Wine Part III: Virginia Wines

When settlers hit the shores of Virginia some 400 years ago, the hope was that the New World would become a new source of wine. In 1619, the British government even signed into law that every male settler must plant and tend at least ten grape vines. Unfortunately this hit some resistance when the vinifera grape, or traditional European grape, wouldn’t take to the land because of diseases and pests. Furthermore, the booming tobacco industry in Virginia swayed many farmers away from growing grapes.

It wasn’t until the late 1950s that vinifera started to show some promise in Virginia. By the 1970s, new wineries were beginning to pop up in the Shenandoah Valley and in the Monticello region. The real push occurred when Gabriele Rausse, a famed Italian vintner, started growing and harvesting grapes outside of Charlottesville. This lead to the creation of Barboursville Vineyard, which is one of the strongest wineries in the state. Currently there are 192 wineries in Virginia, which only places California, Oregon, New York and Washington ahead of this East Coast state in numbers of wineries.

Virginia has five distinct climate regions, each with established wineries and vineyards. The climate tends to be temperate and the varying weather patterns allow for an extended growing period. There are six American Viticultural Areas across the state, which are the Eastern Shore, Monticello Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob and Shenandoah Valley.

In the Shenandoah Valley, some of the top wineries include Linden Vineyards, Naked Mountain Winery and the Three Fox Vineyard. A stand out at Three Fox is the award winning Volpe Sangiovese Italian blend. If touring in this area, consider an overnight at the country-chic L’Auberge Provençale in White Post, which has an incredible French restaurant run by Avignon born chef, Alain Borel.

In the Monticello Northern Neck, start off where Virginia wines began, at Jefferson Vineyard. Tastings are offered daily and the standouts include the Petit Verdot and the Pinot Gris. Further down the road, the Keswick Winery, which is located at a plantation that was used as a Confederate campsite, is home to the 2007 Governor’s Cup Gold Medal Winner, the Chambourcin, which is an oaked hybrid blend. If you are looking for something a little more hip, stop by Dave Matthew’s vineyard, Blenheim.

Out on the Eastern Shore, which combines both parts of Virginia and Maryland, there a few vineyards trying hard to make a name for themselves. The Little Ashby Vineyards in Easton was the first licensed vineyard on the shore. Its Super Talbot, which is a Bordeaux blend, has won numerous awards. At agricultural economist Don Tilmon’s winery, Tilmon’s Island, be ready to taste forward wines with clean flavors. His wines are based off of Concord grapes, with the Cabernet and the Merlot being his best products. If out on the Eastern Shore, look into bunking at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which is a restored waterfront estate with both antique and modern rooms.

About the Author

Bobby Fitzgerald

Bobby Fitzgerald is a 20 year restaurant veteran and passionate foodie. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and began working at the legendary Dancing Crab as a teenager. After studying culinary arts and food management at Johnson & Wales University, Bobby was a chef in Napa Valley and spent six years with Houston's Restaurants opening restaurants in five U.S. cities. In 1999 he started his company which today has locations in four states under The White Chocolate Grill and Cinzetti's Italian Market brands, serving 25,000 meals a week in from-scratch kitchens. All-the-while Bobby has dined in more restaurants then most food critics and creating fresh recipe ideas is a big part of his life. Bobby lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife and three children and serves on the Board of Directors of The Arizona Restaurant Association as well as the Phoenix-Metro American Cancer Society. His current projects include Restaurants Against Cancer where Bobby is rallying the restaurant community to support camps for kids with cancer by donating the food and supplies needed to run the camps.  Bobby is the author of "The Customer First Manager" available at

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