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The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference and the State of Virginia Wine


2011 Wine Bloggers Conference

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.


  1. WBC11 Stats and Recap Aggregation « Drink What YOU Like | Thursday, July 28, 2011

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  2. Jason Phelps | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    I enjoyed my time in VA, not having been in that part of the state since I was a kid. The wines were fun to explore and left me thinking of how much that is the same everywhere you go.

    The conference was more about getting to know some people and looking into what other people are doing. There is so much going on there is so much each person will miss. All the buzz so far is easy to see in the context of how the groups broke and reconnected. Good times!


  3. SeanMike | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    I have to admit, I was completely surprised to see such vitriol launched at UVA in this blog post. I went there – and yet I’ve spent a lot of time in the rest of the state, including hanging out a lot in Richmond with a band you mention here.

    I found your slings against UVA completely gratuitous, unnecessary, and inaccurate. If you’d like to show off your allegiance to VCU – since you do live in Richmond – that’s fine, but there’s no reason to take slings and arrows to another commonwealth school, particularly with the implied racism of your post.

    Honestly, this makes me reconsider my relationship with Mutineer. I’ve enjoyed meeting Alan and working with Chris, but now I would have to think again after such insinuations.

  4. Annette Boyd | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    I am a VCU grad and also the director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, the site sponsor of the Wine Bloggers Conference for 2011. I first learned about wines working in a wine shop in the Fan. Your post is interesting on a couple of points. First on regional diversity, because of the weather in Virginia, many wineries do purchase grapes from differnt areas of Virginia to minimize risk, so I see regional diveristy as our next hurdle. As to the discussion about why some wineries were not in attendance, I offer this: We sent a notice out to all Virginia wineries about signing up for this series of events and did not recieve a response from Sugar Leaf Vineyards. Why, I’m not sure; although I love their wines. This post is especially interesting to me since the owner of Sugar Leaf is a graduate of UVA. I’m not sure your analogies with colleges work here. Virginia is one of the most diverse wine communities that I know (having wineries with owners or winemakers from Italy, France, Turkey, India, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and others) and our office is mandated to give all Virginia wineries equal opportuntiy to participate. I forward to other comments. PS. I never saw GWAR in concert, but that is one of the only concerts I missed in a 3 state area during my tenure at VCU. Go RAMS.

  5. Wine Harlots | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Odd article.
    Not really about the conference or wine.
    Unclear what the point or purpose of the post was.

  6. Alan Kropf | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Always a pleasure to hear from you SeanMike. I want to take this opportunity to address your and Marshall’s concerns about this article.

    While I can most certainly empathize with your interpretation of the article, I interpreted Mr. Gottlieb’s intention as an attempt to use the two universities to symbolize progression in a culture rooted in tradition, and the facts do indeed support the message of progressiveness he is trying to convey. According to VCU (http://www.vcu.edu/cie/pdfs/enroll2010falldem.pdf) , approximately 54% of 2010 undergraduates are white, while at UVA http://www.virginia.edu/Facts/Glance_Enrollment.html , approximately 73% of 2010 undergraduates are white. So while I do agree that Mr. Gottlieb’s point could’ve been more effective using a different approach, I by no means think that he is intending to imply an issue of racism at UVA or that its alma mater is racist, as you suggested on Twitter. I do think that the Tweet that Mr. Gottlieb with #VCA in the post was in very poor taste, but that is his personal Twitter account and has not connection to Mutineer Magazine whatsoever.

    Mutineer Magazine is about inspired creativity and artistic expression, and as such I did not censor Mr. Gottlieb’s article. When freelance writers and bloggers submit articles, I try my best to understand the point of view they are trying to convey, and with a little imagination I was able to see the point he was trying to make in this piece. The ideas expressed in this piece are those of Mr. Gottlieb alone. That said, the last thing any of us at Mutineer Magazine want to do is hurt or offend anyone, and I sincerely apologize to those that felt attacked or misrepresented in this piece.

  7. Alan Kropf | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    @WineHarlots; I kind of agree with you.

  8. Alan Kropf | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    @Annette Boyd; I think you make some great points here. Again, this post reflects the opinion of Mr. Gottlieb, and does not reflect the opinion of Mutineer Magazine. Mutineer has a strong connection with smaller wine regions and we like to do whatever we can to support those winemaking communities. This post was very off-beat for us and I appreciate your follow-up to clear up any confusion.

  9. SeanMike | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Alan: I enjoyed meeting you at Tales. I wish we’d had more time for drinks.

    Whatever the percentages in a given year are, the comments still come off as insinuation of racism. By claiming that “Muslims in head scarves” and “children of Ghanaian immigrants” attend the “cobblestoned streets” of VCU, it is implied that they do NOT attend UVA, which is a flagrant lie.

    That is not to mention the claims of UVA being “stagnant” or “pretentious”, claims that can only be made by someone who has not attended UVA. If UVA is either of those claims, so are most universities. UVA does take pride in its Jeffersonian traditions, but given its legacy, that is something we will not give up.

