Many people may not realize that Virginia is one of the top wine producing states in the country, home to more than 160 wineries located in all areas of the state. Virginia wine has matured a lot in the past decade, expanding throughout the state as more and more people learn about the quality of the product.
My first experience with Virginia wine came as a college student, not just as a consumer but actually working in the industry. I had quite possibly the best part-time job ever, working at the Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, Virginia. In addition to hefty discounts that dramatically increased my on-campus popularity, I received a great education on wine making and the commitment it takes to producing a quality vintage.
As with most wineries, the average Virginia winery is small, family owned and passionate about their wine. I’m not going to lie and say all Virginia wine is good, because it’s not. But at almost every winery you can find one or two wines that are truly excellent. Finding these wines is the key, and there are several ways of sourcing the information, but the best is to visit the individual wineries themselves.
On a recent trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, the heart of Virginia’s wine growing region, we made a pilgrimage to the world famous King Family Vineyards. Located in Crozet, a quick drive from Charlottesville, King Family is a relative newcomer to the industry, but they have quickly earned their place amongst some of the best wineries in the country.
Starting just in 2000, the winery has quickly grown from producing 500 cases a year to more than 5,000 and with it they have earned a variety of honors, including the coveted Virginia Governor’s Cup award for red wine. The winery experience though is what is most impressive.
Our car’s navigation system did not like the fact we were bumbling around the back roads of Virginia, and neither did we until out of nowhere appeared a massive farm that we knew had to be King Family. Set at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the property is gorgeous, there’s just no other word to describe it. The rows and rows of vines could be seen slinking about hills and meadows all throughout the property. We entered the reception area and were met with the smell and sound of a roaring fire, the perfect accompaniment to a very chilly January afternoon.
There weren’t many people there, it was still a little early, so we approached the tasting bar and began a sampling of several King Family wines. Having worked as a wine guide, I appreciated the knowledge and passion our guide had for the product. He explained the various blends and varietals and encouraged us to ask him anything about the winery. At the end we bought a few bottles, sat back in the big comfy leather chairs set in front of the fire and just admired the breathtaking scenery right outside the door.
We eventually pried ourselves from the overstuffed chairs and made our way back to Charlottesville. It was a marvelous afternoon and made me realize how lucky Virginia is to have this treasure trove of unique, family run wineries scattered throughout the state.
So the next time you’re wondering about where to visit some of the best wineries in the country, skip Sonoma and instead head for Virginia.