BOOK REVIEW: Beyond Jefferson’s Vines

By Posted on Jun 17 2020 | By

The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia
Third edition
By Richard G. Leahy

(300 pages, $19.99)

Just as the COVID-19 lockdown eases up, along comes an updated book guiding wine lovers to the best wineries in Virginia. Timing is, indeed, everything.

The Old Dominion’s vinous industry has been in economic freefall for the last two months. Tasting rooms have been shuttered across the state in the interest of public health. It’s unclear how many of the over 300 wineries will ultimately survive, but don’t bet against vintners whose passion for their art is renowned.

Richard Leahy is a knowledgeable wine maven who brings three decades of experience in observing the state’s wine scene. Whether a reader enjoys his treatise hearthside or on the road, it’s an informative and enjoyable book.

Wines and wine personalities come alive under Leahy’s keen eye for detail.

The book is divided mainly into three parts: The historical roots of the fermented grape in the Commonwealth, tours of numerous wineries, and a view of the industry’s expansion and future.

While Virginia lays claim to a 400-year history of winemaking, the reality is that much of that storied past was not very storied. Even Thomas Jefferson, the Nation’s first wine connoisseur, failed to grow and make palatable wine at Monticello.

Not until the 1970s did science and viniculture join forces to create what is today the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the country. Writing a book devoted mostly to the state’s modern era was a task of considerable effort.

“I’ve worked harder on this third edition than I did on the first one,” said Leahy. “It’s been five years since the last book. One hundred new wineries have appeared on the scene since 2015.”

To be sure he showcased the best performers, Leahy used the metric of wineries scoring only silver or gold medals in the Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. The competition is the premier annual wine judging event in the state. Silver medals must have been earned in the last three years and golds the previous four.

Readers will learn about 11 new artisanal wineries who have garnered solid reputations in the recent past, along with advice on how to tour our wine country. Any publication luring residents out of their living rooms and backyards is most welcome.

As they reopen, the wineries are working hard to provide safe venues with ample social distancing. A glass of quality wine enjoyed in either a limited seating tasting room or outside with expansive views of fields, lakes, and mountains is a proven vaccine against boredom.

Fauquier County
When Leahy discusses Fauquier County, he focuses on several well-known wineries, including Pearmund Cellars, Granite Heights, Delaplane Cellars, Boxwood Estate Winery, Linden Vineyards, and RdV Vineyards.

The county can make a legitimate claim as being the birthplace of the modern era of the state’s wine culture. The first commercial winery was Farfelu (now closed), whose vineyard was planted in 1967. It opened as a winery in 1975.

The former Piedmont Vineyards in northern Fauquier was the third winery established and is remembered as the first to plant the Chardonnay grape in Virginia. Until the early 1970s, only native and hybrid grapes were grown here.

The ability to successfully grow the beloved but temperamental Vitis vinifera species launched the state’s success. The species makes 99 percent of the world’s best wines; think Chardonnay, Viognier, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and many more.

“Fauquier County was clearly at the center of the resurgence of Virginia wine in the modern era,” said Leahy.

The author notes with pride the forward of his third edition is written by the legendary Steven Spurrier, the British wine merchant who organized the Judgement of Paris, a blind wine tasting competition held in 1976.

The tasting pitted the United States against the best the French had to offer. Both a California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon won first place, catapulting American wine onto the international stage. The movie Bottle Shock was based on the pivotal event.

Spurrier has stated that “My favorite North American wine region today is Virginia.” High praise from a worldwide expert.

The book also discusses the impact of climate change on the state’s industry. Bringing the point home was our recent spring freezes. Because of a warmer than normal winter, the vines experienced early bud break.

That scenario set the stage for cold snaps that can decimate vineyards in one chilling night. And that’s exactly what happened on two occasions to several unfortunate state wineries. If the trend continues, vineyard site selection and evaluating growing different types of grape varieties will assume greater importance.

Leahy notes that during the pandemic online sales of Virginia wine have increased. This trend is expected to continue even with the reopening of tasting rooms. Such sales often include discounts and free shipping.

But there’s no substitute for visiting small enterprises selling one of the most popular of social lubricants. Beyond Jefferson’s Vines will be a faithful companion for oenophiles as they return to both their favorite and soon-to-be-discovered new wineries.

Available at Amazon.com

Published June 2020 in the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES