Despite sales boom, Va. wineries are small grapes at wine festival

Megan Cloherty,

WASHINGTON – Virginia wines are gaining acclaim and boasting record sales for the state, but a regional wine festival returning to Washington only features two wineries from the commonwealth.

Gaining respect in the wine industry is a slow process, Virginia vintners say. But those that are invited are glad to be a part of the fourth annual Capital Wine Festival.

“Up until a few years ago, people didn’t really know about Virginia wine,” says Amanda Galanis, manager at Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg, Va.

Her pouring arm didn’t get much of a break at the opening of the wine festival at The Fairfax at Embassy Row in D.C. Friday, Jan. 25. The demand was seemingly constant for Boxwood’s signature red blends.

“It’s very exciting for us to come here, show Middleburg wine, show that Virginia makes a wonderful wine,” Galanis says. “They come here, they want to learn about our area. They want to learn about … the history of wine making in Virginia.”

Wineries in Virginia produced 485,000 cases of wine in 2012, an all-time high, according to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.

But wine making is far from a new trade in the commonwealth and traces back to pre-revolutionary times. In 1772, Thomas Jefferson grew his own grapes and stocked a wine cellar at his home, Monticello, according to Jefferson later helped establish the first commercial vineyard in the United States.

Jordan Harris, general manager at Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Va., says that while Virginia vineyards have been around for more than a century, winemakers have had to work hard to make their mark.

At the wine tasting, Harris noticed more attendees had heard of the local wineries, but he says, he would still like to see more local wineries participating.

“I would like to see more local wineries as part of the [festival] wine dinners as well. I think we’re an up and coming region and actually I think we’ve established ourselves more over the last few years,” Harris says.

Boxwood Estate Winery, owned by John Kent Cooke, the son of former Redskins’ owner Jack Kent Cooke, recently opened its fourth tasting room. Galanis says she’s glad to see the public becoming more interested in learning about local wine.

“People are paying more attention to Virginia wine and now people are asking for Virginia wine, which is huge,” she says.

Organizers of the Capital Wine Festival say they reached out to three other Virginia wineries to be a part of the festival. They did not respond to the request.

As wine demand increases at Virginia’s 230 wineries, so do the sales. Export sales of Virginia wines grew by more than 300 percent in the last fiscal year, increasing from about 700 cases in 2011 to more than 3,300 in 2012, according to the Virginia’s agriculture department.

“From being named one of the top 10 wine destinations in the world by ‘Wine Enthusiast’ to having our wines served in India, Israel, Sweden, Montreal, London, San Francisco and New York City, the last fiscal year saw a lot of new recognition and opportunities for the Virginia wine industry,” Todd Haymore, Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, said in a statement this month.

Washington restaurant 2100 Prime, which catered the wine festival, is one of the dozens of restaurants in the D.C. area to carry Virginia products on its wine list.

A self-proclaimed wine enthusiast, D.C. resident Elaine Maslamani tasted the Viognier from Tarara on opening night of the event. Maslamani says she has been to at least 10 vineyards in Loudoun County.

“My favorite is Notaviva Vineyards. It’s one that pairs wine with music,” she says.

“I’m a huge fan, but the beauty of it is there are so many out there that you can be fans of so many of them, and you don’t have to be beholden to just one.”

The Capital Wine Festival has several upcoming dinners featuring wine makers from around the country. See the list here.

Editor’s Note: This story was modified 8 hours after publication to include the fact that festival organizers invited three other Virginia wineries to be a part of the event.

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