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The Roots of Virginia Wine

From tales of mountain music on the Crooked Road, to stories of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, to the founding fathers and historic moments that have shaped our country. In Virginia, our roots run deep. Yet, they bear new and exciting fruit every year. We may be considered one of America's “up and coming” wine regions, but our viticultural history predates the country itself.

Twelve years after English colonists first settled in Jamestown, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed Acte 12, requiring each male colonist to plant and tend to at least 10 grapevines. The 18th century brought new signs of promise. In 1762, Charles Carter proved it was possible to grow wine grapes in Virginia. The following decade, Thomas Jefferson, with support from the Virginia Wine Company (whose members included George Washington and George Mason), devoted 2,000 acres of land to start a vineyard and winery near his estate at Monticello. Still, these early experiments yielded little more than a renewed appreciation for the great European viticulturalists they wished to emulate.

In the 19th century, wines made from Native American grapes met great success. A Virginia Norton was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World's Fair in 1873; another won a gold medal at the Paris World's Fair of 1889, when the Eiffel Tower was constructed. The success of indigenous grapes, along with the discovery that native and European vines could be grafted together, gave Virginia's nascent wine industry cause for great optimism. However, that momentum would come to an abrupt halt in 1920, when the 18th Amendment effectively outlawed the production and distribution of all alcoholic beverages. Though officially repealed in 1933, the hangover from Prohibition would linger for decades.

In the late-1950s, experimental plantings of vinifera showed promise. With the establishment of six new wineries in the 1970s, the recovery was officially underway. Then in 1976, Italian pioneer vintner Gianni Zonin, seeing a potential in Virginia that others failed to see, hired Gabriele Rausse to grow and harvest vinifera grapes near Charlottesville. He established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped five more vineyards do the same. By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, there were 107. Today, Virginia is home to nearly 300 wineries. Vintners and vineyards across the Commonwealth are now reaping the fruits of a 400-year experiment.