It was while working at Jefferson Vineyards that Jake Busching had his aha wine moment. His epiphany, the Jefferson Vineyards 1998 cabernet franc made by Michael Shaps, remains a true bellwether for Virginia wine—“That’s the one that hooked me,” Busching says. Once he made the connection in his mind between place and flavor, a soil-based winemaking philosophy blossomed, and now the well-known local vintner has a new label: Jake Busching Wines, for which he makes wine from some of his favorite vineyard sites around the state.
Having grown up on his family’s Minnesota subsistence farm, Busching is naturally drawn to working with plants. His father worked at a local paper mill and, at home, they raised beef cows. “When you farm in Minnesota,” Busching says, “you have four months of the year to get everything together to survive for the next eight months. That’s where I learned the importance of the dirt.”
He hunted and fished for many of his meals on the farm, and though life wasn’t always easy, the food was good. Busching sums it up: “I ate like a king, but I wore my cousin’s clothes.”
Eventually, he left Minnesota to work in music, and toured with a band. Asked about the circumstances of his move to Virginia, Busching describes 1993: “We [the band] were sick of being cold and poor, so we moved where we could be warm and poor. We ended up in Virginia.”
By 1996, he returned to farm life and landed at Jefferson Vineyards, a winery near Monticello that grows vines planted on the original site where Thomas Jefferson and Philip Mazzei attempted to grow wine grapes in the late 1700s. “What a great way to come into the business,” says Busching. “This is where it all started. Here.”
As Jefferson Vineyards’ farm manager, he worked with two important founders of the current Virginia wine scene, vineyard manager and consultant Chris Hill, and winemaker Michael Shaps. Hill has had a hand in planting many of Virginia’s vines, and Shaps now has his own Virginia winery, and produces wines in both Virginia and Burgundy, France.
During a brief stint at Horton Vineyards in 2001, Busching worked with a special site he still admires today: Gordonsville’s Honah Lee Vineyard. Planted in the mid-1990s, the site sits on a mountain that rises up in the middle of flat land. “Up top there’s nothing between you and Richmond,” Busching says. Sloped sites, such as Honah Lee, are good for grapes because the angles generate air movement, which helps prevent frost. The vineyards start around 650′ and at about 1,000′ the top of the mountain wears a crown of old-vine viognier.
Busching subsequently worked at Keswick Vineyards, Pollak Vineyards, Grace Estate Winery and Michael Shaps Wineworks, learning along the way about a wide variety of farming methods and grape varieties from around the state.
In 2015, he made a wine from the special Honah Lee viognier grapes he remembered from his early career, and the recently released bottles are his inaugural offering under the Jake Busching Wines label. He’s also released a 2015 cabernet franc made with grapes from Nelson County.
And keep your eyes peeled in May for Busching’s release of F8, a blend of tannat and petit verdot from the upper section of the Honah Lee vineyard. F8, affectionately referred to by its phonetic nickname Fate, is a special bottling because Busching believes there is a larger place for petit verdot-tannat blends in Virginia winemaking. Throughout his career, Busching has championed tannat, and this has impacted the larger wine landscape. Tannat, typically from France’s Madiran region, is a powerful, full-bodied and usually tannic wine that, to Busching, benefits from blending in some deep-fruited petit verdot. He usually finds a sweet spot at around 60 percent tannat with 40 percent petit verdot. Could his signature blend be a way forward for Virginia reds? If it grows in popularity, we might look back and point to F8 as the catalyst.
Busching has also rethought the conduit of wine from winery to consumer. Rather than open a tasting room or sell to restaurants and retail outlets through a distributor, he sells his wine through his website (JakeBuschingWines.com). This is an effective way to directly interface with consumers on their own time, and it’s becoming increasingly popular with winemakers like Busching, who make incredibly small quantities of special wine. (There are just three barrels of F8.)
As a large second wave of Virginia wine producers establish themselves, Busching’s wines stand out because the mentorship of the late 20th-century wine pioneers shines through. Busching’s new label turns the page to a fresh chapter in Virginia winemaking—one that is built on the sturdy ground of past experience, and maybe a little fate.