Charlottesville Area Wineries
Virginia has been producing wines since the 17th century when Thomas Jefferson funded and provided land to an Italian winemaker to grow grapes and produce wine in Albemarle County. While this and a subsequent Jefferson-funded effort failed, the dream persisted and finally succeeded when Dr. Norton successfully propagated a non-native, phylloxera-resistant grape (named Norton) that became a foundation of a claret that began winning awards throughout Europe.
Prohibition virtually halted wine production. The Depression and WWII delayed its resurgence. But in 1976 it was revived when an Italian winemaker began producing wines for Barboursville Vineyards. Other vintners followed and the Monticello AVA was granted in 1984.
Monticello AVA Wineries
Monticello is one of seven Virginia AVAs (Eastern Shore, Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley, and Middleburg). However, it is generally regarded as the state’s primary wine region. Although it is not our favorite wine region, a number of Monticello wineries do produce very credible wines. Over 40 wineries produce wines from 30 different varietals. Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Viognier are the most important. We mostly enjoy their Cabernet Franc. We found many of the other varietals to be relatively lightly extracted and bone dry with (with a few notable exceptions) very subdued fruit. Here are some of the places we visited.
- Barboursville Vineyards is a large complex with an inn, restaurant, and scenic ruins (a brick building that Thomas Jefferson designed for Governor James Barbour in 1814 that burned in 1884). We ate lunch at its Palladio restaurant and tasted a number of its wines. We particularly enjoyed the bone-dry, 2020 Allegrante Rose (a blend of Petite Syrah and Nebbiolo), its dry, low-tannin 2019 Barbera Reserve, and especially the 2019 full-bodied Cabernet Franc Reserve. We also liked one of its dessert wines, the non-vintage Phileo Moscato with about 9 percent residual sugar.
- Reynard Florence Vineyard and Winery is a small, 1,000 case per year winery. We discovered the nicely balanced acidity of the Petite Manseng varietal (2019 vintage) and also enjoyed three of its reds, 2017 Cabernet Franc, 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2017 Recherche Bordeau Blend (25% apiece of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec).
- Burnley Vineyards has a nice light, fruity 2019 Rivanna white wine made primarily from Vidal Blanc. And if you enjoy peaches, its Peach Fuzz dessert wine made from a combination of grape and peach juice is nice.
- Chestnut Oak Vineyards has an interesting fruity, 2018 Red Table Wine (a blend of Petite Verdot and Cab Sauvignon). We also enjoyed its 2017 dark berry and earthy Merlot.
- Gabriele Rausse Winery is a very popular spot just south of Charlottesville. Its glass cube-shaped tasting room has tables set out in a scenic forest. We enjoyed several of its wines beginning with its well-balanced, 2019 Roussane which was aged in a combination of stainless, 1-year-old French oak and terracotta amphora. We also enjoyed several reds including its 2019 Nebbiolo, 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve, and especially the red cherry fruit 2020 Rosso (a blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon).
- Jefferson Vineyards is where we enjoyed the red fruit and light tannins of the 2019 Petite Verdot and the red fruit, plum, and mild tannins of the 2019 Meritage (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, and Malbec).
- Keswick Vineyards has interesting Cabernet Franc
- Blenheim Vineyards where we especially liked its Syrah.
- King Family Vineyards and Pollack Vineyards. Although we can’t say we were excited by their whites, we really enjoyed a number of each winery’s Merlots and Meritages (both of which used Petite Verdot as an alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon (which takes too long to ripen in this region to grow predictably). Both had their own bottling of Petite Verdot, which were smoother and softer than those which we have had in California.