While Old World wine regions can claim centuries or even millennia of viticulture, winemaking traditions in the United States often reflect our nation’s relative youth. Virginia’s storied wine history dates back almost 400 years to the first permanent settlement at Jamestown.
Indigenous American grapes dominated the state’s early winemaking, until inroads were made using European vinifera grapes in the 1800s, as famous Virginians such as Thomas Jefferson fell in love with French wines. Today Virginians still make interesting wines with American grapes, but international varieties are used in the great majority of wine production.
Virginia’s commercial wine industry took off in the 1980s with a new emphasis on fine wines and wine tourism along a network of increasingly popular wine trails. Virginia has seven American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, for wine production: the Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace, Middleburg, Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley and Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
The aromatic and fruity Viognier white grape has become a signature grape of Virginia, where it is used to make wines in styles from dry and light to off-dry and full-bodied. Other international varieties such as Cabernet Franc also do well here, as does Norton, a red American grape that makes bright, fruit-forward wines.