The Commonwealth of Virginia conjures visions of history, such as colonial settlements, civil war battlefields, Underground Railroad stops, and presidential homesteads. It evokes the great outdoors, including national and state parks, hiking trails, haunting caverns, equine islands, and recreational beaches. It might even summon images of national cemeteries, military bases, and one behemoth geometric shape. For most, it probably doesn’t inspire thoughts of wine.
That’s too bad, because Virginia has some great wine. Yes, it’s true, and I’ll say it again. Virginia has some great wine.
For more than 300 years, people tried unsuccessfully to grow vitis vinifera—the European grapevine—in the United States. Even Thomas Jefferson and George Washington tried and failed in wine production efforts. In 1619, there was even a law established by Jamestown, Virginia settlers requiring males to plant and cultivate at least 10 grape vines with the intent of becoming an important wine supplier to the British Empire. It was only in the 1800s that the state started achieving success—in this case with the native grape Norton. Then Prohibition hit in 1920 and stopped progress in its tracks.
Prohibition ended in 1933, but the Virginia wine industry didn’t bounce back for decades. In fact, it’s really been in the last 10 years that it’s found its groove. Currently, there are more than 285 wineries in Virginia—the largest producing 55,000-70,000 cases annually. In total, more than 556,500 cases of Virginia wine were sold in fiscal year 2016. For you wine geeks out there, Virginia has 9 wine tourism regions, 7 AVAs, and 5 “distinct climate regions.”
In comparison, California has 4,600 bonded wineries and sells 229 million cases annually in the U.S. market alone. With those statistics, it’s probably not surprising that California produces 85% of U.S. wine. A distant second, Washington State has more than 900 wineries and produces approximately 16 million cases annually.
Much of Virginia wine doesn’t make it out of the state. If you come across a bottle, give it a try. If you’re in state or traveling nearby, consider visiting some Virginia wineries. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And you’ll surely enjoy the view. The countryside is beautiful and so are most of the tasting rooms.
While I can’t speak for every winery, I’ve visited more than 80 Virginia wineries and 310 wineries overall (in 16 countries and 18 states) and will attest to many quality wines out there. Whether you like dry wines with character like I do or prefer something sweeter, there’s a Virginia wine for you. Next time you think about Virginia’s history, outdoors, or military connections—or you reach for a glass—make the experience complete with Virginia wine. Cheers!