    The fact that the wine conference took place in Charlottesville, home of UVA, and Mr. Gottlieb took opportunity of his chance to post for a national magazine a bare-faced attack at another Virginia university, to me, is somewhat sad. This is a chance for Virginians to be proud of their state, not to take potshots at a perceived rival.

    Mr. Kropf, I appreciate your apology, but when a blog post is put under Mutineer’s URL, and retweeted by Mutineer’s Twitter account, I have to accept it as condoned by your organization. I’m not looking for an apology from you. I was hoping for one from Mr. Gottlieb, and preferably, a rewording of the unnecessary and unwarranted attacks on UVA in his last paragraph. There is absolutely no reason for such vitriol.

    You might think the post is “off-beat” but if this acceptable for your publication I will have to reconsider my support for Mutineer. I’m sure you’ll get good hits on this post – I’ve done my part by relaying it on to various networks of alumni – but even non-UVA alumni from the great commonwealth of Virginia (such as JMU and Virginia Tech that I’ve heard from) are disappointed with what they read here.

  10. Alan Kropf | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Just had an incredible conversation with SeanMike of the ultra-amazing http://scofflawsden.com/ Very inspired dude. All is well in the world. #YES.

  11. SeanMike | Thursday, July 28, 2011

    Thanks for the kind words, Alan. It was a good conversation!

    And I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Hell, at this time of the morning the voices in my head are telling me to shut the heck up…

  12. G.E. Guy | Friday, July 29, 2011

    Wow. You know, I think it would have made the news if the Omni had reported large quantities of bedsheets left with eyeholes cut in them. What’s with the barely veiled racism charge? Seems very Fox News, manufactured story-where-this-is-none to me.

    As to the issue of diversity of wine styles – I triple dog dare you to say to winemakers like Andy Reagan from Jefferson Vineyards that his wines are no different from Loudoun County wines. Keeping it real, we’re a new enough wine region that discussions of honest to god terroir may be a little premature, but there are definitely variations between the regions that I don’t think rest solely with the winemaker. I base this on impressions formed by visiting (and blogging about) over 120 Virginia wineries.

    And finally – GWAR is your shining beacon? Seriously?

  13. Matt Gottlieb | Friday, July 29, 2011

    Wow, not the reaction I was expecting.

    There are three main criticisms of the piece, and I’ll add they were and are my opinions and not Mutineer Magazine’s.

    There was no accusation of racism meant to be implied. My point was that Virginia Wine should’ve pushed hard for Sugarleaf’s inclusion. I was in no way stating Virginia Wine or the University of Virginia was in any way racist. I just felt a great opportunity was lost (and according to one of the comments, Sugarleaf apparently didn’t respond). I understand UVA brings in a wide range of students; It’s far ahead of my alma mater, neither of these schools. But VCU’s making a niche for itself with minority enrollment. That’s exciting in my opinion. I apologize if my writing created the idea that I was issuing an accusation of racism. That was not my intention in any sense, and it bothers me greatly that my work was clumsy enough to be interpreted that way.

    Some said this wasn’t about Virginia wine: I disagree. I enjoy Virginia wine. I have enjoyed its evolution over the years. I worked in a now-defunct Virginia winery where I did everything from picking grapes to cleaning the outhouse. I just feel that the product needs new growth. I feel I get the same spiel and the same wines as I’ve visited Virginia wineries over the years. We enjoy it, and we always buy lots of bottles. I love a good roast chicken, but I can’t eat it every day. It is an emerging wine region, and I feel the appellations play to the tourists. Distinctiveness will come in time. I have faith in the Commonwealth. The columns and Jeffersonian imagery, once the framework on which the viticulture was built, are turning into crutches. Think of it as loyal, if strident, criticism. My greater point is that I feel Virginia needs greater differences in the wineries and wines themselves.

    I actually like UVA. When I researched at its Alderman Library a few years ago the folks were helpful, the school churns out great scholars and produces great research, and it’s a key linchpin of the state. If we drag sports into things (and I did), I admire the football coach Mike London. But I feel the Mr. Jefferson schtick can be a bit overdone. As for VCU, I took exactly two summer Spanish courses there many years ago and a grant-writing course last summer. I identify with its historic countercultural vibe, but I’m not some super booster. The fact that college basketball analysts bemoaned VCU’s inclusion in the tournament, and the squad reached the Final Four was the main story of the event. Family members attended and graduated from both institutions. (For the record: When I lived in Japan as a Virginia resident, I got an MA from Tech. That was circumstance. If UVA offered it, my criticisms would not change.) As for SeanMike, I will never tangle with a guy who was in the old pep band again.

    I’m truly sorry if people took this as an incredibly offensive post and am mystified by it. My analogy was meant to be lighthearted rather than a full assault on UVA or Virginia Wine. On an institutional level, I root for both of them.

  14. red wine | Monday, August 1, 2011

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