It’s taken awhile, but the dreams of English settlers some 400 years ago to establish a flourishing wine industry at Jamestown, Virginia has finally come true. Virginia wines now stand up to the best in the world, with a never ceasing list of awards and accolades. Travel and Leisure magazine’s Bruce Schoenfeld proclaimed Virginia one of five up-and-coming wine regions that “should be on the must-visit list of any adventurous wine traveler.” And in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, a reviewer wrote that “Virginia is making Cabernet Franc and Viognier wines that are world-beaters,” citing a Saveur article in which wine critic Paul Luckas named two Virginia Viogniers among the best available.
Although the Jamestown settlers hoped that Virginia would become a major source of wine for the British Empire, they met with dismal failure, savaged by an unknown pest, Phylloxera, as well as diseases in a new environment. In the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington tried to cultivate European grapes but despite their best efforts, neither had anything to show for it.
However, in the 1820s, wine makers began using Native American grapes and experienced great success. By the late 1800s, they discovered that European and American vines could be grafted but circumstances delayed wide scale success in this area. It was a long wait until success was experienced on a larger scale, as the Virginia wine industry did not officially take off until the 1970s. Of particular local interest is that in 1976, the year of our Bicentennial, Gabriele Rausse was hired to grow and harvest vinifera grapes near Charlottesville. He established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped other vineyards do the same. Today, with 192 wineries and counting, only four other states in the Union have more wineries than Virginia. Jefferson’s vision has finally come true.
Throughout the Commonwealth, vineyards and wineries are opening their gates to the public in celebration of their bountiful harvest. Here in Central Virginia, there are several notable wine festivals and events throughout the month of May.
Albemarle County Monticello Wine Festival
Thomas Jefferson has been called “America’ first distinguished viticulturist” and the “greatest patron of wine and winegrowing that this country has yet had,” so it is appropriate that The Wine Festival at Monticello brings to life the story of Jefferson and wine.
Monticello is luring wine lovers to its coveted mountain for what it promises to be an unforgettable evening and a one-of-a-kind blend of the burgeoning Virginia wine culture and the unsurpassed beauty of Monticello’s West Lawn.
It all starts at 6:00 p.m. on May 12, with a wine tasting and a sunset tour of Monticello. Enjoy the splendor of spring, taste Virginia’s best selection of wines and stroll through the restored vineyards by twilight. Meet Thomas Jefferson, portrayed by Bill Barker, and Gabriele Rausse, the “Father of Virginia Wine,” as they discuss their passion for fine wine.
Bring a blanket for picnic seating and enjoy a gourmet picnic box for two featuring fresh fruit, local artisanal cheeses, bread and dessert, available by pre-order only and courtesy of the Café at Monticello. The cost is $30.
If you prefer, reserve a premier table for your friends, family and colleagues. Tables include a selection of the finest gourmet fruit and cheeses, premier table seating, VIP parking, a special private tour of Jefferson’s wine cellar and leave with a commemorative gift. All-inclusive price is $750. Contact Kerry Hannon at 434-984-9826 if interested.
The event runs until 9:00 p.m. Reservations are required. Admission fee is $55.
Greene County Autumn Hills Vineyards
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Autumn Hills Vineyards is about 15 miles north of Charlottesville in Stanardsville. The vineyard was started in 1979 by the Schwab family. The plantings grew to 13 acres of Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and a new Nebbiolo area. They have some of the oldest Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon plantings in Virginia. The first vintage was produced in 1986. Over the years, Avra and Ed Schwab have continued to produce “Virginia wines with a European accent” and have grown to love full bodied, dry wines.
The winery has grown over the years to include a barrel room where the optimum temperature keeps the wines stable so they can develop slowly in predominantly French Oak barrels to their fullest potential. Their red wines are all unfiltered.
On May 5 and 6, the public is invited to its 19th Spring Barrel Tasting. Enjoy pairing wines with special cheeses. There will be a vertical tasting of Cabernet Franc wines. Cellar tours are at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. when you will taste wine from the barrels and engage in a lively discussion
Autumn Hills is open to the public four weekends a year; two in the spring and two in the fall. For more information, visit www.autumnhillwine.com.
Nelson County Wintergreen Resort
2012 Festival of Wines
Today Virginia, Tomorrow the World!
Wine lovers will enjoy this unique two-day wine festival. On Saturday, May 26, Virginia wines will be featured, and on Sunday, May 27, international wines will take center stage. Celebrate the Memorial Day Weekend at Wintergreen Resort on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Proceeds support the extensive performance and educational activities of Wintergreen Performing Arts.
