s a parent, I lean on several key components to help keep me sane. I need friends. I need to write. I need free time and a good glass of wine (or two). Recently, I was lucky enough to combine all four when my husband and I enjoyed a little jaunt to Virginia wine country.
When he proposed the trip, I imagined rednecks, moonshine and dandelion wine. But along with those images came another thought, “Sweet Jesus, I can leave my kids with my sister for two days and get buzzed off bad wine.”
“I’d love to go!” I replied. Off we went for our spring break in the United States — and I wanted a little spring break of my own (hold the wet t-shirt contest please).
I don’t even think we stopped the car when we dropped off the kids. It was more like slowing down in front of the house and pushing them out. Not that they objected. They were happy to spend time with their aunt and cousins and we were happy to be free.
Free time. Check.
After picking up another couple, we jumped on the Washington Beltway and headed towards I95.
Our first stop — RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Va. — turned my dandelion wine expectations upside down. It’s a world-class operation whose wines rival many in Europe. Owner Rutger de Vink has poured his heart and soul in to creating something special in Delaplane, a town near Front Royal. The structure is modern, industrial and magnificent. De Vink strategically built over a granite slab to reduce water absorption, creating a grape that Bordeaux-lovers would envy. The natural landscape and the architecture combined to make our private tasting something special.
With late morning booze in our bellies, we headed southwest to Thomas Jefferson country — Charlottesville. Only over the last year have I learned that wine isn’t just a drink but a pleasure with deep historical roots. If Virginia’s lovely wine caught me by surprise, so did the history that linked the wine and place to Jefferson and Italy.
Touring the breathtaking Trump Winery, we met a man considered an institution in regional winemaking: Gabriele Rausse. Rausse told us about Jefferson’s 19th-century European travels, his research into viticulture, and his eagerness to start a Virginia wine industry. He also explained how the Italians once came calling on the region seeking to cultivate the land for grapes. Rausse’s father, born in Valdagno, near Vicenza, attended the local Rotary Club along with famous Italian winemaker Gianni Zonin.
In the late 1960s, when Zonin sought to branch out into Virginia, he dispatched the younger Rausse to the U.S. “with a suitcase full of cash.” Once there, Gabriele Rausse met considerable resistance to the idea to the Italian connection. So he settled in as a gardener at Monticello, allowing him to earn his keep, learn about Virginia’s soil, and meet local movers and shakers. Still, Rausse had to overcome all kinds of obstacles: climate woes, tobacco growers who had no interest in grapes, doubting University of Virginia scientists, and even the state deparment of agriculture. But in 1976 he finally succeeded in bringing Zonin’s vision to fruition with Barboursville Vineyards.
Rausse’s stories were magical. Had I not already fallen for an Italian, I would have run away with this charismatic Venetian legend.
It was Rausse, who now produces independently, who insisted we visit Barboursville. Set on over 300 acres of rolling hills, Barboursville is the former home of 19th-century Virginia Gov. James Barbour, a friend of Jefferson’s. Now managed by Rausse’s friend, the Italian-born Luca Paschina, the property boasts a quaint inn, an amazing restaurant and a renowned list of wines including the Bordeaux-style blend they call Octagon.
Paschina was every bit as welcoming as Rausse and his enthusiasm for Virginia viticulture was contagious. Of the more than 250 Virginia vineyards (there were only six in 1979), each brings something unique to the market, he told us, boasting about what Virginia had to offer the wine world. He’s not alone. In 2012, Wine Enthusiast, a key industry publication, placed Virginia in the world’s top-10 wine destinations, a first.
After our travels, our tastings, our visits to wineries and our contact with transplanted Italians, I see Virginia in a new way: as an exciting new force in wine tourism. I can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time around I’ll actually see a redneck — though he’s more likely just to be a guy who spilled Bordeaux on his collar.
There’s a final item on the checklist. Writing. Now, that’s (happily) done.
Time to head back into the trenches of parenting.