The 2022 Virginia Wine Year In Review

As 2022 closes Virginia has (by my count) 267 winery tasting rooms, 31 cideries, and 11 meaderies. It also has over 26 brands that sell their wine/cider/mead to the public but lack a physical tasting room.

11 new wineries (plus 2 tasting rooms from existing wineries) opened in 2022, a number on par with annual growth in the Virginia wine industry. An additional 5 wine brands opened for direct sales or can be found at a partner location (notably Walsh Family Wine, which hosts ‘Bar Takeovers’ for small brands that lack a tasting room).

5 wineries (Castle Gruen, Dry Creek, Hunt’s Vineyard, Thatch and Whitebarrel) closed, will close, or rebranded in 2022.

2022 also saw a number of major wineries being sold, with new owners at Barrel Oak, Sunset Hills/50 West, and Fox Meadow. These come in the wake of the sale of Three Fox Vineyards and 8 Chains North, which changed hands in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

2022’s Major Trends and Events

1. Growing representation in local winemaking: Melanie Natoli of Cana Vineyards made history in 2022 by becoming the state’s 2nd female Virginia Governors Cup winner (and its 1st under the Cup’s post-2011 rigorous judging system). Maggie Malick and Rachel Stinson Vrooman also had wines selected for the 2022 Governor’s Case.

Not to let be outdone by its neighbor, Maryland winemaker Lauren Zimmerman of Port of Leonardtown joined Melanie by winning both the Maryland Governors Cup and Comptroller Cup, her state’s two highest wine awards in 2022.

These women are part of a cohort of female head winemakers and assistant winemakers who are gaining major name-recognition. All told, around 15% of all head winemakers in Virginia are female.

Representation by Black–owned wine brands also grew this year. Fifty Leven and Shockoe Wine joined the small but growing group of local Black-owned wine brands, which also includes Delaplane Cellars, Preston Ridge, Sweet Vines Farm, and Vintner’s Cellar of Yorktown.

2. Climate change: Jim Law called 2022 ‘climate change on steroids’. While climate change is hardly a new topic, this year included a number of high-intensity weather events which punctuated the extent of this trend. At worst, the type of dramatic weather fluctuations seen this year portent what Virginia’s ‘new normal’ may become.

For much of Virginia, 2022 see-sawed between hot, sunny days and short but intense summer storms, bookended by frost warnings in April and a hurricane in late September. Winegrowers looking at the rainy weather forecast in July had good reason to be concerned.

Fortunately, mid-summer’s capricious weather gave way to far more favorable conditions in August to September, turning what could have been a tough vintage into a very favorable one for large parts of the state.

Some years – such as 2017 and 2019 – are fondly looked back as strong vintages, while others like 2011 and 2018 are ones most winemakers would prefer to not dwell on.

But the answer regarding the 2022 growing season might be summarized as ‘it depends’, all depending on a vineyard’s specific microclimate.

3. Labor Shortages: Many wineries had significant challenges in staffing. This had a number of impacts, both in the tasting room and the vineyard.

Those hopeful for a return to pre-COVID bar-side tastings were likely disappointed. While health concerns and consumer demand for take-away flights played a part in this decision, this pivot away from bar-side tasting is largely a product of limited staffing, which precludes many wineries from servicing a full bar of customers as they did in the past.

These shortages also impacted vineyard operations. Frequent rain resulted in a high-vigor growing season, so pruning was especially time-consuming. When hurricane Ian arrived, some vineyards struggled to bring in their fruit with the labor at their disposal.

Those with full time labor were able to endure these challenges more easily. Those who did not were forced to compete with neighboring vineyards, resulting delays in vineyard work or harvesting.

4. The Common Wealth Crush Company and “garagiste” winemaking: This November Ben and Tim Jordan announced their new custom winemaking facility, capable of producing up to 30,000 cases/year. This business is especially designed for smaller winemakers who lack their own facilities.

“Contract winemaking” already exists in Virginia, but that term is usually associated with business such as Michael Shaps Wineworks who do the entire winemaking process for their customer.

CWCC differs in that it allows winemakers to make their own wine. As Tim Jordan explained, “People do it at their employer’s wineries and sometimes they can get their friends to let them do it. But what almost always happens is that you grow out of it, or the winery facility grows its production and kicks you out. There’s not really a dedicated facility that allows a winemaker to start a brand, do the project, make the wine they want the way they want and be confident they’ll be able to stay there.”

