NEW YORK TIMES - Virginia Wines: In the Old Dominion, a New Terroir

Virginia Wine Tours Here is an excerpt from  a recent New York Times article on the Virginia Wine Industry:

ON a humid afternoon in late May, Luca Paschina, a winemaker born in northern Italy, made his pitch to the owner of a wine shop on Long Island. Pouring a cabernet franc reserve and a Bordeaux-style blend, he described how the red wines were aged for more than a year in French oak. And he recounted the history of Barboursville Vineyards, the 870-acre property in central Virginia where the wines were made.

During the 30-minute tasting, the owner peppered Mr. Paschina with questions. Why did he move to Virginia? What grapes does he grow?

But Mr. Paschina recognized the signs around him. The shelves filled with wines from established regions. The focus on brand names. He wasn’t going to make a sale. Outside of his own state, even Mr. Paschina’s lilting Italian accent can’t quite compensate for the bewildering idea of “Virginia wine.”

“Most shops need a certain selection of wines that are very well known, that are good money makers,” he said. “With the rest, they either take the time to dig through the pile and find the gems that are hidden, or fill their shelves with things that are a given. We’re more of a hidden gem.”

For more than two decades, Mr. Paschina has been trying to make the case that Virginia wine deserves a place at the table with Barolo and Bordeaux. While his goal is to make Barboursville a world-class vineyard, he recognizes that it will have more success if Virginia is recognized as a world-class wine district. So he spends weekends pouring samples at wine festivals. He attends technical tastings to share ideas with winemakers. And he works with state officials to develop local marketing efforts and international trade missions.

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He and other winemakers in the state have had remarkable — even improbable — success. When Mr. Paschina moved to Virginia from Italy in 1990, the state had fewer than 50 wineries. Now it has 275, making Virginia the sixth-largest wine region in the country, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

As American palettes have evolved from Budweiser to Brunello di Montalcino, wineries have popped up in all 50 states, from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Texas Hill Country. While California dominates, accounting for 90 percent of the country’s production, state governments nationwide are looking to wine to drive tourism and bolster agriculture.

“California has had such success and international acclaim with its wine,” said Linda Murphy, co-author of the book “American Wine.” Other states “have seen the economic boom, and they are looking to get a piece of that.”

In Virginia, wineries and vineyards, with their related jobs, taxes and sales, add roughly $750 million to the economy.

“Wine is one of the fastest-growing segments of agriculture,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry. “We can’t be California, but we can be the East Coast capital for wine and wine tourism.”

Therein lies a challenge for Virginia and other fledgling wine districts. Many wineries can sell their entire production in their tasting rooms. But some wine purists bristle at the tourist trade, saying it draws rowdy fun-seekers or weekenders, and not many serious oenophiles. The worry is that, in catering to this tourist market, quality suffers, making it hard to gain national and international recognition.

Virginia “is an emerging region, so the overall quality is not as good as the overall quality of the top California wineries, but it is improving all the time,” said Steven Spurrier, the wine merchant who organized the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976, an influential blind tasting that shocked the world when two California wines beat their French competitors. “The growth is driven by the wineries’ passion for what they do and by the demand of the wines they produce.”

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Mr. Paschina pours his energy into Barboursville, now one of the largest wineries in the state, selling more than 38,000 cases a year. The winery, with its restaurant and inn, generates $6 million in revenue a year. Mr. Paschina concentrates on grape varieties that thrive in Virginia’s red clay soil, and he adapts to the region’s unpredictable growing seasons, which can offer heat waves, hail and heavy rainstorms. If a vintage isn’t good, Mr. Paschina will not make certain wines, rather than put out an inferior product.

All his exacting work has a purpose. If Virginia wine doesn’t connote excellence and refinement, Barboursville is a harder sell among serious connoisseurs in New York and London.


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