Guest post by Kirk Wiles
Been out to visit a Virginia Winery lately? Washingtonians may be surprised to find that over 210 wineries are now open throughout the Commonwealth with 40-50 more in the planning stages. Rich in wine history with Thomas Jefferson first planting grape vines here in Virginia, we are now the 5th largest producing state in the country. Yes, Virginia wine is on the rise. But many people who haven’t been out to visit our local wine country may be asking why?
By all accounts, the Virginia wine industry is still young. It takes time for research and trends to show. Only recently have we started to figure out which varietals and wine styles work best with our terroir. Last year the VA Wine Marketing board designated the varietal, Viognier, as our official state grape. Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, and Norton have also become known for doing very well as stand alone varietals.
In addition to research, the industry is starting to see an influx of talented winemakers moving from Europe and the west coast. Virginia offers an emerging winegrowing region full of family owned and operated businesses where one can plant their roots and make a name for themselves. Furthermore, the opportunity to work with the major “Bordeaux” varietals is attractive. Virginia lies in the sweet spot on the east coast where the number of growing days are neither too short nor long to properly grow and ripen these grapes.
Just last week, during the inaugural VA Wine Summit, I had the opportunity to partake along side a distinguished tasting panel that included Steven Spurrier (Judgment of Paris 1976), Jay Youmans (Washington Wine Academy), Anthony Giglio (Food & Wine Magazine), and Bartholomew Broadbent (Broadbent Selections) in a blind tasting of Virginia wines against well-known counterparts from around the world. In the end, Virginia held its own by winning half of the tastings with others having a split decision. “I think what we saw here today was that Virginia can compete with any region from around the world in quality. While it is educational to compare wines from different regions, Virginia needs to continue to concentrate on what it does best and not try to imitate others. Make wine that people will one day say, that is Virginia” said the renowned Steven Spurrier. A vote of confidence from the man who put American wines on the map shows that Thomas Jefferson was on to something.
With more Virginia wineries focused on producing quality wines, the sky is the limit for our industry. I truly believe we have only scratched the surface. I would urge every wine drinker in Washington DC to take a trip out to Virginia wine country and explore the wines of the commonwealth for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
Kirk Wiles is CEO and Founder of Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, VA. Only a 30 minute drive from downtown, Paradise Springs is the closest winery to Washington DC and first in Fairfax County. Shortly after opening the tasting room in early 2010, Paradise Springs won the VA Governor’s Cup for the best white wine in the state. It was the first time in the 30-year history of the award that a winery in their first year of business won. The award winning Chardonnay has become a flagship at the winery where tastings, tours, wine dinners, live music, and much more can be found. Paradise Springs is open daily from 11am-7pm with extended hours until 9pm on Fridays. You can follow Paradise Springs on twitter @ParadiseSprings