This business model comes at a good time as the number of ‘small batch’ wines has dramatically increased over the past several years. Winemakers including Jake Bushing, Mattieu Finot, and Ben Jordan have long championed “garagiste” style wines, but they’ve been joined by Jocelyn Kuzelka and Megan Hereford of Daring Wine Company, Tim Jordan’s Star Party, Kent Arendt’s Boden Young, Rich Sullivan’s Guide Wine, and others.

CWCC also plan of having a tasting room at their Waynesboro facility to serve these brands, allowing customer to sample wines from Midland, Lightwell, and Star Party.

5. Small Batch Wines more popular than ever: “Garagiste” winemakers are a large part of this group, but this trend goes beyond independent operators.

I use “small batch wines” as a catch-all term to cover a large group of different wine ventures, including everything from collaborations between different wineries, independent brands that lack a permanent home, to off-brand labels at established wineries.

One recent example is the ‘Sun Room’ collaboration between Corry Craighill of Septenary Vineyards and Nate Walsh, where each winemaker took a batch of Malvasia Bianca grapes but made a wine in their own style, yet sold as a 2-pack. Another is the Odd Bird series by Lee Hartman of Bluestone Vineyards.

The common denominator between these ventures is they tend to focus on the creative aspect of winemaking, often featuring unusual blends, uncommonly used winemaking styles, and/or unique branding.

Expect more of these type of off-brand ventures in the future, as winemakers look for ways to flex their creative muscles.

6. Vermouth gaining traction: Rosemont and Flying Fox have made vermouth for several years, but the field of local vermouth-makers expanded this year with the addition of botanical wines from Artemisia Farm, Walsh Family Wine, and Joy Ting.

While this beverage is usually thought of as a drink mixer for bartenders, local vermouth sales have largely been to customers who use it as a sipping drink. Many of these producers also focus on local ingredients, sometimes expanding beyond wormwood as a bittering agent.

Wineries, Brands & Tasting rooms that opened in 2022:

  1. Artemisia Farm & Vineyard (no tasting room, but found at NOVA farmers markets)
  2. Bluemont Station Farm Winery (Bluemont)
  3. Boden Young (no tasting room, but found at Walsh Family Wine)
  4. Burnbrae Vineyards (Lynchburg)
  5. Caihailian Vineyard (south of Afton)
  6. Chapelle Charlemagne Vineyards (new tasting room in Flint  Hill)
  7. Daring Wine Company (no tasting room)
  8. Droumavalla Farm (north of Leesburg)
  9. Everleigh Vineyards (Mineral)
  10. Kalero Vineyards (Hillsborough)
  11. Lake Front Winery (Buffalo Junction)
  12. Mount Fair Farm (Crozet)
  13. Nookesville Winery (no tasting room)
  14. October One Vineyard (new tasting room open in Leesburg)
  15. Star Party (no tasting room)
  16. The Barn at 678 (Barboursville)
  17. Wind Vineyard at Laurel Grove (Tappahannock)
  18. Woodbrook Farm Vineyard (Orange)

Upcoming Wineries expected to open in 2023

  1. Blevins Family Vineyard (Scottsburg)
  2. Crimson Lane Vineyards (Linden)
  3. Domaine Fortier Vineyard (Loudoun)
  4. Fallen Tree Vineyard (Crozet)
  5. Haunted Winery Vineyard (Amelia)
  6. Seven Lady Vineyards at Dover Hall  (west of Richmond)
  7. Silverdog Vineyards (Linden)
  8. Southwest Mountain Vineyards (Keswick)

Wineries that closed or closing in 2022:

  1. Castle Gruen
  2. Dry Creek
  3. Hunt’s Vineyard
  4. Thatch Vineyard (rebranded as part of Michael Shaps)
  5. Whitebarrel

Champagne vs Virginia: Blind Blanc de Noir Sparkling Tasting

Sparkling wine is one of the fasted-growing segments in the beverage industry, and Virginia is no different.

10 years ago only a handful of wineries offered bubbly. But the growing popularity of relatively easy-to-make pét-nats and availability of businesses (such as the Virginia Sparkling Company) that produce Méthode Champenoise sparkling for smaller customers has given wineries of all sizes the ability to sell sparkling in-house.

