Tucked away in the northwestern portion in the Commonwealth of Virginia is the Monticello AVA, or American Viticultural Area. This AVA is nestled southeast of Charlottesville, and northwest of the capital, Richmond. This particular AVA stands out among most others because of the history in the area along with the great wine. Any true American oenophile should have this region on their list of places they must visit.
Why Is Monticello Important For American Wine History?
There are many competing stories for who was responsible for bringing wine to America. Some point to the influences of Spanish Missions in California starting with Fr Junipero Serra in 1769 at Mission San Diego, others point to New Mexico as the birthplace of American wine since Spanish settlers first planned Vitis vinifiera in Senecu as early as 1629, and still others point to efforts by European settlers in the 1800's in Ohio and New York who worked to make wine from native grapes.
However, no person played as important of a role in both cultivating, innovating, and evangelizing American wine as Thomas Jefferson. Monticello is the estate built by Thomas Jefferson, in 1772 and his winemaking story begins in 1773 when he was introduced to Italian viticulturalist Filippo 'Philip' Mazzei. He was so impressed by Filippo that he offered him 193 acres of land south of Monticello to begin planting a vineyard. Sadly there was much to learn about planting vines in the new world and in 1774 a severe frost killed many of the vines and the American revolution began a few years later.
Despite these challenges though, Mazzei managed to produce a small amount of wine on the property and even proclaimed to George Washington that he found Virginia soil and climate to be superior to that it Italy.
There is much more to the story of Jefferson and Mazzei's partnership during the early years that are shared on Jefferson Vineyards, and I encourage you to read it.
Even though his own history of winemaking seems rather disappointing, it is important to consider Jefferson's efforts for not just viticulture but also for exploring the health benefits of wine, and exploring the role of soil and climate. During his travels, it was more than simply an opportunity to enjoy drinking some of the world's best wines. Rather he was documenting environmental patterns, practices that dated back generations and other observations from his travels through the winemaking areas of France and Italy. These experiences would ultimately inspire future generations of winemakers. This passion is something that continues today - not just in Virginia but across the United States. His efforts in large part contributed to the industry we know today, where wine is more than just a sacramental drink for religious purposes and more than just something you drink to prevent getting sick since the alcohol kills bacteria. Indeed, his efforts helped make wine something that transcends art and philosophy.
For that, I am very appreciative!
Wine Is Just The Beginning Of Your Adventure Here
As if the 30+ wineries weren’t enough to handle when you visit Charlottesville or the Monticello area. In addition, consider checking out one of the many other attractions the area has to offer. You could get a bird's-eye view of the vineyards on one of the many balloon tours. Catch a show at the historic Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Or summon the dead with the Ghosts and Mysteries walking tour. If you prefer exploring nature, consider one of the many trails in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. Now, without further ado, let’s explore some wineries you should have on your list for your next visit.
Monticello Wineries For A Virginia Guys Weekend Getaway
You could visit the wineries spread along the Monticello Wine Trail and simple sip and enjoy your way through the day without considering the history. However, to me, wine is as much about the experience as it is the liquid itself. Here in Virginia you have a mixture of classic wineries as well as innovators that are trying new things and that's incredibly special here since it connects us back to the inception of Thomas Jefferson's dream.
It would be difficult to visit the area without visiting the place where it all began at the Jefferson Vineyards. The winery was purchased in 1981 by the Woodward family, and they have brought it up to Jefferson’s exacting standards over the last 40 years. Come check out the two seasonal flight options for tasting, or one of the vintage library wines.
Afton Mountain Vineyards
The husband and wife team that runs Afton Mountain Vineyards selected the site located on the sunrise slope of Afton Mountain where the vineyard is sheltered from excessive rain by the mountain's rain shadow and dried by breezes passing through the nearby mountain gaps. In addition to award-winning wines, they also have a guest house and 1 bedroom vineyard cottages with fantastic views of the surrounding hills. If you don't believe me, scroll back up to the top and take a look at their vineyards again!
Hark may be new to the Monticello AVA, but it has made an impact. All the wines crafted at Hark Vineyards come from the estate vineyard located just north of Charlottesville. While there, try either the House or Reserve tasting flights, enjoy a guest musician, or simply enjoy the beauty of the estate. Time your visit right and enjoy some of the area’s best food trucks along with your wine.
The Trump family means more than just hotels and resorts, and Trump Winery demonstrates just that. The 1,300-acre estate is lush with varieties of grapes used for creating the best wines. The wines have proved to be worth trying, winning awards since 2010. While sampling these incredible wines that live up to the name they beholden, check out the accompanying menu. Selections include everything from cheese and charcuterie to gourmet burgers and mac and cheese. Regardless of your particular pallet, Trump Winery will certainly have the food and wine to satisfy.
Stinson Vineyards breaks the typical vineyard mold when it comes to experiences. The vineyard prides itself in small-lot wines crafted in a three-car garage. The winery has a tasting room that also doubles as a farm store offering some of the best in natural meats, poultry, and local produce. Come for the wine, and get all you need to have an incredible feast with your friends.
Early Mountain Vineyards
Early Mountain Vineyards first opened in 2012 on a property that was first planted in 2005. In 2016 this Monticello AVA vineyard won the best tasting room award from USA Today. One of the unique offerings to the Early Mountain tasting room is the Best of Virginia wine flights. These are carefully crafted flights offering some of the best from not only Early Mountain but other quality Virginia wineries. If you want a getaway with the guys, consider rending the Cottage and the weekend recharging.
If you enjoy strolling through history, then the Barboursville Vineyards are on your itinerary. You can enjoy a tasting flight in the Discovery Tasting room or the Library 1821, or take your wine with you on a self-guided tour of the ruins of the former Barbour Mansion. The Library 1821 boasts vintage wine selections as well as historical documents from the property’s history, including the letter appointing James Barbour the Secretary of War.
King Family Vineyard
Travel a little further west from Charlottesville, and you’ll find Crozet and the King Family Vineyards. While here you can explore tastings including a Class, Small Batch, or Reserved Tasting. If you plan your trip on a Sunday between May and October and enjoy watching polo while enjoying your wine. It certainly is a different kind of experience!