In the oldest wine-producing region of Virginia, wineries are pushing for a more inclusive and diverse industry.
The vibe toward experiencing wine is shifting in Virginia. People are realizing that what was once pretentious doesn’t have to be. Tasha Durrett created Black Women Who Wine, a group for Black women and their friends of all palates to enjoy wine and learn about the history of winemaking with good company in Central Virginia.
“There’s so much opportunity in the Virginia wine industry if people are willing to let others in, and now they are,” explains Durrett. “It’s an exciting time to be in the space, and I’m excited to see that some of the ‘bougieness’ has dissipated. I’m excited to see what’s to come for everyone who wants to be a part of this industry.”
Charlottesville has been recently gaining acclaim for its wineries and is home to the Monticello Wine Trail, which includes over 40 wineries spanning a radius of 25 miles with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area is the oldest wine-producing region in Virginia, dating back to the 1770s when Thomas Jefferson had a dream of bringing high-quality wine to the state.
Since its origination in the United States, the wine industry has been predominately a white and male-dominated industry. “Although there are more than 8,000 wineries in the United States, about one-tenth of 1% of the winemakers and brand owners are Black,” according to Phil Long, the President of the Association of African-American Vintners. A major barrier to entry for people of color interested in the wine profession is money. It’s expensive to learn about wine, from obtaining professional certifications, taking classes, paying for tastings, and traveling to learn and work in harvests.
In addition to the unique blends and flavors of award-winning wine, what is notable about this region is the energy driven by communities and winemakers seeking to grow, innovate, and create inclusive spaces that welcome wine entrepreneurs and wine lovers from different backgrounds and perspectives. Among the highly respected vineyards in the area, these wineries are taking action to diversify the wine industry through mentorship opportunities, sharing lessons learned, and creating thoughtful entrepreneurial collaborations and community partnerships.
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Meriweather Springs Vineyard and Brewery
Situated on 40 acres of private land, Meriweather Springs is a family-owned and operated winery, brewery, bed and breakfast, eatery, and event space. This family-friendly vineyard has mentored people from underrepresented backgrounds and has established the Vineyard Workers’ Collective, a non-profit supporting vineyard workers and their families with basic needs assistance. Enjoy the outdoors with family and friends, check out their music series, and pair your wood-fired pizza with one of their in-house wines: Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Petit Verdot, or Rosé.
Matt Harmon is an inspiration for all aspiring Black wine entrepreneurs. After being laid off from his job during the pandemic, Matt used his time to turn his dream of owning a wine business into a reality. Wine started to become his drink of choice, and he wanted to share this passion with friends and family. A big motivation for starting his business was to create a space for Black and Brown people to feel more comfortable going to wineries and drinking wine. He also wanted to remove preconceived ideas about who ‘should’ drink wine.
“What makes Harmony Wine inclusive and welcoming is that when drinking wine, it doesn’t matter how you dress and what you know about wine as long as you have good company and enjoy wine,” says Harmon. Local wineries in Charlottesville have supported his business through mentorship opportunities and offering their venues to host tastings and pop-up dinner pairings. Learn about his inspirational story and purchase a selection of his mindfully sourced wines online.
Wisdom Oak Winery
Laura and Jason Lavalle, partners and owners of Wisdom Oak Winery, offer a boutique and hospitable experience through their high-quality small-batch wine selection. Their estate-grown grapes span 15 acres of vines, producing Petit Verdot and other limited-edition varieties. Self-guided tastings for adults and seasonal foods are available for families and friends of all ages and sizes to enjoy in nature.
Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards
This husband-and-wife team, Lynn Easton and Dean Andrews, have created a beautiful and welcoming space for people of all backgrounds to enjoy their wine and cuisine. The ambiance is described as “an authentic celebration of people and place.” In addition to tasting their Sauvignon Blanc wines, barrel-fermented Chardonnays, and Cabernet Franc wines, Pippin Hill offers a variety of experiences on the property, including farm-to-table cuisine, educational estate tours, and breathtaking year-round scenery. Cooking classes use seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.
This history of Blenheim Vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail dates back to the 1700s with a Gothic Revival style cottage, school-chapel, smokehouse, kitchen, and library from the 1800s still in use today. Singer, songwriter, and owner of Blenheim, Dave Matthews, has created a welcoming atmosphere for people to discover their favorite reds and whites in a beautiful and laid-back setting. A portion of sales of their limited release wines with labels designed by Matthews are donated to World Central Kitchen, an organization devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.
Gabriele Rausse Winery
This hidden gem can be hard to find but is well worth the experience. Owner Gabriele Rausse is known as “The Father of Modern Virginia Wine Industry” due to his in-depth knowledge about wine cultivation and offering his time and expertise to over 100 wineries across the state. After working with countless wineries in the area, he decided to open his own in 1997 to continue his passion for winemaking. His tasting room is thoughtfully crafted with wood and glass to invite the calming energy of natural surroundings. The ambiance is laid back, inviting, fun, and not to be missed.
Veritas Vineyards and Winery
Since 1999, Andrew and Patricia Hodson have been committed to cultivating high-quality wine using Old World principles and state-of-the-art technology. The Hodson’s three children share the same passion for the family business through winemaking. Together, they have dedicated their time to developing complex and elegant wines using Virginia-grown grapes. Their enthusiasm to live by their name, “In Vino Veritas”–“In Wine there is Truth,” is shown through their welcoming atmosphere, tasting experiences, and friendly staff who are genuinely thrilled to provide you with lasting memories with loved ones.
King Family Vineyards
The King family attributes curiosity, research, hard work, and dedication to the success of their vineyard. From live music, polo matches, to local food trucks, guests have the opportunity to experience many charming facets of this space. The original eight acres were planted in 1998; they have expanded to cover nearly 30 acres since then. Popular Virginia wine varieties such as the Petit Verdot and Viognier are available for tasting. Try the Crosé, a dry Rosé named after the town of Crozet where the winery is located, or the “7th Chukker,” this red wine is aged for two years in Kentucky Bourbon barrels and is named after a polo match.