New Pioneers in the Blue Ridge Reinvigorate VA Wine
In Mr. Jefferson’s day western Albemarle County was considered part of the western frontier, where pioneers looking to make their home in the Blue Ridge came and settled. The rugged mountains gave the promise of a new life and the excitement of finding opportunity in a bountiful if often dangerous place. Tony and Edie Champ undoubtedly felt such excitement when they moved to Virginia in 1992. Tony and his wife, Edie, developed a love of wine while touring the Napa Valley. They soon became enamored with the idea of starting their own winery and set about looking for the perfect spot to plant vines and build a dream, much as the colonial pioneers who came before them had done. They found paradise: the perfect piece of land located in the crossroads community of White Hall. The area is known for the Moormans River, which flows through Sugar Hollow, and is home to the legendary swimming hole locals affectionately call the “Blue Hole” as well as to the North and South Fork hiking trails. In this idyllic setting, in the shadow of Buck’s Elbow Mountain Range (at the base of the Shenandoah Park), Tony and Edie established White Hall Vineyards.
They came at the perfect time. Virginia wine was really in its infancy. Although Thomas Jefferson attempted to create wine in Virginia throughout his life, he never enjoyed much success. In fact, some of the oldest grape vineyards in Virginia, started as a commercial enterprise, only date back to the mid 1970s, when a few brave souls renewed Jefferson’s quest to make great wine in Virginia. These new pioneers who came in the ‘70s and ‘80s and into the early ‘90s, experimented with varietals and, through trial and error, learned how they interacted with the climate and soil conditions in an unforgiving region. Tony and Edie are among those early new pioneers who blazed the trail for others to follow such that there are over 220 wineries and vineyards in Virginia today. When the history of Virginia wine is written, Tony and Edie Champ will be recognized for their early contribution to creating such a successful wine industry in the east.
Tony and Edie Champ, Elizabeth Flood Pencil Drawing
White Hall vineyard is located at approximately 800 feet of elevation on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is ideal for viticulture. The grounds around the winery are lovely, with grand old oak trees that shade several picnic tables and offer the visitor a pleasant place to linger over a glass of wine or a bit of lunch. The first six acres of vines were planted in 1992 and White Hall produced the first vintage as far back as 1994. The vineyard eventually grew to 45 acres but still operates in that same adventurous pioneer spirit that characterized its founding. The Winemaker, Mike Panczak, the driving force behind the quality wines produced at White Hall, often boasts that he likes to try something new every year, whether experimenting with the fermentation process, new yeast or trying a new varietal. He is constantly changing the face of the vineyard, planting new varietals that may stand alone or compliment others in a blend, or, occasionally, removing varietals that don’t thrive or meet his high standards of excellence. His knowledge comes from experience. To make better wine requires experimentation to discover which grapes grow best in a particular vineyard. The only way to truly know is to plant them and see. Although Viognier, the signature grape of Virginia, is his favorite wine to make, White Hall makes over a dozen wines including Chardonnay, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. White Hall also features unique varietals such as Petit Manseng, Touriga Nacional and Gewurztraminer. Visitors may even see Muscat as part of a blend.
White Hall is all about the wine. Although they have an event space on the second floor that is ideal for wine dinners or small weddings, they do not want to be regarded as an event destination and so do not foresee a lot of growth in weddings in the years to come. Rather the family, staff and winemaker at White Hall devote themselves to producing quality wine which has balance and complexity and then striving to sell their wines at a reasonable price, thereby making Virginia wine available to more people. As such, their wines are enjoyed throughout the state and nation as well as internationally as far away as London England, where they received high praise at the London International Wine Fair.
The pioneer spirit that brought Tony and Edie Champ to Virginia to be a part of the fledgling Virginia wine industry has definitely paid off. They are considered among the founders of Virginia wine and rightly so, for with each vintage Tony and Edie cement their place in the rich history of Virginia Wine. Indeed, for the last 20 vintages, White Hall Vineyards has shown all those who seek to follow in the path of Tony and Edie Champ how to make great wine. So the next time you are on the Monticello Wine Trail, raise your glass and toast Virginia’s new pioneers.