I’m really happy how this article came out. The best articles are one where I learn something in my research.
I still think Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards explained it best, “It seems to me that the market accepts something as natural when a wine checks most of those boxes, and when the character of the wine fits the overall ethos, but since there is no certification, there are no hard and fast rules.
Special thanks to Arterra Wines, Rock Roadhouse, and Briedé Family Vineyard.
2020 was a chaotic year in Virginia wine, with records good and bad. On the positive side Virginia saw a near-unprecedented number of winery/cidery/meaderies opening all across the state. Many locations – especially those further away from Coronavirus hotspots or were able to provide ample outdoor seating – saw record breaking summer sales, largely driven by new customers fleeing to the countryside. As 2020 draws to a close, it currently has a total of 264 wineries, 26 cideries, and 11 meaderies of various sizes and business models, with more on the way.
The downside is this came at a huge emotional and financial cost, especially in the early days when the industry was reduced to curb-side sales and online events. For large parts of Virginia, these woes were compounded by an unprecedented Mother’s Day frost which wiped out their vineyards. Unruly customers who refused to conform to social distancing regulations didn’t help.
“Pivot” was the key theme for dealing with these challenges. Outdoor seating, virtual events, shipping deals and self-guided wine flights (often in disposable cups) became the norm. A number of locations shifted to a reservation-only policy. As the weather became cooler, fire pits and outdoor plastic ‘bubbles’ also became customary.
While the dust from 2020’s tectonic shift hasn’t settled, many of these trends are here to stay. For several years there has been growing demand in the U.S. for lower-alcohol, more diverse, ‘healthier’ beverages; this movement is now easily visible in the Virginia wine scene. Online events are also now the norm; some wineries openly wondered why they didn’t think of doing them sooner.
Here’s my take of the key consumer trends that impacted Virginia wineries in 2020:
1.Virginia’s Sparkling Wine Market Continues to Grow: Veritas Winery / The Virginia Sparkling Company deserves a lot of credit for this trend, as their opening of a major sparkling wine facility in Charlottesville has enabled other wineries to make sparkling using their own fruit without the high start-up cost of bottling on site. In northern Virginia alone, roughly a dozen wineries have bubbly on the menu, usually in partnership with Veritas or Michael Shaps.
But it’s not just Veritas. There has been a growing number of wineries doing pét–nats or other casual sparkling wines, and Casanel, Rappahannock Cellars and others are killing it with sparklings that range from ‘fun to drink’ to downright ‘serious’ Champagne-like bubbly.
2. Cideries & Meaderies Gaining Steam: Cider and mead consumption has likewise grown, in line with consumer demand for lighter, fresher beverages. Out of the 23 new ‘wineries’ to open in 2020, 1/3rd of them were cideries or meaderies. In addition to these, many wineries are offering ‘guest’ ciders, or a house cider to complement their wine.
3. Growing number of ‘Multi-Beverage’ Wineries: The number of wineries that serve beer has grown by leaps and bounds, sparked by a 2015 change in what ABC qualifies as a ‘farm enterprise’. Quattro Goomba and Barrel Oak helped pioneer this concept, but now there are at least 18 x wineries that have taprooms as well.
Likewise, the number of wineries that serve spirits is about to double. Davis Valley, Old House, Rappahannock, and Vincent’s Vineyard will soon be joined by distilleries at Abingdon, Iron Heart, and Triple V. Add cider, mead, and sparkling to the equation, and Virginia’s wineries have never had such a diverse lineup.
4. Virtual Events & Online Sales: This is one of the better things to come out of COVID; being able to enjoy a winery event from the comforts of your own home. Walsh Family Wine and Keswick still host weekly or bi-weekly virtual tasting events; other wineries hold similar events periodically. Barboursville and Chateau O’Brien also conduct weekly customer outreach events where the owner or manager takes 10 minutes or so to do a ‘behind the scenes’ look at their winery or taste some wines.
These events usually feature wine deals that range from new releases, library wines, to ‘guest wines’ from Virginia or abroad. It’s a fun way of doing comparative tastings of the same varietals from different locations or vintages, or expose consumers to new wines they may not have otherwise tried.
Wineries that closed in 2020
That a number of wineries closed in 2020 is hardly surprising; the entire food & entertainment industry took a huge hit. While it would be easy to blame COVID for these closings, many closings were either planned prior to the pandemic, were due to the retirements/deaths/illnesses of their owners. Fortunately, Winery 32 looks like it will reopen in March, so it’s not on this list.
