by Kristin Davis
photography by Keith Lanpher
The harvest arrives on the eve of autumn’s splendor, in the still-warm days before these endless green hills turn golden.
Luca Paschina, winemaker and general manager at Barboursville Vineyards for 22 years, will taste each of the varieties of grapes dripping from verdant vines. Chemistry – sugar, acid and pH – will signal the magical moment when the fruit is ready to be turned into wine. But so will Paschina’s palate, honed since he made his first vintage under his father’s tutelage in Italy at age 14.
There is a saying among vintners and viticulturists: The wine is made in the vineyard. Fernando Franco, the latter here at Barboursville, tenderly examines the grapes this time of year. The way they shine in the sunlight reminds him of how the wine shines in stemmed glasses at a table covered in white linen or between the fingers of the thousands of visitors who step into the tasting room each year.
This is where we begin our journey along the Monticello Wine Trail, a swath of rolling land in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Coined the
Birthplace of American Wine, the trail is made up of some two dozen wineries, and it boasts about half of the state’s 2,000 acres of vineyards.
It was here that Thomas Jefferson tried for years to cultivate European grapes at his Charlottesville home, for which the wine trail is named. The Founding Father, who even summoned the help of an Italian winemaker for his hopeful endeavor, never produced a successful harvest or a single bottle of wine.
The region would have to wait two centuries for Jefferson’s dream to come to fruition. It happened at Barboursville, on the grounds surrounding the ruins of a Georgian mansion Jefferson himself designed. Destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1884, the bones of the former president’s architectural masterpiece still remain, and a visit here is not complete without looking in on them.
In 1976, another Italian winemaker, Gianni Zonin, bought the 800-acre Barboursville estate and planted the first vines. Some thought he was foolish, telling him he should raise sheep or plant tobacco instead. Zonin, the first in the state to focus on European vines, did what Jefferson couldn’t by grafting European plants onto the roots of native vines. [Read more...]