Wednesday, December 23, 2009

“A History of Virginia Wines: From Grapes to Glass” by Walker Elliott Rowe

The following is a review of Walker Elliott Rowe's A History of Virginia Wines. Rowe is one of the two best experts on Virginia wines, the other being Richard Leahy, who wrote the introduction to this fine volume. Rowe has a previous Virginia wine book to his credit, called Wandering Through Virginia's Vineyards. Rowe is a good writer and he doesn't miss a trick. Excellent stuff. Great holiday or birthday present for the local wine lover in your life.

Book focuses on Virginia wine history
By Joe Tennis
Media General News Service
Lynchburg News and Advocate
Published: December 10, 2009

Thomas Jefferson did more than draft the Declaration of Independence.

He founded the University of Virginia. He served as the country’s third president. And he ended up with his face on the nickel and the ever-rare $2 bill.

Rowe's previous book.

At home, I keep a $2 bill inside a glass imprinted with the logo of the old Dye’s Vineyards, a winery once located in Russell County, Va.

Thomas Jefferson had much to do with promoting the early wine industry of Virginia. In turn, Ken Dye – the founder and former owner of Dye’s Vineyards – had much to do with launching the wine industry of Southwest Virginia: Dye first planted grapes at the foot of Big A Mountain in 1989 and later operated a winery that remained open for a decade.

As for Jefferson, writes author Walker Elliott Rowe, "Any book on Virginia wines and vineyards must include an essay on Thomas Jefferson, for the former president and author of the Declaration of Independence is the most famous grape grower in Virginia."

Still, Jefferson never made any wine at his famous home, Monticello, according to Rowe. But the president did spend a great portion of his civil service salary on his wine cellar, Rowe writes in the newly released “A History of Virginia Wines: From Grapes to Glass” (The History Press, $19.99).

Jefferson also, as a farmer, hoped that French grapes could be grown in Virginia. So he imported a grape grower from Italy plus 30 assistants to set up a vineyard at Monticello.

That did not work, Rowe writes: “His dream to produce his own claret withered like so many raisins.“

Rowe’s book profiles vineyards in Virginia, stepping inside the minds and vines of wineries in Williamsburg and Barboursville. He also focuses a chapter on migrant farm workers in Virginia – and their importance to maintaining vineyards.

In recent years, Virginia wines have come a long way, Rowe writes, noting: “One longtime Virginia grape grower quips that fifteen years ago, the Virginia Wine of the Month Club was simply a mechanism to distribute bad wine.“

The successful industry of today can be traced to the dreams of Jefferson and the determination of ladies like Elizabeth Furness.

At age 75, Furness founded Piedmont Vineyards at Middlesburg, Va., in 1973, turning her dairy farm into a vinifera grape vineyard.

Furness had grown up in France, and, for inspiration, she relied simply on a memory of what she had seen as a child to organize her vineyard. Later, in 1978, to help make a claim that she was the first in Virginia to sell vinifera grape wine, Furness sold seven bottles to a wine shop in Washington, D.C.

And then? She repurchased all of that wine for her own wine cellar. The buyback did not matter. Rowe writes Furness was still recognized by the governor and the Commissioner of Agriculture – just for that agricultural feat.

JOE TENNIS is a features writer for the Herald Courier. He may be reached at (276) 791-0704 or
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