I recently attended my third Wine Bloggers Conference, and this time it was held in Charlottesville, Va. I was really looking forward to it since I've never been to Virginia, even though I've tasted a small sampling of wine from there and most people haven't had the chance even though production and quality has risen in recent years.
I purchased my airline tickets early, and unfortunately before American Airlines created a direct flight from O'Hare late this spring. So I hopped on my double prop connecting flight in Philly and was off to Charlottesville.
After landing I hopped in a cab and was off to the hotel. I could tell I was in the eastern U.S. as many of the homes and buildings along the main road were older but in great shape. This really peaks my historic senses, as I start to imagine all the people who lived here and the events which took place. Grape vines have been planted here since the 17th century and due to a few factors, namely phylloxera and prohibition, Virginia recently just started to come into its own as a top wine producing region.
The town and surrounding areas are worth a visit for both the traveler and wine enthusiast. The downtown area has nice local shopping, restaurants and nightlife, with a good portion in the Downtown Mall- a brick street for pedestrian traffic only. It's a lively area filled with street performers, musicians, outdoor dining, shops and theatres.
They're surrounded by some very good wineries, and I was able to visit two. The first was Horton Vineyards and they have a picturesque vineyards and winery. Viognier, a white French Rhone varietal, has shown an affinity for the state and has become their grape, and Horton does wonders with it. The wine is full of peach and honey flavor, along with some minerality and full body. They also make sparkling wine with the varietal, not normally done, which turns out great- it's non-vintage, dry, and brings out much of the grape's natural character. They turn out a good Cabernet Franc and a surprising Nebbiolo, which does well here and turns out lighter than in Piedmont.
I also visited Barboursville Vineyards which makes amazing wine and has a rich history. The estate was designed by Thomas Jefferson and built by James Barbour in early the 19th century. The Zonin family of Veneto fame purchased the property in 1976 and decided to forego tobacco for grapes. They've created a winery which produces outstanding wines! I was able to taste vertical library selections of different varietals like Viognier, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo and Octagon (their Merlot-based Bordeaux blend), all of which were excellent with age. TheirPassito Drying Cabin at Barboursville restaurant, Palladio, is world class with a staff that travels to Italy once per year. I tried fresh antipasti, homemade pasta & pesto, and roasted pork loin. They also make an outrageous dessert wine, Malvaxia Reserve Passito, made from Moscato Ottonel and Vidal, and dried out 'Passito' style, making the wine golden, honeyed, rich and delicious. An amazing adventure overall.
Thomas Jefferson's MonticelloThe biggest local attraction is the former home of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello. Jefferson tried for years, as did George Washington, to make wine from European varietals. And though neither of them were even able to create a bottle of wine, they showed future generations of the opportunity. There is a great sense of nostalgia just being on the property, which can bring out the American in all of us. The home is of great design and enormous, littered with artifacts of exploration and invention. The grounds ooze with history- gravestones, architecture and ancient vines. A marvelous place to visit.
In summary, I really enjoyed this trip. The culture is rich and there are many things to see, do and taste. Wine has taken drastic turns to accolades and misfortunes over the years and is definitely on the right track to respectability. My favorite grape varietals here are Viognier and Petit Verdot (honorable mention to Cabernet Franc), which both show great character and a natural ability to make high quality, lasting wines. I recommend the wines and a visit to this area for any traveler- put it on your list!