Here in Charlottesville, there’s great enthusiasm for our local wines. The Monticello AVA (American Viticultural Area) loyalty is so hyper-local, in fact, it’s easy to forget there are wineries in other parts of the state. This week, I put down my glass of Crosé to explore another Virginia wine region: Northern Virginia, nicknamed NoVa.
If you looked at a map and combined Northern Virginia with the Monticello AVA, you’d be looking at a large chunk of land where the majority of wineries in the state operate. In this belly of the Virginia wine industry, though the region may look unified on a map, the Monticello area is more associated with the James River Basin while NoVa is influenced by the Potomac and the Rappahannock river basins. The main soil types are a little different, too, with red clay dominating much of the Monticello and various residual sedimentary soils making up many NoVa soils. In NoVa, you will also find outcroppings and swaths of greenstone and granite, which are coveted soils for grape growing.
The two regions also receive different weather. Atlantic storms rolling up the East Coast hit Roanoke, glide by Richmond and continue straight through to Charlottesville. Northern Virginia has Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay to the east, which help buffer the region against harsh weather.
You can point to the genesis of NoVa’s wine industry at Linden Vineyards, where Jim Law has made bellwether Virginia wines since 1983. His flagship, the Hardscrabble red blend, and Hardscrabble chardonnay are both meticulously farmed at his home vineyard. Law’s wines are regularly acclaimed by various wine experts as some of Virginia’s great wines.
“I have always wanted to sneak a Linden Hardscrabble chardonnay into a blind tasting of top white Burgundy—I think it would show well and fit in perfectly,” says Kevin Sidders, of VinConnect.
Nearby at Glen Manor Vineyards, winemaker Jeff White is enthusiastic about his new site with steep slopes. The soil on this part of his family’s fifth-generation farm is very rocky, he says, with “mainly granite and greenstone, and it’s extremely well drained.” That soil type mixed with steep slopes translates to excellent tasting in the glass.
I have always wanted to sneak a Linden Hardscrabble chardonnay into a blind tasting of top white Burgundy—I think it would show well and fit in perfectly. Kevin Sidders, VinConnect
White’s elegant sauvignon blanc is a favorite among folks in the local industry. “I love the sauvignon blanc from Glen Manor,” says Blenheim Vineyards winemaker Kirsty Harmon. White also makes a late-harvest petit manseng named Rapheus, which has a nice balance of sugar and acid.
Rutger de Vink’s RdV Vineyards in Delaplane focuses on two labels of red Bordeaux-style wine. Classic and powerful, they are as tasty as they are notoriously expensive, but RdV also makes an affordable Friends and Family red that you can find in select restaurants. The vineyard is on a unique granite hillside that could come to be one of Virginia’s great sites.
Both White and de Vink spent time working with Law, which highlights how Law’s influence and guidance has helped anchor NoVa’s fine wine community. Boxwood Winery, planted at the site of an 18th century horse farm, specializes in Bordeaux-style red blends of which it produces three, as well as a rosé. It recently added a sauvignon blanc to its portfolio. The Boxwood wines have a visceral deliciousness to them, and they are a great value in comparison to their neighbors. The Topiary red is a favorite among locals.
Newer to the NoVa scene is Paradise Springs. Located at the site of a once famous mineral springs, the winery displays antique water bottles with “paradise” etched on them. In particular, the Paradise Springs viognier is worth seeking out.
How is the 2017 harvest shaping up in NoVa? Vineyard consultant Lucie Morton works with wines around the state and says it looks like “everyone dodged most of the bullets, like late spring frost and rain in May and June.” But winemakers are still waiting to see how the grapes will mature through the end of this season.
From a larger perspective, now that NoVa’s wine industry is established and producing some serious wines of high quality, the industry is beginning to mesh with the local food industry. NoVa’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay makes the area ripe for a unique local cuisine where, perhaps one day, soft-shell crabs with NoVa sauvignon blanc might be as famous a pairing as France’s Loire Valley sauvignon blanc and goat cheese. It’s becoming more than just a NoVa wine trade —it’s a new epicurean culture.