Thursday, October 08, 2009

October Is Virginia Wine Month

Virginia is For (Wine) Lovers
By Scott Hendley
Alexandria Times

October is Virginia Wine Month, and the time is ripe for visiting Virginia wineries, learning about grape growing and winemaking in the state and, most importantly, tasting Virginia wines. It’s also a good time to reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s dream of making world-class wine in Virginia and to consider how very close winemakers across the state have come to achieving his vision.

Jefferson is the patron saint of Virginia wine. Ever the connoisseur, he visited the great wine estates of France, Italy and Germany, imported vast amounts of fine wine from Europe, assembled what at the time was the country’s largest private wine collection at Monticello, and established the White House wine cellar. As much as he revered Old World wine, he nevertheless believed that America could become self-sufficient and successful in grape cultivation and winemaking. “We could in the United States,” Jefferson wrote, “make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”

Aspiring to lay the groundwork for American winemaking at Monticello, Jefferson partnered with Philip Mazzei, an Italian wine merchant and doctor, to plant a vineyard on the estate. He tirelessly experimented with cultivating classic European grape varieties (Vitis vinifera) – 30 varieties, all told — using vine clippings he had collected during his travels, and tinkered with native American varieties (Vitis labrusca), as well. Sadly, though, he never succeeded in producing wine, in large part because of the then-uncontrollable pests and diseases that damaged the vines and diminished the quality of the fruit.

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