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The Monticello AVA: Thomas Jefferson’s Wine Dream Realized

Virginia ranks 5th in the U.S. for producing grapes with about 260 wineries scattered across its seven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). The first AVA to be established was fittingly named after Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello. He is considered the Father of Virginia wine, even though his seven attempts at producing wine sadly failed. While the Revolutionary War and the phylloxera epidemic thwarted his experiments, the Monticello AVA eventually came to fruition in 1984.

Today, almost 250 years after Jefferson’s first efforts to cultivate his passion, the Monticello AVA is an exciting wine region with quality increasingly significantly over the last 15 years. But it’s also one of the most challenging climates in which to grow grapes and vintages can vary widely. Spanning a 25 mile radius around Charlottesville, approximately 30 varieties are grown in the AVA, with Cabernet France, Chardonnay, and Viognier as the most notable.

The opening of Barboursville Vineyards in 1976 marked the beginning of the modern Virginia wine era with production of wine from vitis vinifera grapes. Previously, wine had been made from grapes predominantly native to Virginia. Run by the Zonin family, who has been making wine in Italy since 1821, the winery is still considered one of Virginia’s best. Head winemaker Luca Paschina, who also hails from Italy, is also the state’s most decorated.

Barboursville’s flagship “Octagon” wine—available online or at the winery--is named after the octagonal drawing room design of the former Governor’s Mansion whose ruins are located nearby. The 2014 vintage is Bordeaux blend with aromas and flavors of baked berries and coffee beans, a lively, full-bodied texture, dusty tannins, and moderate oak. Their Cabernet Franc, which is produced from original Loire rootstock, is available locally (Morganelli’s, $25). It has intense aromas and flavors of ripe red fruit, a medium-bodied texture, and a long finish with soft tannins.

A more recent addition to the AVA, Blenheim Vineyards produces a variety of wines from its three vineyard sites. Established in 2000 by musician Dave Matthews, it was at Blenheim where Thomas and Martha Jefferson are said to have rested after their coach stalled nearby during a snowstorm. Today the winery is certified Virginia sustainable, and winemaker Kirsty Harmon seeks to produce wines that reflect the climate, soil and beauty of the piedmont terroir.

Blenheim’s Viognier is a true expression of what has been deemed the official grape of Virginia. Only in France is more of the white, aromatic grape produced, and Blenheim’s is full-bodied, dry, and crisp with notes of apricot and honeysuckle. The winery’s Albarino is probably the most interesting of the wines available as it’s one of the few wineries in the state producing the grape. Originally native to the Iberian Peninsula, Blenheim’s version is unctuous, dry, and refreshingly crisp with aromas and flavors of citrus and stone fruit. Both are available online. Producing its first vintage in 2011, Pippin Hill Estates has garnered recent attention due to their highly-regarded wines by winemaker Michael Shapps, who also owns and operates a winery in Burgundy, France. The vineyards of the stunning property overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains are managed by Brooks Hoover, who acknowledges yet accedes the challenges of producing wines in such a variable climate. A passionate viticulturalist, he believes there is beauty in this inconsistency and feels the variability in Virginia wines should be embraced.

Pippin Hill’s collection of wines is a true expression on the AVA. Standout examples include Zero White—an intriguing blend of Petit Manseng, Traminette, Vidal Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc—and Easton Blue, the estate’s leading blend of Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. Zero White, which is available at Morgenellis ($25), is off dry, medium-bodied, and refreshing with floral aromas and grapefruit on the palate. Easton Blue, currently available online, is full-bodied, with smooth tannins and red fruit and bayleaf on the nose and palate.

Winemaking may well have been the only Jefferson’s endeavors that he couldn’t master, but clearly his dream of producing wine that could rival the best of the Old World has become a reality. Interested in learning more about Virginia wines? Visit or reach out to Erlinda at Let her help you discover Virginia wine country!



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