Another year and another vintage is in the cellars. Because 2011 is likely to be one vintage local wineries will want to forget (remember when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights?), I’ll usher in 2012 by celebrating all that’s in store this coming year in our busy little wine- and beer-producing corner of the world.
While the New Year may not necessarily bring a host of new wineries (though Moss Vineyards, the fifth stop along the northwestern Appellation Trail, and Grace Estates Winery at Mount Juliet are both slated to open this year), it will bring changes to two wineries recently purchased by well-known media moguls.
Over at Trump Winery, former owners-turned-managers Patricia Kluge and Bill Moses and head winemaker Gregory Brun are hard at work with Donald’s son, Eric, maintaining the 220 acres of vines and increasing distribution of the new label, which, to date, reaches 17 states. Changes planned for 2012 include a new sparkling wine facility, a new farm building for housing and maintaining vineyard farming equipment and tractors, and renovation of the old Carriage Museum for wedding or diplomatic events.
Up in Madison, wine lovers Jean and Steve Case of AOL fame purchased Sweely Estate after falling for Virginia wine and our burgeoning industry on a vacation to Charlottesville three years ago. Jean said, “As big supporters of Virginia wine, we are thrilled to join the local wine community and begin the next phase of the winery.” The tasting room is closed for the next several months for a remodel, but the offices are still open to anyone interested in hosting an event in the spring or summer. Case added, “We will also continue to sell wines from Sweely Estate until our reopening.” A name for the winery is still in the works, but the new owners have joked on more than one occasion that it isn’t likely to be Case Wines.
The 2011 fiscal year showed record sales of Virginia wine (more than 462,000 cases—that’s more than 5.5 million bottles!) and an 11 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. And, as the nation’s fifth largest wine producer (and seventh largest wine grape producer), Virginia deserves a competition that reflects growth and excellence.
At the close of the year, Governor Bob McDonnell announced a revamping of the Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition. The competition will return to a single event (in recent years, the whites and reds were being judged and announced separately) with judging held this month by a team of compensated judges hand-picked by Jay Youmans, one of only 31 Masters of Wine in the U.S. Only wines made from 100 percent Virginia fruit (with a certified affidavit to prove it) will be eligible for entry. The winner will be announced at the Virginia Wine Expo in Richmond on February 23.
Blue Mountain Brewery in Nelson County just keeps getting bigger. After starting their own hop farm and expanding their dining, tasting, and special events facilities in 2011, they’ve earmarked this year as the opening for a new barrel house and organic brewery in Colleen, which will add another 50 jobs to a 5-year-old business that’s most certainly booming. The 10,000 square foot production facility will be where their certified organic, “specialty” beers will undergo natural refermentation and then be kegged or bottled. Another 40,000 to 60,000 square foot building in Colleen is also in the works, which, when up and running, will increase the brewery’s annual capacity to 50,000 barrels.
Beer Run, our favorite place for casual imbibing and picking up something for our fridges, has expanded its beer selection by 40 percent and opened a new 400 square foot retail room, doubling its space for retail wines. The new space has made room for more Belgian, German, British, and Asian beers while the American craft beer and ciders get to be front and center. Beer Run is hosting its Wednesday night beer tastings and Friday night wine tastings in the new room, and you’ll find more white, rosé, and sparkling wines chilling and ready to go, if you stop by.
With the opening of Wild Wolf Brewing Company in 2011 and the plans for James River Brewing Company to open in Scottsville this year, we’re thinking the beer industry is a fun, recession-proof place to be in 2012.