Virginia has officially recognized October as wine month for over three decades, although the industry’s sustained growth shows it’s celebrated year round. This year’s 35th Wine Month showcases a thriving industry that boasts over 300 wineries and more than a dozen wine trails, according to the Virginia Tourism Corp.
The state’s total acreage dedicated to grape growing is almost 5,000 acres, which has increased at least 35% in the past decade, according to a report by the Virginia Wine Board. Central Virginia has the most total acreage and fruit bearing acres, with Albemarle County leading in production. Northern Virginia is second.
Grape production increased at least 38% from 2012-22. Last year, production was just over 10,000 tons. Several vineyards did not respond to a survey, so the report estimated that acreage and production is likely higher.
The economic impact of Virginia’s wine industry is estimated at $1.73 billion. This was a four-year, 26.5% increase, according to an economic analysis of 2019 data, published last year. Wine tourism generated over $246 million in 2019, with more than 2.6 million tourists visiting wineries that year, according to the analysis.
Bill Cavender owns Black Heath Meadery in Richmond, which took home two gold awards in this year’s Governor’s Cup competition, for its 2022 Apple Pie and Blue Angel meads. The annual event was held in February and awarded 142 gold medals to over 60 wineries and cideries, according to the competition’s website. The wines and meads are judged on their appearance, aroma, flavor, overall quality and commercial suitability. Ciders are judged in a separate category.
Black Heath opened in the Scott’s Addition area in 2015, a spot now known as a food and beverage destination. Cavender made mead at home as a hobby for about 20 years, he said. He was drawn to it as a “cultural connector.” “No matter where your ancestors came from, there was probably mead at some point in that country,” Cavender said. “So that was kind of cool about it.”
Mead is made by fermenting honey with water, and sometimes fruits and spices are added. Pollination can change the flavor of the honey, according to Cavender. “You can experiment with lots of those and really get different flavor profiles,” Cavender said.
Black Heath Meadery has bee hives in eight locations throughout Virginia, according to Cavender. As a farm winery, they are required to produce a certain percentage of their fermentables, or honey in their case. “We’re really committed to working with some partners that are beekeepers to help figure out what we can do to help save the bees,” Cavender said.
A couple of blocks away from the meadery is Buskey Cider. Will Correll founded Buskey in 2016. He later opened a location in Cape Charles, on the Eastern Shore. Buskey Cider landed a gold medal for their 2022 Hewe’s Crab Apple Cider in the Governor’s Cup. “It’s quite a compliment to be the one that got a gold,” Correll said.
Correll first experimented with fermentation in his college dorm room at Hampden-Sydney. He decided to open his cidery because there were already a lot of breweries. “As an entrepreneur I wanted to experiment with something no one else was making,” Correll said. The fermentation process of cider is similar to wine, but is packaged similar to beer, according to Correll.
Buskey is an old American drinking word Correll found in a letter written by Benjamin Franklin, though it was undefined. “I wanted a historic drinking word that didn’t have any baggage,” Correll said. Buskey Cider is gearing up for Virginia Cider Week, which runs this year from Nov. 10 to 19. Cider Week is officially celebrated the full week before Thanksgiving.
Virginia wines and locally produced foods are highlighted during Wine Month, with various events at wineries. The premiere event is the celebration of state-produced bounty, officially recognized as the Harvest Party on Oct. 21.
The Gold Medal Wine Trail is a mobile passport for those interested in trying this year’s winning wines. It features a map of each winner’s location. Users are able to check-in at the venue and receive points for redeemable prizes.
For more information, visit VirginiaWine.org.
By Alyssa Hutton / Capital News Service