesting. Yet, it’s a safe bet that the combination of strategic vision from the Cases and local winemaking zeal will keep the energy headed in the right direction—straight for the tipping point.

Best of Virginia Wine from Early Mountain Vineyard’s tasting room

Plan Your Visit Now: Get schooled in Virginia wines and plan visits to the following wineries, and be advised you will leave with wine, lots of it, so pack accordingly. Right now Virginia’s national distribution is a work in progress.

Early Mountain Vineyardswinemaker Steve Monson is still in his 20’s, but he’s quickly absorbing the lessons of the past and looking to the vineyard for cues on what works best with the winery’s terroir. This tasting room is a perfect one-stop shop to take a dip in Virginia wines. The Cases proudly showcase other partner wines, as well as Virginia’s finest cheeses and other local provender. Visit the market shop, plan an overnight atthe charming winery cottage or just enjoy dinner al fresco on their winery patio. TRY: Early Mountain Vineyard Petite Manseng 2011This varietal performs beautifully in Virginia, and Early Mountain’s is one of the best. Off-dry with brilliant acidity, honey, apricot and lemon zest aromas this is a perfect wine to enjoy with cheese or before dinner.

Rutger de Vink, owner and winemaker at RdV Vineyard is a former Marine with a penchant for obsessing over grapes, pruning, extraction and rocky soil. His tasting room is a temple to granite, built into the massive solid rock hillside that defines his estate terroir. He makes some of Virginia’s finest red wine and admits he found Virginia attractive because he wanted to be in a place where “good wine was being made, but I could take it to the next level.” Priced at $95 a bottle, he shrugs off naysayers noting, “people raise their eyebrows when they hear that price, but once they taste my wine and see what I’m doing here, the complaints stop.” TRY: Lost Mountain 2010Complex, dense and rich with layers of spice and black fruit stitched together with vitality and freshness, you’ll never get bored drinking this wine. Blend of primarily cabernet sauvignon with about 30% petit verdot.

Barboursville Vineyards highly acclaimed winemaker Luca Paschina, a native Italian, loves the Virginia vibe despite the climactic challenges. His portfolio of wines includes everything from vermentino to nebbiolo but he wows the critics consistently with his Octagon red blend. If you visit the winery, make plans to dine at Palladio, the winery’s fine dining experience is quite exceptional. TRY: Barboursville Octagon 2009A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, the wine charms with bright cherry notes, warm spices and an overall complex elegance.

Native Frenchman and winemaker for King Family Vineyards, Mathieu Finot concedes the weather is a challenge at times, but notes that “Virginia is like a big playground where I have the potential to make something great.” Finot also points out that “Virginia wines have both New World and Old World characteristics, and we are geographically in the mid-point of California and France.” TRY: King Family Vineyards Petite Verdot 2011Plush and supple yet balanced with violet and chocolate notes complimented by solid structure and medium tannins.

Glen Manor winemaker Jeff White transformed his family farm of four generations into an award-winning winemaking operation. He says, “I saw an opportunity for us in wine, but when I asked my grandfather if I’d ever make any money growing grapes he just shook his head no.” Riches, or lack thereof aside, White’s wines were some of my favorites during my visit, striking a chord with their wispy violet/lavender notes and soft cherry edges. His 2009 Hodder Hill Meritage was awarded the 2012 Virginia Governor’s Cup, praised for its “dark and refined flavors”. TRY: Glen Manor Hodder Hill 2010—aripe blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petite verdot with aromas of dried rose petal layered with peat and soft ripe cherry. Elegant and refined.

Thibaut-Janisson only produces sparkling wine, and what a treat it is.Originally from France, Winemaker Claude Thibaut, who works in partnership with Manuel Janisson, confesses he had no idea what he’d find when he came here to make wine. He chose to stay because he loved the challenge of making wine on the East Coast. TRY: Thibaut-Janisson Brut–The crisp, persistent bubbles with ripe pear, apple and lemon notes give French Champagne a run for its money (at half the price).

Linden Vineyard: Owner, grower, and winemaker Jim Law hosts aspiring young winemakers for two-year apprenticeships, helping Virginia build the ‘bench’ that Jean Case argues the region is in desperate need of.  After 30 years making Virginia wine, Law knows a thing or two, describing the wines as “nervous, with structure, acidity and tension in them. These are wines we want you to think about, complex and layered.” TRY: Linden Avenius Sauvignon Blanc 2012Racy and vibrant with juicy pink grapefruit notes and a lingering finish or the Linden Avenius Chardonnay, 2011—Crispand bright with orange peel and lemon notes, very vivacious but weighty enough for a meal.” By Katie Bell,  article found on: http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiebell/2013/08/15/is-virginia-wine-country-poised-to-be-the-east-coast-napa/

 

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