2023 was a year of ups and downs in Virginia Wine Country. An early killing frost lowered expectations for what turned out to be - according to many longtimers - the best year for Virginia grapes in decades. A passel of new wineries, cideries and meaderies entered the fray. Some favorites said goodbye. Sparkling wine continued its expansion, as did the roster of indie winemakers doing their out-of-the-box thing. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from this year to remember.
1 Thomas Jefferson's Monticello bought next-door neighbor Jefferson Vineyards, which had been owned by the Woodward family for forty years. Wine-wise, no changes are planned - talented winemaker Chris Ritzcovan stays on. Read more here.
2 A New King was Crowned. The jewelbox of a winery, Mountain & Vine Vineyards, about 30 minutes south of Charlottesville, took home the Virginia Governor's Cup for their 2021 Screaming Hawk Meritage. Shortly after, winning winemaker Andrew Bilenkij moved over to CrossKeys Vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley and was replaced - to the surprise and delight of many - by Stephen Barnard, Keswick Vineyards' winemaker for more years than we can count. (Tony Zawierucha
stepped up to fill the head winemaker role.) Meanwhile, the dominoes continued as CrossKeys winemaker Steve Monson moved north to Rappahannock Cellars to take the place of longtime winemaker Theo Smith, who'd taken his skills to NoVa as the new owner and winemaker at Capstone Vineyards. Got all that??
3 The new Gold Medal Trail passport from the Virginia Wine Marketing Office killed! The digital passport came out in March, awarding snazzy logo merch to wine lovers who checked off their visits to dozens of wineries who took gold medals at the Virginia Governors Cup Gala.
5 The Northern Virginia winery Crimson Lane got the most new-winery buzz this year. Its winemaker, Dominick Fioresi, studied under the Virginia winegrowing legend, Jim Law, at Linden Vineyards, followed by stints at Delaplane Cellars and Ingleside Vineyards. The adults-only tasting room opened in early March, with eight estate-grown wines on offer.
6 The spotted lanternfly continued its march south into Virginia from Pennsylvania, mostly along the trucking route of I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley. As of mid-year, 22 localities were quarantined. Consumers can help by killing the pests and their nests with a vengeance.