Virginia winemakers are producing Bordeaux blends in steep-shouldered bottles and they're aging their Char-donnays in trendy French oak, but I don't think of those things when I think of Virginia wines. Instead, I think of little rivers flowing off smoky mountains and the soft, green contours of the Old Dominion piedmont, trussed by vines.
This vision first came to me with a glass of Linden Vineyards Cabernet Franc, made less than 10 miles from my home. Though I have lived a few years in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the winery was unfamiliar to me. But in that initial mouthful of wine, ripe and dense with flavor, I found all the assurance I needed that my neighborhood was blessed. Indeed, the vinous future of the entire state of Virginia seemed to be exceptionally bright.
I made plans to visit Linden and a few other wineries I'd heard good things about. But before I hit the road, I brushed up on Virginia's wine history, which turned out to be, more or less, a study of Thomas Jefferson. Though Jefferson may have written the Declaration of Independence, he did something really important when he introduced European Vitis vinifera to the slopes around Monticello. Unfortunately, Jefferson's grapes were done in by cold winters and fungal problems brought on by steamy mid-Atlantic summers. And while his effort was a failure of epic proportions, Jefferson never lost faith in Virginia as a place where noble grapes could be grown.