Though he is a man of middle age, Chris Parker’s ties to Virginia wine begin 400 years ago when English colonists arrived at Jamestown and brought with them, besides a date with destiny, a mandate to plant vines. Now Parker, who, thanks to a tech job, was transplanted to Northern Virginia from England 20 years ago, aims to fulfill the crown’s order. He’s sending Virginia wines back to the U.K. His business, New Horizon Wines, distributes select Virginia wines to top food and wine shops in England.
Wineries he represents include Barboursville, DelFosse, Keswick, Thibaut-Janisson, Veritas and White Hall in this area, and Boxwood, Breaux, Corcoran, Pearmund, Philip Carter, Rappahannock, Veramar and Williamsburg elsewhere around the state.
But with many Virginia eating and drinking establishments, not to mention retail wine purveyors, still scorning local wine, why, you might wonder, would consumers in the world’s leading wine market (that’s England) want to drink the stuff?
“Virginia wines are much more European in style than, say, wines from California or Oregon or Washington, so the style of these wines is appealing to the palates in the U.K.,” Parker says.
And you don’t have to take his word for it. Parker lead a half dozen or more Virginia winemakers to exhibit their wines in May at the London International Wine Fair, where, according to a Washington Post reporter, the reception was warm surprise (“I didn’t know Virginia made wines” was a typical response). Since then, Parker has brokered deals with gourmet food shops in Oxford and the very upscale Whole Foods Market in the Knightsbridge section of London. Future plans include a repeat performance at next year’s wine fair, too.
“I think we make some very good wines here in Virginia, and to get the British press and the British public agreeing with us is a very good sign,” says White Hall owner Tony Champ, himself an Englishman by birth. “But no one listens to us unless we get outside critics to agree that we have good wines.”
Indeed, Parker is intent on this point. No novice to building a wine portfolio for lesser-known regions, Parker was among the first to bring New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to England in the 1980s. Put it this way: He seems to have been clear on the ascendant possibilities of Cloudy Bay before many others were. As far as Virginia wines go, he approaches his goal with two important tools: patience and discernment. Parker figures on five to 10 years before Virginia wines sink in to the British consciousness. “Over the next five years I think it’s all about building awareness and establishing reputation,” he says. Moreover, he picks and chooses among wines from the 14 wineries he has chosen to represent.
And that sounds right to Champ, whose Viognier and Petit Verdot have made it overseas with Parker. “The wine I make the most of is Chardonnay, but I wouldn’t suggest Chris take that,” he says. “The world has enough Chardonnay, but Virginia Viogniers are world-class.”
Like the colonists that came well before him, Parker regards Virginia’s bounty with a sense of adventure: “What I find exciting about the whole thing is that it isn’t just about importing and distributing wine. I mean, there are thousands of companies doing that. This is about creating a whole new market for wines that are not particularly well known, but will be.”
And there’s no telling what an enhanced global rep could do for sales stateside, not to mention statewide. “We’re not going to suddenly become Mondavi in the U.K.,” says Chris Blosser, general manager of Breaux Vineyards, whose Nebbiolo won praise in London. “We’re not talking volume here. But simply having a presence in the world’s largest importing market gives validity to what we’re doing to the folks in our own backyard.”
Kluge house, not winery, on the market
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Her company spokeswoman says it will mean no change for her eponymous wine business, now 10 years old, but last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Patricia Kluge has listed her Albemarle property, including a 45-room house, 300 acres, and plenty of outbuildings for sale. Asking price: $100 million.