When people think of good wines in this country, many think of California. However, a growing number of Virginians are working hard to change that thinking.
"So many people don't realize that there's even an industry here," said Breaux Vineyards owner Paul Breaux,
Interestingly, Virginia has had one of the oldest, but until recently least successful, wine industries in America.
In 1609, just two years after arriving in the Virginia wilderness, the settlers of the Jamestown Colony produced their first wine from native grapes, beginning 300 years of disappointing attempts to produce successful Virginia wine. Over a hundred years later, Thomas Jefferson promoted the production of wine as a means of lessening the colonies’ dependence on tobacco. However, with the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, vineyards were destroyed, while in places such as California, the wine industry began to flourish. It was not until the 1960s that the Virginia wine industry began a revival, now making it the 11th largest wine-producing state, with a total of 75 wineries.
Jennifer McCloud, the owner of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg, commented that "Virginia is like California was 30 years ago," while Paul Breaux of Breaux Vineyards added that "at the national level people are starting to recognize that Virginia wines are internationally competitive."
BOTH OF THESE statements are closer to the truth than most people would believe. Chrysalis Vineyards had a national impact when they won "Best in Show" for their white wines and "Best in Class" for their white Viognier in at the San Diego National Wine Competition in April 2002. Adding to the prestige is the fact that out of the 2,050 wines competing, only five can be awarded "Best in Show."
Such acclaim is noteworthy because Chrysalis Vineyards only started making wine in 1998, after McCloud decided to move to the area specifically to start a winery. "I liked the concept of playing a part in a newer industry, along with the fact that the native Virginia grape, the Norton, makes a fabulous wine and is suited for this climate. Lastly, people's attitudes are very different than in California. Here they have that Southern warmth and hospitality," she said.
It was this type of welcoming attitude that has helped attract newer wineries, such as Lost Creek Winery in Leesburg. Bob and Carol Hauck opened their doors this past July but had been looking for property since 1995.
"We've been very impressed with how helpful and supportive the network of Virginia wine organizations is," said Carol, with Bob adding that "here it's an industry where people don't look at you as competition, but helping develop the industry in the state."
Statements like these would never have been possible just over two decades ago, considering that in 1979 there were only six wineries in the entire state. About 12 years later that number had risen to 43 until increasing to its current number, 11 of which are new. While most people assume that the majority of the wineries are farther south, 17 of them are in the Northern Virginia area, offering tours and wine tastings to interested customers.
AND THE INDUSTRY shows no signs of slowing. Since its opening, Lost Creek Winery averages 130 people a day on the weekends and is beginning to have repeat customers. Six wines are offered: vidal blanc, chardonnay, chambourcin, cabernet sauvingnon and merlot, and two more are to be offered later on. Bob and Carol Hauck currently have only have two acres on the vine, but behind the building where they make and sell the wine, eight more are being readied for next year.
Just down the road from the Haucks, another winery, Hidden Brook, will be opening in September and is owned by their son Eric. While Eric helped his parents put together Lost Creek, he decided to open his own winery because "I
wanted it to be mine." He, too, will offer wines similar to those at Lost Creek, but as he said, "I like my wine a bit different. As I helped them put together their winery, I wanted to do things my way, and now I can. Right now it's a hobby, but I'm hoping it will turn into something more."
Many wineries are begun as second businesses, but Paul and Alexis Breaux also began their wine-making as a hobby. When they first purchased their 400-acre property located west of Leesburg, just outside Hillsboro, in 1994, they were planning to retire there.
Encouraged by their friends to make wine from some of the grapes that were already growing on the property, they began to serve it at parties, where people loved it. "If a person has grapes on their land, they can make a small amount from them alone, but wine is where the money is. Making wine is highly profitable, but also highly risky," commented Paul.
That risk seems to be paying off for Breaux Vineyards, where 65 of the acres are devoted to grapes, and where the Breauxes employ 28 people in the summer months. They, too, have received a number of awards, most recently a gold medal for their merlot at the Governor’s Cup Virginia Wine Competition.
"This is a very special place where we are. We love competing, and we really feel that we're competing on the international level," Paul said.