Saturday, October 01, 2011

Whither Virginia wine 2011?

There was this tidbit in the Washington Post's Reliable Source column on Wednesday.

Steve Case —ex of AOL— and his wife, Jean, have applied to purchase the Sweely Estate Winery, in Madison, Virginia. Good for them, and good for the winery, which has been struggling financially.

What really caught my attention, however, was a seemingly throwaway comment in the penultimate sentence:

owners at Virginia's 200 wineries are struggling with a dismal rainy harvest.

The spring started off wet. Then, during July, the temperatures went above 90 degrees every day. Adding greater insult to injury, in August and September, there came the torrential rains. In fact, that 2-month period was the wettest on record in the region.

That is good news for fungi fanciers.

Mushrooms are sprouting in beds across forest floors up and down the East Coast. <...> “The mushrooms loved Irene,” says Ray Lasala, president of the Mycological Assocation of Washington. “Mushrooms are 90 percent water, and they appear a few days after the rain. They’re like compressed little sponges that develop in the ground and tree logs and pop when they’re hit with enough moisture.”

The Georgetowner
22 September 2011
(with recipes from Chef Ris Lacoste)

But for Virginia (and Maryland) vegetable and fruit farmers, these conditions —especially the extended deluge, coming as it did at the end of the growing season— did not bode well. At local vineyards, for example, should winemakers wait for their grapes to achieve physiological ripeness, and risk mold contamination, or should they harvest early, and risk under-ripe grapes.

For an answer, I turned to Virginia wine blogger Dezel Quillen, of My Vine Spot, who was more sanguine in his forecast.

The early reports I've heard from some have been surprisingly satisfactory to good for early ripening varieties. The verdict is still out on later-ripening grapes.

Harvest and crush are ongoing.

Now: the good wine news: On Thursday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that Virginia wine sales are now at an all-time high. From the Virginia Wine Marketing Office:
462,112 cases of wine were sold in fiscal 2011. That's up 11.4 percent from the 414,785 cases sold in fiscal 2010 [which was 13% over 2009]. The state collected almost $1.8 million in wine liter tax revenue, up from about $1.6 million in fiscal 2010. [The Virginia wine liter tax is applied at a rate of $3.60 per case of wine.] McDonnell says the increases in sales and tax revenue show that more consumers domestically and internationally are choosing Virginia wines. Virginia has nearly 200 wineries, the fifth largest number in the nation.

As he did in 2010, the Governor has again declared October to be Virginia Wine Month.

October 2011 is Virginia Wine Month!
With activity that belies the current conservative credo that minimal government is better government, McDonnell, a Republican party governor (who is said to be in the running for the vice-presidential nomination), is actively promoting Virginia's wine industry, and that's a good thing, even if you're a teetotaler.

Promotion of the Virginia wine industry both domestically and internationally is one of Governor McDonnell's many economic development and jobs creation initiatives. During the last two sessions, the McDonnell administration has worked with the General Assembly to establish a reimbursable tax credit program for the establishment or expansion of vineyards and wineries and to more than the double amount of funds from the wine liter tax placed in the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund for research, education, and marketing programs.

Governor McDonnell also has promoted the sale of Virginia wines during trade and marketing missions to the United Kingdom, Japan, China and South Korea. In addition, First Lady Maureen McDonnell has made the promotion of Virginia wines and winery tourism a key component of her First Lady's Initiative Team Effort (FLITE). .

Virginia Wine Month events continue unabated throughout the month. Find an event, or a winery near you, at Virginia As part of the festivities, the winery winner of the 2011 Virginia Governor's Cup will be announced on Wednesday 5 October.

Follow also on Twitter at @VAwine, and on Facebook at For more information about the Virginia wine industry, visit, or contact, in that 'old-school' manner, Annette Ringwood Boyd at (804) 344-8200.


  • Be very careful with wild mushrooms. Many are very poisonous and potentially lethal. Rather than personally harvesting, rely on farmers and markets. As the Georgetowneer states: "This newspaper does not condone the picking and eating of wild mushrooms unless you are a fungal expert. So I, for one, adhere to Thoreau’s assessment of these exotic sprouts: 'The value … is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight and enjoyment of them.' ”
  • It's wonderful —and economy-boosting— that the state of Virginia is promoting the business of wine. Witness this brochure (pdf file) of Virginia wineries. But, then, why not beer, and spirits? Virginia Brewers Guild: lobby and petition!

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