Desert Rose Winery
Mountain View Vineyard
San Soucey Vineyards
Vault Fields Vineyard
Weston Farm Vineyard
Winding Road Cellars
Wineries that opened in 2020
Fortunately the roster of wineries that opened far exceeded the number that closed. Several more planned to open, but deferred to 2021 due to the pandemic. Even so, 23 new openings in a year is likely close to a record, especially considering the years of growth that preceded it.
Altheling Meadworks (Roanoke)
Backporch Vineyard (Northern Neck)
Bleu Frog Vineyards (Leesburg)
The Capital Hive Meadery (Leesburg)
Carriage House Wineworks (Waterford)
Chapelle Charlemagne Vineyard (soft opening; Front Royal)
The Cider Lab (Sumerduck)
Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery (Natural Bridge)
Honey & Hops Brew Works (Front Royal)
Iron Will Winery & Vineyard (no tasting room but selling their first vintage, Waterford)
Jolene Family Winery (Richmond)
Mount Alto (no tasting room but selling their first vintage, south of Charlottesville)
Nicewonder Farm & Vineyard (opened tasting room early 2020, Bristol)
Reserve (tasting room for VinoWine) (Lynchburg)
Rivah Vineyard at the Grove (Northern Neck)
Rock Roadhouse Winery (Hot Springs)
Saga Meadery (Front Royal)
Sugar Hill Cidery (Norton)
The Estate at White Hall Vineyard (Northern Neck)
Three Creeks Winery (Hamilton)
Triple V Farm (Northern Neck)
Tumbling Creek Cidery (Abingdon)
Woodbine Vineyards (Buffalo Junction)
Some of these wineries have firm opening dates; other are in various stages of being built.
Have I mentioned how much I love ‘researching’ new articles? This was another back-breaking article that required loads and loads of sampling.
When people think of sparkling wine they usually think of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But Virginia’s terroir requires a different route, so many local wineries opt for hybrids instead. It’s actually a great fit – hybrids are popular here, and their naturally high acidity makes a great match for sparkling wine.
Virginia is said to have around 300 wineries. Actually I count 253…but if you include cideries and meaderies, we’re at 288. There are also several upcoming wineries that have licenses. So…pretty close to 300!
But as of October 14, 2020, I’ve visited ALL OF THEM. That’s right; I’ve visited EVERY ONE of the 253 WINERIES IN VIRGINIA that are open to the public. In addition to those, I’ve also visited 25 cideries and 8 meaderies. If we include wineries that are now closed or rebranded…I’ve visited 281 wineries.
I only count wineries that have tasting rooms which are open to the public. Unfortunately this leaves out several wineries that I love – such as October One Vineyard – but I’m not certain how to include them since they lack a designated tasting room. Neither do I count private wine labels by individual winemakers such as Ben Jordan’s Lightwell Survey, or temporary soft openings in tents such as Chapelle Charlemagne.
Like a crazed OCD gamer who must perform every quest, pick up every piece of loot, search every room, and interact with every character…I need to visit…ALL OF THEM.
2) My first Virginia winery was Casanel Vineyards and Winery, sometime in I think mid-2013. I credit Katie and Nelson for setting me on the right path from there.
3) My favorite grapes are Tannat, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc.
4) I’m a member of Linden, Arterra, and Hiddencroft. I tend to do case-clubs, not full on wine clubs (where they usually pick your wines).
Ironically, I’ve also found myself struggling to define what constitutes a ‘visit’. If a winery is renamed, does visiting that same space constitute a ‘new’ visit? What about producers that lack tasting rooms; how does one ‘cross them off’ in a quest to visit every winery? What about wineries that are seasonal or special-event focused; do those get placed in the same visitation bucket list as the rest?
To narrow the question down of “How many wineries are in the state”, I use the following definition:
For the purpose of defining what constitutes a ‘visit’, a ‘visit’ must include the following criteria; 1) The location visited must produce a fermented beverage described as wine, cider, or mead, 2) it must have a physical tasting location under their control (no farmers markets), 3) it must have defined visiting hours or be available via appointment to the general public, and 4) it must use Virginia ingredients (grapes, apples, honey, or whatever other ingredients the beverage is primarily composed of).
I still track visits to wineries that lack a tasting room or non-Virginia fruit separately. But to qualify for this challenge, I’m using the above criteria.
I’m also tracking cideries and meaderies as sub-categories, as well as wineries that I’ve visited that have since closed.
Since April of 2019 I’ve been the wine columnist for the Old Town Crier. I’ve really enjoyed the creativity of this, plus it gives me a way to ‘give back’ to the Virginia wine community in a way that goes beyond blogging.
Check out my posts here, or see the original ones at their website.