Barboursville, Va. is for vintners
Barboursville Vineyards is one of Virginia's oldest.
Barboursville Vineyards is one of Virginia's oldest.
The Octagon label is the signature label of Barboursville Vineyards.
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BARBOURSVILLE, Va. -- Thomas Jefferson brimmed with optimism about his countrymen's prospects for producing wine worthy of a crystal glass.
"We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kind but doubtless as good," wrote the author of the Declaration of Independence. He imported and planted vines from Europe, but every one of them died.
More than 200 years later, Jefferson's pursuit of liquid happiness is realized in the vintages produced by 22 wineries on Virginia's Monticello Wine Trail. One of the oldest is Barboursville Vineyards, the former estate of James Barbour, Virginia's only appointed governor, a U.S. senator and minister to England.
Barboursville attracts 80,000 visitors a year and is a 25-minute drive on Route 20 from Jefferson's Monticello. You can stay there, too, in one of three guest suites at the historic 1804 Inn, which was Barbour's home.
Virginia is the home of 140 wineries on 11 trails. Monticello, one of its major grape-growing regions, spreads over 1,250 square miles and four counties in the central part of this pastoral land. Of course, there's a Jefferson Vineyards on Thomas Jefferson Parkway and an annual competition for the Monticello Cup at the yearly Monticello Wine Festival in April.
Just as Jefferson partnered with an Italian named Filippo Mazzei when he planted grapes adjacent to his mansion called Monticello in 1774, the four Zonin brothers, who established the winery in 1976 and live in Vicenza, Italy, hired a native of their country to serve as vintner.
Charming and articulate, Luca Paschina grew up in Italy's northwest Piemonte region in the town of Alba. His father, Armando, his brother, Diego, and his uncle, Francesco, all made wine.
When his father visited one of his friends who grew grapes, Mr. Paschina played with the son of his father's friend.
"I remember going there and playing with his son, running through the vineyard, pulling up clusters of grapes and throwing them at each other," he recalled in a telephone interview.
While wine is one of Italy's lifebloods, "my father never really pushed me toward the trade. I just found it interesting. I felt almost a responsibility to follow and to learn and to have a passion for it," he added.
In 1981, Mr. Paschina graduated from the Institute Umberto Primo in Alba, which offers a six-year course in wine and has operated since the 1800s. During the 1980s, he worked in New York's Finger Lakes region, returned to Italy and traveled throughout all of Europe.
"I did not find selling rewarding," he said. "Ultimately, I was offered this opportunity."
Making wine in Virginia's Piedmont region was a challenge.
"When I arrived here in 1990, we had about 38 acres" planted with vines. "It took us 10 years to figure out how to make good wine," he recalled.
Today, on the 900-acre estate at Barboursville Vineyards, 150 acres are planted with grapes such as Chardonnay, white Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Barboursville's signature wine, Octagon, is a blend of Merlot and Bordeaux varieties and has been made only 10 times in the past 16 years.
Nine years ago, the winery opened a restaurant called Palladio. The restaurant's banquet room, with countryside decor such as iron chandeliers, accommodates 50 people and features a stunning view of the rolling Virginia countryside.
"It turned out to be a much bigger success than we ever envisioned," Mr. Paschina said.
At Barboursville, a typical harvest yields 80,000 to 90,000 gallons of wine that goes into 400,000 bottles each year. About 60 percent of the bottles sell between $12 and $15; the rest are priced at $22 to $40.
Mr. Paschina was delighted with the great harvests of 1997 and 1998 but recalls the excessively wet summers of 1996, 2000 and 2003.
"Those were vintages where we had a lousy harvest quality. The grapes ripen too quickly. Overall, the plants vegetate more and make bigger clusters. You get bigger berries that are very plump, very full, but less sweet. They can mold and rot. You are forced to make wine that will reflect what the grape tastes like -- lighter, more watery, less flavor."
To keep grapes from freezing in the spring or fall, he relies on 12 propane-powered turbines located in the vineyard that send warm air downward.
"If it gets in the low 30s, we start activating the turbines," Mr. Paschina said. "Very seldom do we buy grapes. We lost chardonnay grapes in a cold spring around Easter of 2007. We bought grapes from three different growers."
This year's harvest began in August with the picking of pinot grigio grapes; the cabernet sauvignon grapes were the last taken in mid-October.
In the next five years, Mr. Paschina plans to plant another 40 acres of vines.
"We were actually looking at planting more of the varieties we already have. We want to plant what we know grows successfully," he said.
Besides this year's harvest, another project has borne fruit.
In September, the winery published Mr. Paschina's book, "Crafting Great Wines Inspired by Spirits of the Past." Priced at $29.95, the book recounts the estate's history and Thomas Jefferson's efforts to design and build a home for James Barbour, which burned on Christmas Day in 1884. But the ruins remain and can be toured by visitors.
First Published November 16, 2008 12:00 am