grapes

From the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the waterways and shorelines along Chesapeake Bay, Virginia is known for its diversity in people and landscapes.

And just as the state reveals such a wide variety in its culture and terrain, so does it in its range of wineries and the myriad wines they produce. The Commonwealth is an impressive destination for both wine connoisseurs and tourists seeking to experience the beautiful vineyard settings.

“We have about 1.8 million people a year visiting Virginia wineries, and that number grows every year,” says Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. “We’re seeing more because of the growth in the number of wineries in Virginia and the popularity in visiting wineries. It’s becoming a hip, fun thing to do on weekends, visiting Virginia wineries. And we’re getting a lot of press for the caliber of wines we produce, which also helps.”

Virginia has more than 250 wineries spread over 16 wine regions, or American Viticulture Areas (AVAs), “so no matter where you go, you can find a winery,” Boyd adds. “Most of the wineries are offering tastings, anywhere from five to 20-plus different wines.”

Virginia Wine [INFOGRAPHIC]

Wine In All Directions

Notable wineries in Virginia include Cave Ridge Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley, Chatham Vineyards on the Eastern Shore and Rosemont Estate in the Southern Virginia region. Each provides a good representation of the different grapes being grown and variety of wines being produced in the state.

Not long after Randy and Karen Phillips opened a tasting room at their family-owned Cave Ridge Vineyard in 2005, they developed a loyal following. Located in Mount Jackson, west of Interstate 81, Cave Ridge is an ideal setting for events such as weddings or family reunions, or as a place just for a picnic lunch.

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Conditions are also favorable for growing the highest-quality grapes for producing several different wines. Among the whites are Riesling, Viognier and Traiminette. Reds include Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Fossil Hill Reserve. The latter, which has won several Virginia Governor’s Cub awards, is named for the ammonite fossils that have been found on the property.

Out on the Eastern Shore in Machipongo is Chatham Vineyards, where Jon Wehner and his wife planted grapes in 1999 and opened a winery six years later. They produce about 75 tons of wine grapes and around 3,800 cases of wine each year. Most of the wine produced is sold in Chatham’s tasting room.

“We’re not really grape-growing, we’re wine-growing,” Wehner says. “We’re doing things in the vineyard to improve wine quality. It’s more high-input, lower-yield, with a focus on quality.”

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Chatham is also a destination for tourists, with its tasting room and special events, as well as an ideal place for private events. Since his winery is located in a rural area, Wehner says he has had to be creative in attracting visitors.

“It’s really important to market and partner with other small businesses and tourism organizations to focus on the customers that come to your county and make sure they see the best in your county,” he says.

For instance, Chatham has partnered with a kayak tour company where people can kayak the waterway to the winery for a tasting. It also works with the aquaculture industry to host an annual oyster and wine tasting.

Within the pastoral setting of Rosemont Estate near Lake Gaston are 22 acres of grape vines, a tasting room, a gift shop and an art gallery. Owned and operated by Stephen and Chandra Rose, Rosemont offers tours of the winery and tastings, as well as an ideal location for weddings and other private events.

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