October is a great time to celebrate many things. We have Columbus Day, Popcorn Poppin’ Day, and National Pizza Month. We celebrate the birthday of Noah Webster with Dictionary Day, sauropods with International Dinosaur Month, and alpacas with Spinning and Weaving Week. There are the enormous recognitions of Halloween, and of course Breast Cancer Awareness Month that has us all seeing pink, but we have a sort of favorite October fete: Virginia Wine Month.
It’s no great secret that our nation was founded over the crisp tones of a nice wine. When the Vikings got here about 500 years before Columbus, they named their neck of the woods Vinland, or “Wine-Land” because the place was crawling with wild grape vines that apparently turned out some tasty adult beverages. When the first Europeans arrived on the shores of what became Virginia, the Governor of Jamestown required every settler to plant at least 10 grapevines, and these weren’t to provide shade. It was for making some darned wine.
Our dear friend Thomas Jefferson imported some European grapes in 1807, no doubt flush from his travels in France, and is considered America’s “first distinguished viticulturist.” And he made a funny desk that wrote everything twice. Oh, and that whole Declaration of Independence thing, but that was no doubt influenced by healthy doses of Claret.
Virginia has grown up a little over the past 350 years, and is now the home to over 200 wineries. They range from Northern Virginia to the North Carolina border, and from the shores of Virginia Beach to the lofty mountains in the Western end of the state. The Commonwealth has five distinct geographic regions, and each has a slightly different climate. They all, however, lend themselves quite handily to making a little wine. Like wineries in the rest of the country, the vineyard business dried up during Prohibition, and was kind of slow to start back up. While many of the wineries and vineyards in Virginia are on historic properties, most of the grapes used today date back to the mid-1970’s, with Piedmont Vineyards and Winery recognized as being about the oldest in the state.
Piedmont is in Middleburg, Virginia, a beautiful area known for rolling hills and horses. Their main house dates back to 1755 and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. One of their signature wines is the Hunt Country Red. It’s made with a Chambourcin grape, which is a sort of hybrid bred to be darker in color with a more aromatic flavor. Not very sweet, but they recommend it as a good starter for sangria.
One of the oldest and most historic areas in Virginia is Williamsburg. It was Virginia’s largest city for a long time, and is the home to William & Mary, a school that boasts of being the second oldest in America, and can count Jefferson, George Washington, John Tyler and James Monroe as being among its alumni. Pretty impressive. Williamsburg is also where you’ll find the eponymous winery. Williamsburg Winery started off pretty quietly, but has cultivated a pretty stellar reputation as a maker of some wonderful vintages. In 2010 they sent some of their wines to an international competition in London, and they walked away with some medals and some much deserved recognition. One of the big winners was Gabriel Archer Reserve, a sort of Bordeaux cousin with a great nose. “Gabriel Archer”, by the way, was one of the Captains of the Godspeed, a boat used by James Smith and the original Jamestown settlers. We assume that Archer planted his ten vines.
If you find yourself yearning for mountain breezes, we might suggest a drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway. All the way up. Just off of Skyline Drive, you’ll find the town of Washington, Virginia. It seems that when young George Washington was a teenager, one of his first gigs as a surveyor was to take a look at some lands owned by Lord Fairfax. Around fifty years later, Virginia went ahead and named the town after George. They took to calling it “Little Washington” to avoid confusion with our Nation’s Capital and the other thirty or so towns in America named “Washington.”
Buried in the White Oaks and poplars of the Eastern Slopes of the Appalachians you’ll find the Little Washington Winery. They shop for great boutique and craft wines from around the country, and offer tastings with some wonderful food pairings. One of their neighbors is The Inn at Little Washington, a Five-Star foodie haven, so we would assume that the grub at the Winery is pretty good. They also have their own wines, with one being the appropriately named “George.” It’s a nice Cab-Merlot blend that lends itself well to boiled peanuts and Smithfield ham.
So you can celebrate many things in October. American Cheeses, Kitchens & Baths, and Feral Hogs all have their own days. You can recognize Sarcasm, Positive Attitudes, or the Metric System. Or you could head East and enjoy some wine. It seems that Virginia isn’t just for Lovers, but for wine lovers too.