Growing Number of Wealthy Investing in Old Dominion Wine

By Posted on Dec 20 2011 | By

Will Big Money Be Driving Force Behind Virginia’s Wine Success

For the last forty years, winery owners and vintners in the Commonwealth have been advancing the cause of fine wine. Today, their success is evident as the “Mother of Presidents” lays claim to being the fifth largest wine producing state in the Nation; 5.5 million bottles annually to be a bit more exact.

But achieving respect from the national media is still elusive. Yes, a nod of recognition here and there draws attention to what is unfolding in the Old Dominion but the mantle of greatness still appears to lying somewhere over the horizon.

Nonetheless, the tipping point of fame might be edging closer. Could it be the fame of individuals that creates Virginia’s vinous fame?

Recently, it was announced that AOL founder Steve Case and his wife, Jean, purchased the Sweely Estate Winery in Madison. The winery was a tribute to a successful business career gone awry when more wine was produced than could be sold. Finger the recession, owner hubris, or a combination of both but the proprietor threw in the towel when he found a buyer for his fading dream. Now “You’ve Got Wine!” might be echoing around the Piedmont region.

But this news is not an isolated event. Over the last several years serious money has been finding a home in Virginia wine. If the trend accelerates, it could bode well for the entire industry. But first a little history.

In the 1960s, wine in America was not a pleasant cup; unless Thunderbird and Wild Irish Rose served as your evening cocktail. Then slowly, serious men began making serious wine. Many of them gravitated toward California and the best of the bunch called Napa Valley home.

In 1976, a wine tasting was held in France—dubbed the “Judgment of Paris”—that earned a Napa Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon the title of best wines in the competition. The USA beat the French at their own game. The unexpected coup helped launch a revolution in winemaking in this country and around the globe.

As Napa Valley met with greater success a trend began emerging. Money followed the fame. Names such as Frank Sinatra, Raymond Burr, Mario Andretti, Joe Montana, Jeff Gordon, Tom Seaver, Diane Disney, Carlos Santana, Francis Ford Coppola and an endless number of wealthy surgeons, lawyers, real estate moguls and power brokers built or snapped up one prestigious winery after another.

Today, there are over 450 wineries in Napa, vineyard land sells for as high as $235,000 an acre and a bottle of its cult wine goes for more than $300. The rich and famous struck hard and Route 29 that slices through the valley has become the road to Mecca for wine lovers everywhere. A once sleepy farming community is now world famous for its wine.

Such a trend might be taking shape in Virginia. Names such as John Kent Cooke, Dave Matthews, Donald Trump and now Steve Case are investing in its young and vibrant regional wine industry.

These successful people are being drawn to Virginia wine because they recognize its quality and potential. As each famous name is added to the list of winery owners it will attract the attention of other notable personalities.  If the engine of Big Name success ignites, the Commonwealth could be closer to achieving the respect it its been waiting for.

Fortunately,Virginia covers almost 43,000 square miles as compared to Napa’s 788, so wine prosperity will not create gridlock in our pastoral countryside. But it could recreate Napa’s success on a smaller scale:

  • Funneling tens of millions of tax dollars to state coffers.
  • Employing tens of thousands of workers.
  • Driving much needed money into rural communities.
  • Furthering Virginia’s reputation as a vacation destination.
  • Preserving land targeted for subdivision sprawl.

And, of course, producing wine rivaling the best made anywhere.

Fame. Bring it on.

Published in the December 11, 2011 edition of the Fauquier Times-Democrat.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES