Sunday, September 21, 2008

Washington Times Raves About Virginia Wine

Virginia's vineyards mature
Booming wine industry produces top U.S. grapes
Gary Emerling
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Washington Times

Virginia's rolling hills, scenic shores and towering mountains are a haven for more than just outdoor enthusiasts and bucolic farms: The state's wine industry has boomed during the past few decades, with lush vineyards and nascent wineries sprouting up in nearly every region of the commonwealth.

But how does Virginia's wine country stack up to California's Napa Valley, Washington state's Columbia Valley and other better-known U.S. wine regions? Connoisseurs say the vintages compare quite well, even as the industry faces challenges ranging from government regulation to the state's different climates.

"It's almost been an explosion," said Dan Berger, a syndicated wine columnist in California who has covered Virginia's industry for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. "The real message is things have changed and changed and changed, and Virginia is up there with some of the best wines in the country, and we should be recognizing that."

Since 1980, the number of wineries in Virginia has skyrocketed from about six to more than 130. The state ranked eighth nationally last year in commercial grape production, though it had just 50 acres of wine grapes in 1973.

Mr. Law wheels a bin of just-bottled Chardonnay into the "cave" at Linden Vineyards in Linden, Va. The vineyard and winery, nestled in the rolling green hills near Front Royal, was founded by Mr. Law in 1983.

As the number of vineyards has grown, in-state winemakers say the quality of their product has risen dramatically as well - a claim they say is backed up by growing consumer acceptance.

Jonathan Bess, owner of the Eastern Shore's Holly Grove Vineyards, bottled his first wines in May of last year. He won 15 medals in roughly nine months for his vintages, earning awards in international contests held in California and Indiana.

The state's famed Barboursville Vineyards near Charlottesville also has won more than 20 gold medals in the last seven years for its hallmark Octagon blend alone.

"Wineries, especially in the last 10 years, have really come a long way with growing quality," said Jonathan Wehner, owner of Chatham Vineyards, also on the Eastern Shore. "The flavors are made in the vineyard. People are really starting to do a great job of growing grapes."

Carlo De Vito, a New Jersey-based wine writer and blogger who authored the book "East Coast Wineries: A Complete Guide from Maine to Virginia," said the state's wines now compare to the country's best in part because of the improving skills of those joining the industry.

"You can find great dessert wines, you can find some great white wines in Virginia, and today you can find some wonderful red wines as well," Mr. De Vito said. "In a blind tasting, they would do very well against other red wines produced in the United States, no problem."

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