Most Recent AVA Approved — Virginia Peninsula – Wine Industry Advisor


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The winemakers of Virginia’s newest AVA are proud of their place and hope for increased consumer engagement.

Paul Vigna

Matthew Meyer has been the winemaker of The Williamsburg Winery in Virginia for two decades, where his many accomplishments include a Governor’s Cup in 2014 for a red blend called Adagio.

At that time, the discussion was already underway there to seek approval of this small part of the state, which is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, as an AVA.

“I think what led to the start of the process was to show that we have, in fact, a unique area for growing grapes,” says Meyer. “That doesn’t mean we’re better than anywhere else, just different… that wines grown in Peninsula Virginia will exhibit different characteristics than grapes in other regions.”

The Williamsburg Winery spearheaded the initiative, which paid off with the announcement last month that the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Commerce (TTB) had officially given its blessing to the Virginia Peninsula American Wine Zone (AVA), which includes five wineries and 112 acres of commercial vineyards.

New Virginia Peninsula AVA enjoys a subtropical climate / Courtesy of Upper Shirley Vineyards

As of Friday, September 24, it became the ninth AVA in Virginia, a state with more than 300 wineries ranked seventh nationally in production (2.4 million gallons), based on 2018 WineAmerica data.

“It’s a subtropical climate, but add an asterisk to it,” says Tayloe Dameron Jr., the wine director at Upper Shirley Vineyards in Charles City. “Subtropical with continental elements. This is why this AVA is so unique. It’s its own climate. Hot and humid summers, with a lot of rain scattered throughout the year but with four distinct seasons.

The soil content consists of Cenozoic sand, mud, sand and gravel, which promotes a healthy wine-growing environment. The most widely planted white grape varieties are Chardonnay, Riesling, Viognier and Petit Manseng. Meyer notes that Albarino’s plantations continue to increase and will have a great future in the new AVA. Among the flourishing red grape varieties are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Mourvèdre and Tannat.

Winemakers hope that being able to label their wines with the new AVA designation will be an additional selling point for consumers. “It’s awesome,” says Dameron Jr. “Scientifically, it proves we’re different from Charlottesville; we are different from Piedmont. So there is consistency in this area, which is great. Hope he will lead [more business]. “

Mourvèdre, Upper Shirley Vineyards.  As of September 24, winegrowers can add Peninsula Virginia to labels.
Mourvèdre, Upper Shirley Vineyards. As of September 24, winegrowers can add Peninsula Virginia to labels.

While not available for interviews, these sentiments undoubtedly echo similar thoughts from the other three producers on the Virginia Peninsula: New Kent Winery, Saudé Creek Vineyards and Gauthier vineyard.

“A lot of effort, and therefore time, goes into developing an AVA application before sending it out for public comment as part of the rule-making process,” says Tom Hogue, the TTB Congressional Liaison, on the expanded and expanded process. “It’s really a collaborative effort to ensure the best chance of success. Interest in creating new AVAs or refining existing AVAs remains strong.

The Virginia Peninsula AVA is the 258 in the countrye, which include those that exist in a single state and others who cross state lines. California has the most, with 142. 16 other nominations remain in limbo, accepted but awaiting the final step of their publication in the Federal Register.

While there is no charge to apply for AVA status, the cost in time and research is quite significant.

As Meyer told Frank Morgan from the Daily Press, memories of sitting on the ground pasting maps of geological surveys “to get a full picture of the geology and topology of the area” have not faded.

Yet Meyer said Wine industry advisor, it was all worth it. “As a winegrower and winegrower, it is particularly satisfying to be recognized as having a unique terroir,” he says.

Wineries in Upper Shirley Vineyards
Vines at Upper Shirley Vineyards

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Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, PA who has been covering East Coast wines for 10 years. He was the first Birchenall Award winner from the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association in February 2018. You can find him at the Wine Classroom in www.pennlive.com and follow him on Twitter @pierrecarafe

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