William's Blog: Believing Your Own Propaganda
August 30th, 2012
That's what my friends, on various continents, have always said I did when it came to Virginia wines. Come to think of it, that's what a lot of them said about my work too. Anyway, as far as the wine goes, as more and more of them consistently approach – and break – the 90-point mark, I know I am vindicated!
In a lot of ways, I think Virginia is the most exciting wine scene in the U.S. today. It keeps pushing boundaries, and the last 10 years particularly have seen a huge jump in quality. It is still largely a small and artisanal business: many of the best wines have tiny production levels, say 100-200 cases, or less. So, the price/quality/scarcity ratio for some of the really good wines is, all things considered, pretty alluring. It is a slightly different story for some of the lower-end wines, admittedly, and quality is still uneven. But overall, the trend is really positive.
Some of the state's veteran winemakers, like Jim Law at Linden, Luca Paschina at Barboursville have been at it for decades now, patiently experimenting and gaining the experience with varieties, clones, terroir, and weather that is paying off now with such impressive wines. That persistence and passion has been vital to progress; Virginia makes some of the most climate-driven wines I know of. Weather variation from year to year can be extreme, as can be the geological differences between and within the state's five viticultural areas (AVAs).
Other newer entrants among the state's 200 or so wineries (fifth in the country) have drawn on the talents of some of the world's great enologists, like Michel Rolland and Stephane Derenoncourt to make beautiful wines. Donald Trump and Steve Case have recently joined the ranks of Virginia vintners. There is a really interesting cross-fertilization going on. It seems like whenever I visit a winery, there are interns or other staff around from France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa. Producers are moving beyond French vinifera mainstays – and making great wines with Vermentino, Nebbiolo, Touriga, Petit Manseng, Albarino, and other grapes.
For a while I have been putting my money where my mouth is, and have a cellar with mostly Bordeaux variety reds from local producers such as Breaux, Linden, Barboursville, King Family, and Veritas. Some are drinking great at up to 15 years of age, an important test. It has been fun to see Virginia wines turning up on the table at the White House and State Department when foreign leaders are feted, wonderful standard bearers of the state's modern viticulture.
Keep your eye on Virginia. And try it, if you can find it!
(Photo: View at Linden Vineyards in the Shenandoahs)
William McIlhenny, a former American diplomat and member of the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff, held a number of assignments in Europe and Latin America. He works in Washington, D.C.Comments