Did you know that Virginia has nearly 200 wineries?
The wine industry has existed almost as long as Virginia. When the English first settled in Jamestown, Virginia, the colonial government required that all colonial households plant and maintain at least 10 grapevines. Centuries later at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson pursued the cultivation of grapes for fine wines that he enjoyed in Europe. He was not as successful as winemakers in Virginia today. But, he understood the potential of soil characteristics, climate, and growing conditions to produce grapes that could become premium wines.
We have not yet visited Jefferson Vineyards, but we did make a recent trip to Barboursville Vineyards with our friends Dave and Laura.
On the estate of the former Governor James Barbour, the vineyard is now owned by an Italian couple, the Zonins. The former Governor’s mansion was designed by Thomas Jefferson, but was ruined by fire in 1884.
The central octagonal parlor – a signature of Jefferson’s design style – has influenced the name of their most premium wine, Octagon.
The winery offers a brief tour and a tasting of all 21 of their wines for only $5. Their Brut was just terrific…even the non-wine drinker of the bunch enjoyed it. We also enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon and it was clear why Viognier has become very successful in Virginia.
We were pretty impressed with our tour guide. He was able to lay out the basics of winemaking without being boring, answer all questions, deflect difficult visitors (And I quote, “Was that paid for with tax dollars?” The answer is no.), and maintained a strong sense of humor throughout our tour.
The basic process of winemaking is thus: yeasts that grow on all grape skins automatically ferment grape juice into wine when the grapes are crushed. Nowadays, however, most wineries add commercial, cultured yeasts instead of relying on wild yeast to better control the fermentation and its impact on flavor. The mixture of grape skins immersed in their juice is called the must, and the period they are in is called contact maceration. Skin contact or maceration is particularly important for the production of red wines, because the juice inside all grapes is clear. The deep color of red wines must be extracted from the black grape skins. Unfortunately, the crush pad where the grapes are crushed was not part of our tour.
During the alcohol fermentation, natural fruit sugar in the grapes is converted into equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide by the yeasts. Heat is released in the process, which is why most delicate white wines are fermented in stainless steel temperature-controlled fermenters—so they don’t “cook.” Some of the stainless steel tanks have dippled wrappers that can provide additional temperature control.
Some wines are bottled directly from the tanks, while others are moved to wooden casks for additional flavoring.
The level of alcohol produced during fermentation depends on the ripeness or sugar content of the grapes and when the yeast or winemaker stops fermentation. Table wines receive their alcohol from fermentation only. Wines typically have between 7% and 15% alcohol by volume. This is the upper limit for fermentation because the yeasts die when they produce this level of alcohol. Most dry wines average 11% to 12% alcohol, but many full-bodied dry red or white wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah and Chardonnay, typically have 13% to 14% alcohol content.
We were very pleased with our visit. I recommend you check it out, too.
17655 Winery Road