Enjoying wine is all about experiences. It’s a way to transport yourself to a different place and time, to relive past moments. Wine is inextricably linked to culture; it’s representative of a region’s history, people, traditions and lifestyle. The American ideal of being a melting pot of different cultures is vibrant and alive today, apparent even in our vineyards. Several families and winemakers have brought a piece of their winemaking heritage from other countries to Virginia, planting vineyards and starting wineries that link cultures far and near. Celebrate Virginia Wine Month by traveling to one of these family-run wineries that have planted their culture in the heart of Virginia.
South Africa: Lovingston Winery
Lovingston’s winemaker, Riaan Rossouw, is originally from a small town in South Africa and moved to the states to pursue a job at Quady Winery in Madera, Calif. He’s since worked 17 vintages in Virginia, but has been drifting in and out of vineyards, co-ops and “backyard farm gigs” since 1979. During his tenure at Lovingston Winery, he’s received numerous accolades for bringing one of South Africa’s signature grapes, pinotage, to Virginia, where it may be performing even better than in its homeland.
“[Pinotage] surpassed my personal expectations, and seems to express greater complexities here,” Rossouw says.
But Virginia’s climate certainly presents its own difficulties. According to Rossouw, Southern Hemisphere wine regions are much more consistent, and it’s easier to produce more robust – albeit more monotone – wines. It’s harvest season in Virginia, and the 2016 harvest has certainly presented challenges.
“It was a difficult and a slow start to the season, with frost damage to some vineyards, a wet spring and still wet at the beginning of summer,” he says. “Then a 180-degree turn midway to very, very dry conditions, which might turn the tide to end [the season] on a high note for the farmers who never gave up.”
Rossouw believes in “little intervention” winemaking, a mindset that’s been shaped by his years of winemaking in many different wine regions.
“My goal is to interpret and understand when and what we can do to help the vineyard – to help the wine reach its highest level of pureness, no matter the conditions of the season, and to make wines that are pure, elegant and transparent.”
You can find select Lovingston wines in the District at Eat the Rich in Shaw and DCanter – A Wine Boutique in Capitol Hill. Lovingston Winery: 885 Freshwater Cove Ln. Lovingston, VA; www.lovingstonwinery.com
Portugal: Morais Vineyards & Winery
José Morais moved to the United States from Portugal more than 48 years ago, but he’s only been in the wine industry for a few years. He made his living in the construction business, but after a doctor told him 11 years ago that he needed to make some changes for his health, he decided to pursue his passion for wine. He originally started producing wines just for family and friends, but his winery has since grown tremendously in both size and quality. Morais travels to Portugal several times a year, and two years ago he brought back Vitor Guimarãis, a fourth-generation winemaker from Almeirim. Guimarãis began producing classic Portuguese-style wines in Virginia, employing winemaking practices that have been in his family for hundreds of years. Morais wines continue to be a family affair. Guimarãis’ father visits the winery at least once a year to check on the vineyards and offer his advice.
“Virginia is very difficult, so if [Vitor] has a problem, he calls the old folks,” Morais says.
Visitors to the winery and tasting room get a glimpse into the tradition of Portuguese winemaking and hospitality right in Virginia. The Portuguese ambassador attended the winery’s grand opening at the end of September, and guests enjoyed traditional entertainment from dancers and singers visiting from Portugal. Among more common Virginia varietals, Morais also grows touriga, albariño and verdelho, all common Portuguese grapes.
The Morais winery is memorable – it’s 14 feet below ground, with no heat, AC or windows. Not only is this more eco-friendly, but according to Morais, the wines “age a lot quicker and a lot better than they do in metal buildings.” Though the winery continues to grow and produce more wine, the wines are exclusively sold from the tasting room.
“We don’t have plans to be a huge winery,” Morais says. “We just plan to make good wines the old-fashioned way.” Morais Vineyards & Winery: 11409 Marsh Rd. Bealeton, VA; www.moraisvineyards.com
Greece: Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery
Though Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery is fairly new to the Virginia wine scene, the Zissios family has been making wine for more than three generations. Owner John Zissios made wine with his father and grandfather in the mountains of Greece, and now his sons play an active role at Blue Valley in the Shenandoah Valley. Though the Virginia climate certainly isn’t Mediterranean, Blue Valley has blended traditional Mediterranean winemaking practices with Virginia-friendly varietals. Blue Valley Vineyard and Winery : 9402 Justice Ln. Delaplane, VA; www.bluevalleyvineyardandwinery.com
Inspired by Italy: Three Fox Vineyards
Though owners John and Holli Todhunter aren’t originally from Italy, their love of Italian culture and wines are immediately apparent at Three Fox Vineyards. They originally planned to open a winery in Tuscany, but too many legal issues stood in the way. Not to be deterred, they opened Three Fox in 2002 and planted vines in 2006. Three Fox produces a number of Italian varietals, including sangiovese, Nebbiolo and pinot grigio. Three Fox Vineyards : 10100 Three Fox Ln. Delaplane, VA; www.threefoxvineyards.com