Most of Virginia’s sparklings are blends or Blanc de Blancs; only a minority are Blanc de Noirs (red grapes made into sparkling wine). To the best of my knowledge only Trump Winery, Ankida Ridge, and CrossKeys produce a pinot noir-based Blanc de Noir, although others use cabernet franc, norton, and even a tannat (from Horton).

I’d previously did an entire lineup of Blanc de Blancs, so this time we compared Blanc de Noirs with wines from CrossKeys, Keswick, and Trump.

I admit I had some trepidation over a France vs Virginia comparison of Blanc de Noirs. Nearly all of France’s Blanc de Noirs come from Champagne; no matter how much I may love Virginia wine, this is a tough act to beat.

But this was done in the name of science, so I figured we’d give it a go anyway.

The contestants:

  1. Eric Rodez Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru (Ambonnay, Champagne; $63 on wine searcher)
  2. 2019 Crosskeys Blanc de Noir (Shenandoah Valley; ~$40 when it was in stock)
  3. 2016 Trump Blanc de Noir (Charlottesville; $55 at the winery)
  4. Mailly Grand Cru Blanc de Noir (Champagne; $60 at Total Wine)
  5. Keswick Vineyards Amélie (Charlottesville; $39 at the winery)
  6. Albert Lebrun Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut (Marne Valley, Champagne; $38 on wine searcher)

We randomly paired the Virginia and French wines and bagged them in pairs. Bottles that won their flight advanced to the next round.

As always; this event was the product of THIS night with THIS group. On another day, we may have had different favorites.

Round 1 / Flight #1:

  • Wine 1: Eric Rodez Blanc De Noirs Grand Cru: 5 votes (winner)
  • Wine 2: 2019 CrossKeys Blanc de Noir: 1 vote

Eric Rodez comes from Ambonnay, one of 17 villages in Champagne authorized to label their sparkling as ‘Grand Cru’. I don’t know much more about them, other than any wine from champagne automatically has a serious rep to uphold.

CrossKeys is located in the ‘upper’ (southern) Shenandoah Valley. It’s made with pinot, which is grown specifically for sparkling production. This particular wine won “Best in Show” at the 2022 Atlantic Seaboard Wine competition.

PS – if you haven’t tried Shenandoah sparklings you should; the region’s cool climate makes it a good place for higher-acid wines, so sparkling are a good match.

Comparing the color and aromas of the two, the Grand Cru had more of a yellow hue with a funkier nose, while the CrossKeys was lighter with some light brioche.

On the palate the Eric Rodez had more complexity and we found it to be especially well balanced. The CrossKeys was easier drinking; lots of lemon notes. Someone mentioned a tad of vanilla, although it wasn’t from any barrel aging.

Votes:

  1. Alex: #1; liked the depth
  2. Lieven: #1; well balanced and overall drinkability
  3. Lindsay: #2; felt it was easier drinking
  4. Matt: #1, based on the greater complexity
  5. Sarah: #1 enjoyed the brioche notes and the yeastiness
  6. Stephanie: #1; noted the flavor carried through from the beginning to the end

Round 1 / Flight #2:

  • Wine #3: 2016 Trump Blanc de Noir: 5 votes (winner)
  • Wine #4: Mailly Grand Cru Blanc de Noir: 1 vote

Trump Winery’s sparkling shouldn’t need any introduction, as it makes some of the most famous sparklings in the state. You might even argue that its predecessor Patricia Kluge paved the way for local sparkling production in Virginia as she brought in Claude Thibaut (now one of the state’s premiere sparkling producers) as her winemaker.

The Mailley is another of Champagne’s Grand Cru villages. I couldn’t say much about it but hey…champagne!

The coloration of both were extremely close, but the noses were different. The Trump wine had yellow apple on the nose and was a little bready. It also took time to open up, although it never displayed any strong fruit notes.

The Mailly was smoky, and oddly enough seemed to get even smokier as it opened up. It was the drier of the two, although that’s not to say the Trump didn’t seem dry. It initially had a very displeasing cardboard note to it but that dissipated after about 10 minutes. It also had some tartness on the back end.

We felt the bubbles on both dissipated faster than we would have liked.

