Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine about how I try to post at least once a month, just for the sake of routine. I suppose this post is kind of an extreme example of such an impulse, coming at the end after more than a month of radio silence.

So...what to talk about? I've been doing a circuit of the local wineries in the Albemarle/Nelson County area. As of now, I (and sometimes my dad) have been to Jefferson, Sugarleaf, Keswick, King Family, Rebec, Oakencroft, First Colony, and Spring Creek. Therefore I can say with some measure of assurance that the quality of Central Virginia wine is excellent. It's not without good reason that the Commonwealth was named one of the top five wine hottest wine regions in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine. The interesting thing to note in that article is that the other four are located in Chile, New Zealand, Spain, and Italy. Conspicuously absent is, of course, France, as well as better-known American regions of Finger Lakes (New York) and Napa Valley--among others--in California.

Why is this? Well, if I had to hazard a guess, I would go beyond the immediate quality of the wine. To be certain, Virginia wine is coming into its own. We have a unique climate: long, hot summers (especially with the drought lasting as long as it has), good soil, proximity to both coastal (warmer) climates and mountainous terrain, and many other factors that I am either forgetting or too inexperienced to know anything about. Setting all that aside, Virginia offers the reverse of what a lot of other wine regions do. It's not just the hospitality, although that is one side of it--and people who come into the winery remark on it fairly often. It's the atmosphere, the fact that people are made to feel as welcome at a lot of Virginia wineries as they would at someone's home.

In a way, Virginia is taking on new territory as far as the wine business goes. Our climate isn't really comparable to any other famous winegrowing region (that I know of--if I'm wrong, please say so in the comments). We're not trying to compete with the French or the Californians in the usual ways. Instead, we're defining things on our terms, playing to our strengths instead of trying to bolster our weaknesses. If you play by other people's rules, you're always going to come up short. But if you redefine the field and set your own expectations, you can have a much stronger showing. And that's what we're doing, in some ways, here in my lovely state.

That isn't to say there's NO striving for competition. Barboursville is putting out a "Brut" that is fairly obviously meant to be a Champagne (except we can't call it that). We use terms like "in the style of Chablis" and "reminscent of a fine Bordeaux." But, then again, it's hard to get away from tradition. And I don't think I'd ever want to, not completely. Tradition exists for a reason: stability, reassurance, pride in the way things used to be and still are.

(I'm still flying.)