This is Regional Wine Week, the sixth annual celebration of the growth of the U.S. wine industry beyond the West Coast. It is sponsored by Drink Local Wine, an effort formed in 2008 to draw attention to the impressive wines being made right around here — wherever “here” happens to be.
Not long ago, a trip to wine country meant hopping a plane to San Francisco and driving to Napa or Sonoma. Today, it takes just an hour’s drive from the District north to Frederick County in Maryland or west to Loudoun County in Virginia. It can be a day trip to Front Royal or an overnight to Charlottesville.
Taking the Skyline Drive to see the autumn colors? A short detour to the Shenandoah Valley will turn up some tasty viognier and cabernet franc. Business conference in Texas? Look for juicy white Rhone blends or spicy reds from tempranillo and other Mediterranean grape varieties.
The star in many states is Riesling, a grape once derided as easy to churn into insipid sweet wines. Today, cooler regions such as New York’s Finger Lakes, the Old Mission Peninsula in Michigan and Idaho’s Snake River Valley are producing delicious dry whites from Riesling and other aromatic grapes including pinot blanc and Gewürztraminer. Missouri produces floral whites from the hybrid vignoles as well as spicy red Nortons, while Georgia makes impressive, sturdy reds from tannat.
When Jeff Siegel, the Dallas writer who pens the award-winning Wine Curmudgeon blog, and I started Regional Wine Week five years ago, we were frustrated that mainstream media and major wine magazines did not cover such wines. It was as though American wine, by definition, was made along the West Coast.
Since then, Virginia has hosted the national Wine Bloggers Conference and received international attention from leading British writers including Steven Spurrier, Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke. USA Today and Travel+Leisure discovered that wineries make a cheerful detour for those visiting the Old Dominion’s Civil War battlefields. This year, Wine Enthusiast magazine and the New York Times discovered that Virginia produces some pretty good wine.
The media have crowned Virginia’s elite tier of wineries. Camera-ready RdV Vineyards is a media darling because it set high standards and high prices and has succeeded on all levels. Barboursville continues to impress with its innovation (have you tried the vermentino?), and its signature wine, Octagon, gets better with each vintage. Linden and Glen Manor excel every year, while newcomer Early Mountain has the glamour of Steve and Jean Case. And, of course, there’s Trump.
Let’s not forget Boxwood, Chrysalis, King Family, Veritas, Ingleside and Virginia Wineworks, among other established wineries, or newcomers Delaplane Cellars, Granite Heights and Stinson Family. Those and many more wineries do Virginia proud. (There are more than 230 now, up from about 130 in 2007.)
The excitement extends into Maryland, which has expanded from 12 wineries in 2000 to more than 60 today. The state’s oldest, Boordy Vineyards, transformed itself from a folksy rural picnic venue into a viticultural powerhouse. Black Ankle doubled its vineyard plantings to meet demand. Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard’s wines are better than ever. This year saw debuts by Big Cork Vineyards and Old Westminster Winery. Two of the most surprising wines I have tasted thus far in 2013 were made with the French-American hybrid grape chambourcin: a robust version from Fiore winery, one of Maryland’s oldest, and an elegant rendition from Port of Leonardtown, a four-year-old cooperative of grape growers in Southern Maryland.
You can be part of Regional Wine Week by writing a tasting note or review of a local wine, or a description of a local winery visit, on your blog, Facebook or Tumblr site and sending a link to Drink Local Wine. And don’t forget to enter the DLW photo contest. Find details at www.drinklocalwine.
That’s a lot of change in five years. With wine country so close by, there’s much to celebrate.