More people are saying, ‘make mine Virginia wine’
Virginia wine. The name says it all.
The commonwealth’s wines are gaining recognition across the country and even across the globe.
“Virginia is one of only two places on the planet successfully growing petit manseng,” boasted Annette Boyd, marketing director for the Virginia Wine Board. “France and us.”
In the past year, Virginia’s petit manseng plantings increased 20 percent. “That’s a sure sign people are investing and feel strongly about this grape,” Boyd noted.
She added that there are many other varietals the state’s wine growers are experimenting with, including albarino, nebbiolo and tannat. “Growers are growing warm-weather grapes that have traditionally been grown in Spain, Italy and France,” Boyd explained.
While petit manseng plantings are on the rise, vineyard operators continue to plant more chardonnay grapes than any others. “It’s a popular white grape, and it grows well here,” Boyd said.
The second most-planted grape in Virginia is the red cabernet franc, followed by merlot and cabernet sauvignon, then viognier, a dry, fruity white wine.
Virginia viognier has received recognition since the 1990s, Boyd said, and is the state’s second most-popular white grape. In 2011 the Virginia Wine Board voted it the state’s signature white grape.
These days, however, other varietals are becoming just as popular. Boyd said petit verdot “grows ridiculously well in Virginia,” and is bottled as a varietal. In other states, it’s used for blends.
From Southside to Northern Va., 2017 is good year for wine grape growers
On an early September day, clusters of chardonnay grapes traveled up Rappahannock Cellars’ conveyor belt into the crusher. Simultaneously, temporary workers were picking Cabernet Franc grapes.
That weekend owner John Delmare was expecting a couple hundred guests in the tasting rooms—all typical fall activities.
Rappahannock’s winemaker, Theo Smith, said 2017 was shaping up to be a quality harvest. “The flavors are really good,” Smith remarked. “This year’s grapes have more acid and less sugar, and people like the wine we make with that. They’re going to be beautiful.”
Virginia is home to more than 260 wineries, and Rappahannock Cellars in Rappahannock County was the 62nd to be established. At that time, it was one of only a half-dozen wineries serving the Washington area.
That was roughly 17 years ago, and Delmare’s family carved out a niche with a wine club modeled after those in California, where he operated a small winery for five years before moving to Virginia. Members pay a monthly fee and receive two bottles, either picked up at the winery or shipped to them. When they visit Rappahannock, they get VIP treatment like appreciation events and complimentary tastings.
Delmare said his family grows grapes on 30 acres in Rappahannock County and has for the past 25 years also used grapes from Indian Springs Vineyard in Shenandoah County.
Virginia is ranked fifth nationwide for wine grape production.
There are more than 260 wineries in Virginia.
From 2010 to 2015, the number of Virginia wineries increased 35 percent, from 193 to 261. The number of full-time equivalent jobs at wineries and vineyards saw a 73 percent increase.
An economic study released earlier this year reported that the state’s wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to the economy, an 82 percent increase from a similar study in 2010.
In producing a product that will be labeled and marketed as a Virginia wine, the commonwealth’s farm wineries generally may use no more than 25 percent fruits, fruit juices or other agricultural products grown or produced outside Virginia.
Smithfield vineyard switching to winery
Kim Pugh and her husband, Al, have been growing grapes since 2007 and selling them to other wineries. Co-owners of SummerWind Vineyards in Isle of Wight County, they decided to keep half of this year’s grapes to be made into their own wine. They plan to open a tasting room next fall and serve wine crafted by a Charlottesville winemaker. Future harvests will be used mainly for their own wines.
Prior to growing grapes, Pugh worked as a registered nurse in Pennsylvania. She and her husband decided to buy retirement property in Virginia. “We started growing grapes just as a hobby, then decided we wanted to grow them commercially and eventually open a winery. We learned as we went,” she explained.
Today she’s the primary vineyard operator, with assistance from her husband and daughter, Meagan. She also has two seasonal workers to help plant and pick.
Got a winery or vineyard? Virginia Farm Bureau has you covered – for agritourism insurance, that is.
Grants helping boost wine grapes for burgeoning wineries
While the number of Virginia wineries has more than doubled in the past 10 years, vineyard acreage has not kept pace. The state’s wine production grew at about 6.7 percent annually for the first part of the decade but slowed to 2 percent in 2015. The drop is blamed on a lack of Virginia grapes.
That’s why an agribusiness grant from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, called the SoVA Vineyard Development and Expansion Project, is crucial in supplying wine grapes. The grant program was awarded to Pittsylvania County in January 2016 and is managed by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, the Virginia Vineyards Association and the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. It includes cost-share programs for existing vineyards that want to expand and for people who want to start a vineyard.
The program awarded $75,000 in cost-share agreements in 2016. Approximately $30,000 will enable existing farmers to grow grapes on 10 additional acres in Halifax, Mecklenburg and Pittsylvania counties. Another $45,000 in funding will allow three farmers to plant 17 acres of grapes in Campbell, Dinwiddie and Mecklenburg counties.