“Someday, people will get on a plane in Cincinnati and say they’re going to wine country, and they’ll land at Dulles,” Paul Breaux said, his optimism making his prediction seem somehow plausible.
We were standing in the tank room at Breaux Vineyards north of Purcellville, Va., which Breaux founded and is now run by his daughter, Jennifer Breaux Blosser, and her husband, Chris Blosser. At 114 acres planted to vines, Breaux is one of Virginia’s largest and most successful wineries. The place seems Napan in scale, with sprawling vineyards and a beautiful view, with the Blue Ridge mountains standing in for the Mayacamas.
And why not consider Washington Dulles International Airport at the heart of “wine country”? Loudoun County, at Virginia’s northern tip, has more than two dozen wineries, and has branded itself as “DC’s Wine Country.” Neighboring Fauquier County is keeping pace. Charlottesville and the Monticello Wine Trail are only an hour’s drive from Dulles’ short-term parking lot, and the wineries of central Maryland are just across the Potomac — a shorter drive than from SFO to Napa.
Today, with wine made in all 50 states, there’s a “wine country” near you. It may not have the glitz and glam of Napa Valley, and you may have to taste a lot of not very good wine before you find a wine to celebrate, but those gems are worth the search. As we mark the fourth annual Regional Wine Week this week at DrinkLocalWine.com, we hope you will visit that site early and often to see what regional wine scribes are reporting. And it’s not just this week — we’ll update throughout the year. Maybe you’ll discover a new winery near you that’s worth a visit, or one to look for on your next business trip to Texas, Missouri, Michigan or New York.
It’s easy to think of local wineries as novelties instead of neighbors. But as we increasingly support local farmers and ranchers, why not vintners as well? Viticulture is agriculture. Locavore should be locapour. This nexus also cuts against the common complaint that local wine costs too much. If we are willing to pay a little more for local carrots or grass-fed beef, we shouldn’t complain when a winemaker wants to recoup his or her investment of money, time and sweat.
Localities certainly see a return on investment from local wine. New York’s wine and grape industry (including grape juice) contributed about $3.76 billion to the state’s economy in 2008. A 2008 study found that Maryland’s wineries generated $40.4 million in economic activity and an additional $3.3 million in tax revenues. (That was when Maryland had 32 wineries — it has 52 now, with 15 more in the licensing process.) Virginia’s economy received a $350 million boost from her 120 wineries in 2006; the Old Dominion is up to 200 wineries now.
Virginia also estimates that for every dollar spent driving someone to a Virginia winery, the state collects $5 in tax revenue with 90 days, from gas, food, lodging and of course wine purchases.
I’m writing this from my room at The Ashby Inn in Paris, Va., at the end of a two-day trip to wine country. My wife and I visited a couple of our favorite wineries, Breaux and Chrysalis, and discovered a new, tiny mom-and-pop operation called Granite Heights that we will keep our eyes on. We saw spectacular views from Bluemont Vineyard (yes, the rain has finally stopped) and we enjoyed the rugged tannat at Hillsborough Vineyards, a 10-year-old winery we’d somehow missed in our earlier visits.
Dinner here at the Inn featured local rockfish and the most delicious beef I’ve ever tasted, from Martin’s Angus Beef raised at The Plains, just east of here. And the wines? Thibaut-Janisson blanc de Chardonnay to start, then Linden Hardscrabble 2006 Chardonnay and Glen Manor‘s 2007 Hodder Hill red, both in half bottles. Innkeeper Neal Wavra’s list is burgeoning with many of Virginia’s finest wines, and he says they are very popular with out-of-state travelers eager to try the local vino.
Ah yes, wine country!