Complex, but poorly structured

Complex, but poorly structured

Andrew Hodson’s point is simple: “Unless we sell wine, we can’t buy grapes.” Hodson is the owner of and “emeritus winemaker” at Veritas Vineyards. He was in the C-VILLE office several weeks back, describing the complicated web of professional organizations that in some sense threatens the health of Virginia winemakers and winegrowers. There’s the Virginia Wineries Association (Hodson’s on the board), the Virginia Vineyards Association, the Virginia Wine Council (he pays dues), the Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Wine Marketing Board, among others. Got it?

Can’t we all just get along? Andrew Hodson says that mindset, as much as anything else, contributes to friction between winemakers and winegrowers.

Recent controversies about zoning rules that permit different activities at farm wineries from county to county and struggles over the stringencies of Virginia’s three-tier distribution system had revealed a lack in the 30-year-old industry. “There was no single voice of the industry that was monitoring what the legislators were doing,” says Hodson, who in August published an editorial on this in Flavor, a regional food magazine.

That weakness then birthed the Wine Council, he says, a voluntary association meant to monitor decisions in Richmond for the wine industry. But there’s a problem with that organization too, because membership comes largely from wineries and not growers. Yet everyone is, for sure, in it together, he says. (Hodson suggests the split between winemakers and winegrowers is a question of mindset. “The vineyard guys tend to be more down to earth. The wineries tend, as far as the vineyard guys are concerned, to get all the limelight—they make the wine, they get the Governor’s Cup.”)

And what about the Wine Board? That redistributes a fraction of the tax money the Commonwealth collects on wine sales. The marketing body gets a piece of that pie, too.

The whole arrangement is too fractured, says Hodson.

Paul Summers, who operates Knight’s Gambit, a five-acre vineyard near Lake Albemarle, adds this: “Since the Virginia wine industry…is still in the start-up phase, you have lots of individuals with strong opinions… [and] significant financial resources behind them that allow them to exert their individuality even more. That might be why some think there is disunity within the organizations.”

Hodson has an idea to address competing but related agendas and foster the growth of Virginia wine, which currently holds about 4 percent of the nation’s market. “What we probably need to do within the industry is to appoint somebody with the job of being chief operating officer of the Virginia wine industry. One person. Pay him as a professional.”

Where are they now?

Charles Gendrot, who ran the non-sparkling wine operations for Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards from 2003 until early this year, has resurfaced with organic and biodynamic importer Williams Corner Wine. In the winter, The Working Pour reported on Gendrot’s abrupt exit from Kluge, which is as well known within the industry for its revolving cast of players as it is for its New World Red. Gendrot didn’t detail his departure from Kluge, but the Bordelais winemaker and consultant recently described the link between his work with Williams Corner and the rest of his career: “A vigneron has to show an understanding of what the soil is about and what it will match with which varietal. A wine has to show life. We are not pursuing protocol wines.”

Speaking of Kluge, Albemarle’s biggest player (220 acres of vines) marks its 10th anniversary. Unrelated to that, we’re sure, but still noteworthy, owner Patricia Kluge will soon go to market with fine-living artifacts of another sort. On October 22 in New York, Christie’s will auction what it calls “important silver and objects of vertu” of hers, including “extremely high quality Regency silver, by renowned makers such as Paul Storr, Robert Garrard, and Philip Rundell,” according to “Highlights include a silver gilt centerpiece, mirror plateau, and lobster-form salt cellars… (estimate: $100,000-150,000), that possess a stunning level of detail and are as artistically sculptural as they are functional.”

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