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NorCal Wine Blog

Who's Afraid of Virginia Wine?

By day, and often by night, I am a California wine guy. My personal tastes in wine are more catholic than that though. And I’m not referring to sacramental wine. I have studied the wines of the world, in books and classes and glasses and vineyards. I have tasted many thousands. If you don’t believe me, talk to my liver. It complains in French, German, Italian, Spanish and English (with an Aussie accent).

Despite (or perhaps because of) my foreign dalliances, I haven’t tasted much North American wine from states beyond the West Coast. Take Virginia. Here are things about which I know more than I do Virginia wine: Virginia country ham, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Mayo, extra virgin olive oil, Olive Oyl, Virginia Madsen, the Virgin Islands, Geena Davis, Queen Elizabeth I, Virginia Patterson Hensley, Virginia Dare, virgin cocktails, The Virginian and Ginny Weasley.

Screen capture from the trailer for "The Best Years of Our Lives"

I am not a Virginia wine virgin though. No. I have tasted Virginia’s wine. Some of it anyway. About 30 bottles if I’m honest. They didn’t leave me with a deep, longing thirst for more, but certainly lingering curiosity. A desire to know Virginia in the oenological sense.

Of those wines from Virginia I have tried, I found Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot varietals to be the most convincing. Is that universally true of Virginia, I wonder? I have heard that Viognier is special there, but have not experienced that myself. I love the delicate honeysuckle and tender peach of great Viognier. Can Virginia do that?

Cabernet Franc, grown and vinified in Virginia. Photo: Southern Foodways Alliance

I will soon find out. Mrs. NorCalWine and I fly to Virginia soon for the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference. There, I expect to see, swirl, sniff, sip, swish and spit hundreds of Virginian wines. The state government there encourages that type of behavior. They would love for you to love their wine. Wine tourism is a big part of their plans for economic development in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I'm looking forward to getting a better understand of what Virginia has to offer in that regard.

The Virginia State Flag. The motto translates to "Thus Always to Tyrants." The
in blue looks like he could stomp some grapes.

The conference begins on Friday. I’ll be posting quick articles (Friday and over the weekend) about my experiences in Virginia and my honest thoughts on the wines. If you’re a Twitterer, keep an eye out there too. My Twitter handle is @NorCalWine. You will also be able to see the mostly coherent thoughts of all those in attendance by searching for the hashtag #WBC11. I'll have some conference related updates on my personal Facebook and Google + pages too.

Here are some of the things I’ll be experiencing and, as possible, relaying to you:

  • A keynote address by Jancis Robinson (that alone might be worth the flight to Virginia)
  • A wine reception and dinner at Monticello, home of Virginia’s most famous frustrated wine grower, Thomas Jefferson. Dinners at Monticello are rare (as in “it never happens”), so feel free to be jealous. I wonder if they have WiFi there...
  • An overview of the Virginia wine industry and its growing areas
  • A keynote address by Eric Asimov (always thought-provoking)
  • Live blogging/tweeting as we taste a gazillion Virginian red wines
  • A trip to wineries and vineyards near Charlottesville, VA


Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello.
Photo: YF12s 

For now, I’ll leave you with a little trivia quiz about Virginia. Post your guesses in the comments section of this article if you like. The answers are in this post.

1. What is Virginia's biggest export?
a) ham b) computer chips c) wine d) tomatoes e) CIA operatives

2. One of Virginia's nicknames is "Mother to Presidents." How many U.S. presidents were born in Virginia?
a) ten b) nine c) seven d) eight e) too many

3. What is the Virginia state song?
a) they don't have one b) Carry Me Back to Old Virginny c) Oh, Shenandoah d) Old Dominion e) Who Let The Dogs Out

And, in case you were wondering who she is I'll close this article with one of my favorites from Virginia Patterson Hensley:


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Banner photo from a photo by Tony. All rights reserved.


Christian G.E. Schiller
#1 Christian G.E. Schiller 2011-07-19 08:42
I will be missing the event. But Virginia is an up and coming wine region. /... on schiller-wine
Jeremy Harvey
#2 Jeremy Harvey 2011-07-20 15:22
Great post. We look forward to welcoming our west coast friends to Virginia. If you have time to explore, head north to Loudoun County, Va: DC's Wine Country. I may be (re: am) biased (I work to promote travel here) but I think you'll find some surprises here (and on the trip in between). But have a great conference. You may meet Stacey or Wendy at the conference from my office (Visit Loudoun). Stacey is our staff wine expert and she can point you to some great Viognier too. Cheers!
#3 Tamra 2011-07-21 13:58
Looking forward to welcoming you to Virginia.
Chuck Hayward
#4 Chuck Hayward 2011-07-21 17:37
I for one, used to be afraid of most wines that came from outside the West Coast. But a number of years ago (about 20 maybe?), a customer from Virginia insisted that there were some good wines from there and sent me a few. I was quite skeptical and brought them, along with some wines from Ohio, to a dinner with fellow wine staff. Just in case they sucked, we had some backup wines. Needless to say, we did not need them. The Ohio wines were a big surprise but there was this Naked Mountain chard from Virginia that was stunning.

In the early 90s, Andy Blue (I think) helped to put together a wine program that brought wines from other states, most from the Eastern seaboard, into California. The goal was to help Bradley Ogden put together an American wine list for some of his restaurant programs. Wines from Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, Missouri and New York were part of the program. I tried them and they were quite good and great points of difference to our wine program and became very good sellers at The Jug Shop. Horton's Viognier became one of our best selling wines for a number of years. Later, tastings at the Wine Appreciation Guild introduced me to wines from all over America--Connec ticut, Wisconsin. Then Stillman Brown showing off New Mexico sauvignon blanc.

It's a wide world of wines in the US today. What the Virginia government is doing to support their wine industry will serve as a role model for other states. As we eat local, more people will choose to drink local as well (except in San Francisco, the sommeliers are "too good" for that!). It looks very good for the wine industries in smaller states and that's a good thing. Now go to the Horton table and drink a bottle of a wine I discovered in Chicago--sparkl ing Viognier!! Now that's some good stuff!!

Enjoy Virginia!!
Fred Swan
#5 Fred Swan 2011-07-21 22:26
Chuck, thank you so much for that sharing your experiences with wines from "unexpected" states. I'm looking forward to trying the Virginian wines, and I think a few of the other states have representatives pouring this weekend as well.

Christian, thanks for the link with further info about VA wine.

The conference starts in about an hour. I'm looking forward to meeting bloggers from all over and the many Virginia wine industry folk in attendance.
#6 FREEDOM 1843 SHIRAZ 2008 2011-07-26 06:11
This one's great. Thanks for posting this blog. I enjoyed reading it.

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