Virginia’s Garagistes

Virginia wine gets more exciting all the
time. We have celebrity sightings and Falcon Crest-style soap operas
(the recent saga of Oasis winery), our wedding palaces and a lot of
successful people living out their dreams of owning vineyards and
producing their own wine. And the quality level is rising as well,
despite the state’s reputation for inconsistency. (Hey, I’ve tasted a
lot of bad California wine lately.)
As the Old Dominion continues to thrive, with more than 130 wineries,
there are some smaller ones that deserve attention. They don’t seek out
the limelight, they don’t host polo matches and they won’t appear in
glamor shots in hunt country lifestyle magazines. Show up at their door,
and they’ll gladly pour you a taste of wine, but please don’t show up
in a bus or limousine and by all means don’t ask them to host your
I call these winemakers “Virginia’s garagistes.” We’ve seen some of this
type before, who have succeeded and grown fairly big – Jim Law at
Linden Vineyards and Shep Rouse of Rockbridge come to mind – artisans
whose focus is on the wine, not the lifestyle, and who sometimes act as
though selling their wine is a necessary evil, an unpleasant flip side
to the joys of mucking around in the vineyard and tinkering with ornery
equipment in the winery.
In the March issue of Washingtonian magazine, I profile two of these garagistes. Bernd Jung of Chester Gap Cellars
near Front Royal is very much in the Jim Law mold – a winegrower above
all, who does his work in the vineyards, sometimes even with a rifle!
And Michael Shaps, who made a reputation as Virginia’s premier
consulting winemaker when he helped several Charlottesville wineries in
their early days, is setting out on his own with Virginia Wineworks,
the Old Dominion’s first custom-crush winery.
The March issue is on news stands now, and should be posted late this
month on But my detailed tasting notes of wines from
Chester Gap and Virginia Wineworks are available online now.

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