Virginia, The Napa of the East Coast

Virginia, The Napa of the East Coast

At first glance, Virginia seems to have little in common with California’s renowned wine destination. Napa has a Mediterranean climate, while Virginia’s more temperate climate is similar to that of the major wine regions of France. Although Napa Valley only produces 4% of California’s total grape harvest, it’s small size is belied by its stature as a top wine tourism region in the US. One of the top 10 wine-producing states in the country, Virginia is well on its way to taking that title for the East Coast. Offering luxury country inns, spectacular mountain views and exceptional vineyards, Virginia Wine Country is a top travel destination.

In fact, Virginia has become known for its Bordeaux-style red wines with several taking home gold medals at the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup, including Cana Vineyards’ 2019 Unité Reserve signature estate red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot which made history as the first cup winner produced by a female winemaker. Meritage dominated the Governor’s Cup Case with seven out of the 12 best Virginia wines chosen for this medal-winning showcase.

Thomas Jefferson was the first to introduce European vinifera to Virginia, planting vineyards at his hilltop home near Charlottesville. And although Jefferson knew the climate and terroir of the Commonwealth was similar to the French region that produced his favorite vintages, he failed miserably at Monticello due to New World insects like Phylloxera that destroyed the roots and leaves of his vines. Fast forward 200 years and ironically, it was an Italian who solved that problem.

When Italy’s Zonin family—one of the country’s largest wine producers—bought Barboursville in 1976, they were sure that European grapes would do well in Virginia’s climate and brought in Italian winemaker, Gabriele Rausse, to establish what is now one of the top wineries in the state. Rausse also consulted with more than 40 vineyards and wineries in Virginia, earning him the honorary title of the “father of Virginia wine”. Since 1990, another Italian winemaker, Luca Paschina, has helped Barboursville Vineyards win the coveted Virginia Governor’s Cup five times, with several of its wines garnering top honors, including four gold medals in the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup competition.

But it’s not only award-winning wines that Virginia has in common with California’s Napa region. The Commonwealth also boasts many destination wineries like Barboursville Vineyards that have been instrumental in wine tourism. Once owned by Virginia Governor James Barbour—whose home was designed by his friend Thomas Jefferson—Barboursville is not only a historic site, but also offers an elegant inn and upscale restaurant in addition to its winery and vineyards. The entire estate is open to visitors, who may want to explore the historic ruins, enjoy a wine flight in the Discovery Tasting Room or an Italian-inspired meal with wine pairing suggestions in the elegant Palladio Restaurant. The 1804 Inn and Cottages offer luxurious accommodations for overnight guests.

The co-publisher of Wine & Country Life, The Gold Book and CharlottesvilleFamily, Robin Johnson-Bethke says “Every time I visit Barboursville and chat with their winemaker Luca, it is a new and beautiful experience. He always has something delicious to pour and a new project to share. It is amazing the level of quality that they’ve achieved at the Barboursville Estate in what for the wine world, is a very short time.”

Another popular destination winery—owned by Jean and Steve Case of AOL fame—is Early Mountain Vineyard, north of Charlottesville on the Monticello Wine Trail. And while Steve Case may be more well known, his wife , Jean Case, actually runs the winery, as well as serving as the Chairman of the National Geographic Society. Winners of two gold medals in the 2022 Virginia Governor’s Cup for their 2019 Eluvium and 2019 Petit Verdot, Early Mountain offers a unique tasting room that features many of Virginia’s top wines—not just their own—and also offers the Virginia Table, a restaurant serving the best of locally-sourced produce and regional food. Visitors can also enjoy a casual picnic and wine flights in the Meadow with stunning views of the Virginia countryside.

With more than 300 vineyards and growing in the Commonwealth, Virginia is poised to be the Napa of the East Coast. With every vineyard, expect to see exceptional farm-to-table dining, beautiful country inns, vineyard tours and craft beverage makers follow in their footsteps making tourism a number one industry for the state. Companies like Ivy Life and Style Media, publishers of Wine & Country Life, are telling the story beautifully with luxury print and digi8tal media, making it easy to plan a visit to the Napa of the East.

By Ginger Warder