Happy Virginia Wine Month! Yes, October is Texas’s wine month but the month also belongs to Virginia. You know what’s funny? While I’m a Texan through and through, I did live in Virginia for 4 years, so I kind of like that the two states share a wine month. In fact, Virginia is where I really started exploring wine. I got it in my head one day to check out a polo tournament and wine festival being held in The Plains. I have no idea why this sounded like fun- I wasn’t a huge fan of wine and I knew nothing about polo, but I went. And tried all kinds of wine from dozens of wineries. There was strawberry wine, chocolate wine, pepper wine (hottest thing ever!), viognier, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and many others. I enjoyed quite a few of them and my eyes were officially opened to the wonderful world of wine. I also watched polo for the first time, which was pretty fun even though I had no clue what was happening.
So let’s talk a little about Virginia wine. The wine industry in Virginia has been around since the 17th century, when British settlers hoped to produce wines to send back to England. They couldn’t get the vines to take due to the same pest that later nearly wiped out the European wine industry- phylloxera. Eventually, they started producing wines from Native American grapes, which were native to the land and therefore immune to phylloxera, and the wine industry got its initial start. After some great years, Prohibition happened and the industry slowed dramatically until the 1950s. It began growing slowly and today the state has more than 280 wineries spread over 8 regions. The Virginia Wine Board was established in 2004 to promote the wine industry; since it was established the number of wineries in the state have more than tripled.
The state grape of Virginia is the viognier, which is one of the first non-sweet wines I ever really liked. Viognier is on the drier side and is typically compared to chardonnay. Both have heavier bodies, are on the acidic side and can do well oaked or unoaked. I think the reason I always liked viognier is that it has tropical notes and stone fruit aromas, which make it seem refreshing and bright, even with a heavier body.
Vidal blanc is another commonly grown grape in Virginia. It is a very hardy grape that can grow in a variety of climates, which is good because Virginia’s weather is varied and can be unpredictable. It is a fruitier grape that is made in a variety of styles. I’ve had it as a dessert wine from one of Virginia’s wineries and it was delicious.
One grape I was surprised to learn is grown in Virginia is nebbiolo. It is not the easiest grape to grow and requires a long growing season. Once it is ripe, it produces a complex wine with high tannins and high acidity. It’s not particularly easy to find in the U.S., so I’m really looking forward to trying a Virginia one.
Petit verdot is another grape you don’t commonly see as a stand-alone, but Virginia wineries create wines specifically from it. The wines are heavy, rich, wines with dark fruit, chocolate, and leather notes.
Cabernet franc is one of my favorite reds and is considered one of Virginia’s best. While it is often blended in many parts of the world, including Virginia, it makes a spicy, dry wine on its own. If you like bold reds, let it breathe to open up a little, you will definitely enjoy this one.
Even though you may not think of Virginia when you think of the American wine industry, the wineries there produce high quality wines. Many of the wineries are located in picturesque areas, so I highly recommend checking them out if you get the chance.