The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, held this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va., showcased the fruits of Virginia’s thirty-year drive. The online wine press saw gracious vineyards and tasted fine wines. Through a collegial approach, government support and patience, the Old Dominion now produces distinctive offerings such as Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Manseng.
Its vintners wanted to show the online wine press that the Old Dominion was a worthy wine destination. In that case, mission accomplished. Attendees loved the hospitality, the scenery, the architecture and yes, even the wine.
Now, Virginia needs to take the next step. The Commonwealth presented a very unified viticulture, both on the vine and in image. A Viognier from Loudoun County, west of D.C., might as well be a Viognier from Charlottesville or near the North Carolina border. The wine culture reflects the state’s image: grand, but a bit stuffy and lacking in variety. Its appellations reflect tourism destinations lacking diversity, not distinctive viticultural regions.
And a lack of showcased diversity goes beyond production. The Charlottesville area features the fine Sugarleaf Vineyards, a rare African American-owned estate winery. Why on earth wasn’t it showcased prominently? It’s even absent from the literature for the local Monticello Wine Trail.
The grand old Virginians—one historian I know calls them Professional Virginians—put on a great show, but conference members’ eyes lit when they ventured away from columns and grandness. They became excited discussing Gabrielle Rausse, who came over from Italy in 1976 to establish Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia’s first key vinifera winery. They were fascinated by Jenni McCloud, who established Chrysalis Vineyards as she transitioned from male to female and played a prominent role in the book The Wild Vine, and touched by the solitary nature of DuCard Vineyards, nestled in rural Madison County hollow.
Virginia’s wine image, so steeped in Thomas Jefferson’s imagery, evokes the University of Virginia. The Conference even featured a tour of its Grounds, as they are pretentiously known. It’s a place of beautiful architecture and stagnant tradition.
If UVA represents old Virginia, there’s another school 70 miles away called Virginia Commonwealth University that represents new Virginia. Incredibly diverse for the South, VCU gave the world the musical talents of GWAR and Lamb of God. Muslim women in headscarves and the children of Ghanaian immigrants walk its cobblestoned campus. When college basketball royalty laughed at its inclusion in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, it reached the Final Four and made a star out of its high-energy, scholarly coach. It’s the school for the striver, the dreamer and the artist, and going forward, Virginia wines need a lot less UVA and a lot more VCU.