In 1774, when he was 31 years old Founding Father Thomas Jefferson sank his shovel into Virginia’s porous soil to plant grapevines near his Monticello estate.
It was two years before the 13 Colonies declared their independence from the UK in 1776 and the United States of America were born but it was the birth of the American wine industry.
In the following 245 years, viticultural pursuits in the United States have come a very long way. But, it has to be said that although Jefferson was a pioneer in attempting to make a success of wine production it was not until the 1970s and 1980s that things really got underway.
Until the assistance of modern technology and new growing techniques, Chesapeake’s coastal climate proved unhelpful for growing grapes. Virginia’s topography and geology vary, but with the aid of modern developments, the area now produces a wide variety of grapes.
There are now more than 100 vineyards and Monticello remains one of the state’s best known growing regions in the heart of the Piedmont region featuring many of America’s oldest vineyards.
The Monticello Wine Trail provides a wealth of opportunities to test the quality of the wines and enjoy many tasting experiences at some of the top vineyards in Virginia.
The Barboursville Vineyards were founded in 1976 and include 180 acres of beautiful vineyard that recall the glory days of an 18th Century estate. Barboursville can boast of being the oldest of the vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail and it features some fascinating ruins that were designed by Jefferson himself.
There are some enjoyable wines to try here including the Chardonnay 2013, which is cold fermented and strongly acidic giving of a wealth of green apple notes. If dry whites are your preference, there is the Sauvignon Blanc Reserve 2013, which is heavily influenced by minerals and has an earthy quality. When it comes to reds, there is the complex Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 with a plethora of fruit flavors that include black currant.
At Jefferson Vineyards the original 18th-century plantings were carried out by The Virginia Wine Company, which Jefferson created with an Italian winemaker called Filipo Mazzei.
Evidence of the two men’s efforts remains today. The Monticello house still towers above the vineyards and there is some standout wine to taste. These include the bold Chardonnay Reserve 2013 with its rounded vanilla and citrus flavours and the Meritage 2007, which is styled after the wines of the Bordeaux region of France featuring Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot as well as Merlot grapes.
The King Family Vineyards are family-owned and operated and occupy a stunning location on this historic trail. The wines that stand out here are the lightly acidic white Viognier 2013, which has a floral bouquet and long, clean finish and the Meritage 2012, which is another Bordeaux-style blend including Malbec that lends spice to the taste on the palate.
Every Spring there is The Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival, which is a partnership between the Monticello Wine Trail, the Sprint Pavilion along with the Jefferson Theater, and sponsored by Mercedes-Benz of Charlottesville, where it is held.