400 Years of Wine in Virginia
As the first settlers arrived in Jamestown Colony in the early 1600s, they were commanded by Acte 12, the 12th law created by the early House of Burgesses, to plant and tend grapevines sent over from France in 1619 and harvest grapes. After struggling to achieve a fruitful harvest, an additional 10,000 grapevines were sent in 1621. Trial and error continued until the late 1670s when the industry began to take root.
In the 1820s, wines made from North American grapes finally began to show worldwide success, and it shocked everyone when a Virginia Norton wine was named “best red wine of all nations” at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair. The Norton also won a gold medal at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair (which premiered the Eiffel Tower). The discovery in the late 1800s that native and European vines could be grafted gave Virginia’s nascent wine industry a lift.
Unfortunately, Prohibition in the 1920s brought the new wine industry to a standstill, and it was slow to bounce back. Seventeen years after the repeal of Prohibition, Virginia had all of 15 acres of commercial wine grapes for production.
In the late 1950s, experimental plantings of vinifera showed promise. With the establishment of six new wineries in the 1970s, Virginia’s wine industry recovery was under way. A renewed effort to grow a European Chardonnay succeeded at the Waverly Estate in Middleburg in 1973. Then in 1976, Italian pioneer vintner Gianni Zonin hired Gabriele Rausse to grow and harvest vinifera grapes near Charlottesville. He established Barboursville Vineyards and then helped other vineyard owners do the same.
By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, there were 107. Today, Virginia hosts more than 300 wineries, with the industry still growing. Virginia is now 6th in wine production, following California, Washington State, New York, Oregon and Texas.
Today, the persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is coming true.
Editor’s note: Would you like to experience Virginia’s unique history and culture? Mark your calendar for the Customs, Cultures & Cuisines Festival.