The festival runs from 12:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Ticket price is $20 per day and includes a souvenir glass. The two-day pass is $35. Food will be available for purchase. For information, visit www.wintergreenperformingarts.org .
Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery
Located in Nellysford at the foot of Wintergreen Resort and atop the rolling hills of the Rockfish Valley, sits Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery. Originally opened as a pick-your-own blackberry farm, the family owned and operated business expanded into a winery in the late 1990s.
Hill Top is always at the forefront of Virginia’s wine industry by producing handcrafted specialty wines and meads not commonly found anywhere else. Over the years its small family operation has grown to include a whole new line of wonderful historical wines and they have expanded their facilities to offer both indoor and outdoor meeting facilities. However, Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery promises to never outgrow its family roots and southern hospitality
Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery produces a unique experience for fruit lovers and historians alike. More than a dozen “True to the Fruit” Virginia wines and historical honey meads adorn the shelves of this cozy winery.
On May 5, enjoy the Cinco de Mayo Celebration at Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This is a free event with live music by Beleza Brasil. Enjoy samba, funk and Spanish flamenco by Madeline Holly Sales and Humberto Oliveira Sales as they blend the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic riches from North and South America. Bring a picnic dinner to enjoy with the music. The Winery will make sangria for this event! Its wines, meads and sangria will be available to purchase by the glass or bottle. Wine tastings will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Visit www.hilltopberrywine.com.
DelFosse Vineyards and Winery
DelFosse Vineyards and Winery in Faber is the newest vineyard in Virginia. It offers a variety of activities for your enjoyment. Take a tour of the vineyard, one of the only terraced vineyards in the state. Taste its unique variety of wines, ranging from Merlot to Petit Mensang. Bring the family and enjoy a calm picnic by the lake.
DelFosse was established in 2000 in the Monticello AVA wine region. The location is exquisite, hugged between the hills, but with the elevation to guarantee not only flavorful wine but also breathtaking views. The area spans over 330 acres.
The Winery is offering a Spring Food and Wine Pairing on May 6 at 1:00. Advance reservations are required and the fee is $40 per person. Then on May 13, also at 1:00 p.m., there will be a special Mother’s Day Brunch at a cost of $45 per person, again with advance reservations required. You can learn more and read about the menus on www.delfossewine.com.
Also in Nelson County is Wintergreen Winery, where moms are being treated to “Time Out for Mom” on Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Designed to allow mom to relax and enjoy a winery visit, the event comes complete with complimentary wine tasting and refreshments, plus a fresh flower for each mom. Stay to soak in the scenery and picnic (light picnic fare available) by the Rockfish River. For information, visit www.wintergreenwinery.com.
Cardinal Point â¨Vineyard and Winery
Located in Afton, Cardinal Point Vineyard and Winery is also planning something special for moms on Mother’s Day, May 13, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Treat Mom to a tasting and some complimentary hors d’oeurvres. Mom gets a free Cardinal Point wine glass to take home! Some picnic foods and beverages will also be for sale.
Cardinal Point is also offering a summer concert series featuring live music at the winery. Attendees are encouraged to bring a picnic and enjoy the view. Admission is $10 or get free admission if you bring 5 non-perishable food items (per person) for the local food bank. Kids 18 and under admitted free. Some picnic foods and beverages will be for sale. Live music kicks off on May 19 with Jan Smith and the Honeybirds. The concert is from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. In case of inclement weather, please call the winery (540-456-8400). Visit www.cardinalpointwinery.com.
Veritas Vineyard and Winery
Also in Afton, Veritas Vineyard and Winery is planning a four-course, wine-paired Mother’s Day brunch in Saddleback Hall on Sunday, May 13 from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Reservations are required. For more information or to make reservations, please call 540-456-8000 ext. 108. Menu is available online at www.veritaswines.com.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
Beginning Saturday, May 26 and continuing once a month through September, Afton Mountain Vineyards is sponsoring “Afton After Hours” with music at the Vineyard from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Activities begin with Eli Cook on May 26. Visit www.aftonmountainvineyards.com for a complete list of entertainers, dates and times.
Montpelier Wine Festival
Last, but certainly not least, is the Montpelier Wine Festival. The festival will be held May 5 and 6 on the grounds of the historic lifelong home of our 4th president, James Madison.
Organizers say the 2012 Montpelier Wine Festival is shaping up to be the best ever, featuring 24 area wineries. Visitors can come and spend the day on the grounds with friends and family, enjoying exceptional wines, great food and entertainment, cooking with wine demonstrations, unique artisans and crafters. The kids can make and fly their own kite and ride the famous Barrel Train. For more information, visit www.montpelier.org.
For ongoing wine festivals and events throughout Virginia, visit www.virginia.org.