Archive for December, 2016


Taste of success

Posted on Dec 20 2016 | By

Prince William County reaps Old Dominion’s vinous triumph   

By the end of 2016, Virginia will be home to over 280 wineries. While Prince William County has just two—The Winery at La Grange and Effingham Winery—its citizens live within an hour’s drive of dozens of some of the best wine in the state.

The availability of Virginia fine wine is all the more startlingly coming from a state known more for tobacco, battlefields and presidents. How did it come about?

Virginia’s emergence as a wine powerhouse was a long time in the making. About 400 years long. The English colonists who landed at Jamestown in 1607 recognized the lucrative potential in wine. Their new home abounded with native grapes and within two years they had produced their first wine. It tasted awful.

Thus began a 350-year trail of tears, as generation after generation of winemakers tried to commercially produce wine in our state. Our forefather vintners encountered a host of problems, not the least of which was the climate, soil, fungi and varied insect life.

One of the major hurdles that could not be breached was the disappointing aroma and flavor of native grapes. Yes, they grew in profusion. But achieving anything resembling quality wine was simply not in the bottle.

One of the abiding characteristics of indigenous wine is its foxy aroma and taste, or more pointedly, “wet dog” nuances. Taste a cabernet sauvignon alongside a scuppernong and you would not be spending a lot of time fermenting the latter.

FullSizeRender (3)An interesting cultural phenomenon emerged because of this failure to produce wine in Virginia. Our nation was launched on a path of beer and hard liquor consumption. Since fruits, grain and corn were cultivated with relative ease, folks fermented or distilled these agricultural products so as to have an alcoholic drink at hand.

Alcohol was consumed in prodigious amounts in our nation’s early history. Think of it as that era’s social libation, plus an over-the-counter painkiller and psychic drug cabinet. Alcohol was the genie in a bottle and it granted our ancestors many wishes. Not all of them good.

After the initial failure to produce palatable native wine, French vines were imported, followed by French vinegrowers, or vignerons, to work their magic. This time the vines did not even reach maturity before they withered and died. It became apparent wealth was not going to be amassed pursuing winemaking.

Instead, the colonists decided to plant a crop that grew like a weed: tobacco.

And while it was commercially viable, it also destroyed the land not to mention countless addicted smokers.

Then in the 1970s, vine growing embraced science and a wine industry began to emerge. One early leader was Dr. Konstantin Frank, a winegrower from New York State who expounded the idea that the delicate Vitis vinifera grape could thrive in the mid-Atlantic region.

This species of vine produces all of the world’s most popular wines.

027The good doctor traveled to Virginia and taught a small group of dedicated growers the methods of deep vine planting, proper root stock selection, correct trellising systems, canopy management, targeted spray programs and a host of other techniques he had perfected in the Empire State.

Based on these early achievements, Virginia began to take tentative steps into the world of serious winemaking. It was a thrilling and scary time for these wine pioneers as they rolled grapes onto the roulette wheel of fine wine production. It was also when the technique of keeping your fingers crossed while holding a wine glass was perfected.

So with today’s vineyard successes, is this end of our story? Not at all.

What started as an embryonic industry, with one commercial Virginia winery in 1975, has blossomed into a thriving enterprise with over 3,000 acres of vineyards statewide. The next ten years will see even greater advancement as the caliber and knowledge of our viticulturalists and winemakers deepens.

So the next time you are visiting one of our nearby wineries, take the time to linger over the award winning wines being produced locally. Experience more fully the magic of our handcrafted social libations in beautiful scenic settings.

There’s no need to travel to France or California to enjoy world-renowned scenery and wine. In less than an hour’s drive from anywhere in the county you may well discover your next favorite bottle of wine.

Virginia is, indeed, poised on the threshold of wine greatness. Our first winemakers must be softly smiling.


Published in the Winter 2016 edition of inPrince William magazine.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES