We get that question a lot. It’s not because there aren’t world class wines being made in Virginia. I don’t taste a lot of local wines, but even I’ve had plenty that were outstanding by any criteria you’d care to apply … except one: value for money based 100% on what’s in the bottle.
The truth is that Virginia is an extremely difficult place to grow healthy, flavorful, balanced grapes. Early spring warm spells get the vines going, then late frosts damage the vulnerable buds. It often rains during flowering, knocking would-be-grapes off the vine before they can set. A week or two of extreme heat in summer can give the grapes sunburn, unless it stays cooler and cloudier than normal, and then the grapes struggle to ripen. Mid-summer humidity drives mildew, mold, and rot pressure through the roof, and then early fall rains can cause the grapes to swell, split and rot just as they are ready to harvest.
An Expensive Process
The only way to make fine wine in these conditions is to put in countless hours of vineyard work, drop loads of fruit in the vineyard, and then pick out and toss less than perfect berries on the sorting table. It’s an expensive process. Wineries that planted the right grapes on good soils (in and of itself a challenge in such a young winegrowing region), do all that work, and then toss out much of their fruit in the name of quality aren’t going to turn out a lot of 92 point Cabernets at a $19.99 retail price point!
So, the key to making Virginia wines a great deal in most cases is to make the wine about more than the juice in your glass. That means giving customers the fun of visiting the vineyards, meeting the farmers and winemakers, learning their stories, and coming to appreciate how talented and hardworking they are. Once you add those experiences and a connection to the people who made your wine to the equation, it’s not hard at all to find value for money in Virginia wine.
Exceptions To The Rule
For the most part, Virginia wines in our store live in the “Old Dominion Ghetto” – five to eight slots we reserve for interesting Virginia wines over by the dessert wines and half-bottles. The only Virginia wine we’ve ever slotted in with its global competitors is Jeff White’s Glen Manor Sauvignon Blanc, which ain’t cheap at $24.99 but is at least as fine as California examples that cost more.
Now, we’ve added Tarara Almost Unoaked Chardonnay from Loudoun County to that very short list of Virginia wines you shouldn’t buy because they’re from Virginia – but because they deliver extreme value at their price point compared to similar wines from anywhere in the world. We probably should have seen this coming. After all, Tarara is one of Virginia’s more decorated wineries, turning out three of the first seven Virginia wines to ever earn 90 point ratings in Wine Enthusiast and plenty of medals from the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition.
The 2012 “Almost Unoaked” Chardonnay isn’t one of Tarara’s flagship wines, but we’d gladly offer it up as a fine example of what can be done with Virginia Chardonnay when perfectly ripe fruit gets a gentle touch of wood. Actually, we’d be as enthusiastic about this wine if it was from California, Oregon, or France. This is ripe, refreshing, and refined Chardonnay to drink for the joy of it – with a little extra joy from the very attractive price!