Votes:

  1. Alex: #3; felt it was more drinkable
  2. Lindsay: #4; once the funk came off, thought it was more complex
  3. Lieven: #3; based on the balance and drinkability.
  4. Matt: #3; I had a tough time choosing between the two and I probably couldn’t give you an exact reason why, but I just liked #3 better
  5. Sarah: #3; also felt it was more drinkable
  6. Stephanie: #3

Round 1 / Flight #3:

  • Keswick Vineyards Amélie: 3 votes (tie)
  • Albert Lebrun Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut: 3 votes (tie)

Keswick’s sparkling is made with cabernet franc, which is arguably the most versatile red grape in Virginia (as well as its most planted). It’s also available for purchase now (and I think it would make a great Thanksgiving wine).

The Albert Lebrun was different from the other two champagnes in that it was made of pinot meunier, which is usually used in Champagne as a blending grape. While it wasn’t planned, I liked that a cabernet franc and a pinot meunier were paired against one another, as neither style of sparkling is easy to find.

Sadly I didn’t capture as many notes on this round as I wished. I can say that while they both had strong starts, both changed in the glass in even more enjoyable ways as we enjoyed them. The Keswick had a vanilla nose and a palate that changed from vanilla to maybe orange notes. Some also detected a sense of petrol.

The funniest tasting note was someone mentioned that ‘it tasted like a donut’ in that the front and end palates were very enjoyable, but there wasn’t so much in the middle. Those who follow Keswick’s winemaker might laugh at this, since ‘donut’ is one of his favorite tasting phrases.

No notes for the Albert Lebrun, which is sad because this was one of the favorite wines of the night.

I took the votes and…it was a tie! I thought about using my place as host to cast a tie-breaker, but truth was I loved both equally. So I gave Keswick a wildcard and both went to the final round.

Votes:

  1. Alex: #6; thought it was approachable, although he noted the shorter finish
  2. Lieven: #5. Thought #6 was a little rough, while #5 was better balanced.
  3. Lindsay: #5; no particular reason other than she just gravitated towards it. Thought #6 had lots of interesting things going on, though.
  4. Matt: Split vote; ½ point for each; loved both
  5. Sarah: #6. Thought the way #5 presented was ‘circular’ while also weightier, with lots of yellow apple and vanilla. #6 had more brioche-y notes.
  6. Stephanie: Split vote; ½ point for each

Round 2 / Finalist Round

Normally we would have the single ‘best in flight’ wines go to the finalist round, but we enjoyed the third flight so much that we added both to the finalist round.

We tasted them side-by-side and rated them most-to-least favorite.

  1. Alex: Keswick (4 points), Albert Lebrun (3 points), Trump (2 points), Eric Rodez (1 point)
  2. Lieven: Eric Rodez (4 points), Trump (3 points), Keswick (2 points), Albert Lebrun (1 point)
  3. Lindsay: Keswick (4 points), Albert Lebrun (3 points), Eric Rodez (2 points), Trump (1 point)
  4. Matt: Eric Rodez (4 points), Albert Lebrun (3 points), Keswick (2 points), Trump (1 point)
  5. Sarah: Albert Lebrun (4 points), Eric Rodez (3 points), Trump (2 points), Keswick (1 point)
  6. Stephanie: Albert Lebrun (4 points), Eric Rodez (3 points), Keswick (2 points), Trump (1 point)
  • Wine #1: Eric Rodez: (17 points)
  • Wine #3: Trump Blanc de Noir (10 points) 
  • Wine #5: Keswick Vineyards Amélie (15 points)
  • Wine #6: Albert Lebrun Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut (18 points; finalist)

So a caveat; we liked ALL of these wines (admittedly I personally wasn’t a fan of #4, but that’s a personal preference). One thing I did find interesting is the favorite ones tended to be some of the less-costly ones. None of them were especially fruity, which is something that often separates Blanc de Noirs from Blanc de Blancs.

In retrospect I might have opened them sooner so these wines had time to open up (I felt the CrossKeys definitely improved the following day). Sadly, my tasting events have a time limit.

So were we surprised that Champagne won? Not at all. That said, it wasn’t a blowout either.

The price point of these Virginia wines were on the whole comparable to these mid-priced Champagnes, and 2 made it to the final round. Two of my group selected the Keswick sparkling as the overall favorite of the night.

As far as I’m concerned, that Virginia was able to hang tough with a comparison to Champagne is a win in itself.