A Spotlight on Virginia Winemakers

What a better way to celebrate VA Wine Month than getting a chance to meet some of my favorite Virginia Winemakers. In this series I will highlight five fabulous winemakers that I have met over the years. Be sure to check back each Friday to get a deep dive into their winemaking philosophy and why they love Virginia wine!

Our first Spotlight is on Jason Lavallee, owner and winemaker at Wisdom Oak Winery!

Wisdom Oak Winery sits on a 126 acre estate in the heart of the Monticello Wine Trail. We are located just minutes from Charlottesville, UVA and many other craft breweries, wineries and cideries. We currently have 17 acres under vine, comprised of all vinifera grapes.  Our goal is to produce ultra-premium estate wines from our vineyards.

My winemaking style leans much more towards the old world with more subtle use of oak, limited to no use of any enological products as to highlight the quality of the fruit produced in the vineyard.  My goal with every vintage is to have as little intervention as possible.  If I did everything right in the vineyard that year and Mother Nature was kind to me, then it makes my job in the winery a breeze. While I love to produce traditional wines that adhere closely to varietal characteristics, I believe my experimental wine series allows me to express myself a bit more as well as learn new techniques that may be implemented more broadly into the wine program at Wisdom Oak.

What Makes VA Wine Special to Us?

My wife Laura and I traveled around the world to various wine regions at first to just taste wine.  We then found ourselves falling in love with the story that the wines told us.  It tells you about the region, the winemaker, the terroir as well as things like barrel selection or canopy management.  There are so many variables to consider when making wine.  

After learning the stories of wines in more prominent wine regions, we stumbled upon Virginia based on a colleague’s recommendation because he attended UVA. There was something unique about it that harkened back to the old-world way of doing things.  Simple, yet difficult, extremely manual as most processes are done by hand and life would never be the same for us again.  We visited every winery we could to talk to owners, winemakers, vignerons and tasting room staff.  The more we learned, the more we fell in love with the lifestyle and wanted to be part of the story.  It has been an amazing ride so far and I am excited to be part of the future of Virginia wine!

A big thanks goes out to Jason and Laura! Their winery is one of my absolute favorites and I hope you have the chance to visit soon.

Our second winemaker is Nate Walsh from Walsh Family Wine. If you have been following me, you might know I am a huge lover of Walsh. They are amazing people who produce amazing wine!

Walsh Family Wine was founded in 2014 with a specific goal of creating vineyard-designate wines from vineyard sites that we manage around Loudoun County.  My wife Sarah has a background in wine sales and importing, and my background is in winemaking and vineyard management.  When we started producing our own wines, the goal was to showcase the uniqueness that individual sites can have – all of our farming and winemaking is focused on that goal.  We produce about a dozen different wines each year, generally from specific vineyards.  We grow, produce, and bottle all of our wines.

Virginia wine holds a very special place in my heart.  I have been fortunate to work in wine regions around the world, but I’ve always loved the fact that in Virginia we can be a part of continuing to create an identity for the region.  The Virginia wine industry is relatively very young, and I find that to be exciting and challenging.  

I am so thankful for Nate and Sarah! Be sure to check out their winery if you have never been.

Our third winemaker is Justin Rose from Rosemont Vineyards. Rosemont is located in southern Virginia near Lake Gaston. The beautiful estate sits on 450 acres that have been in the Rose family since 1858.

My winemaking philosophy is that you must put the tough work into the vineyard to make the best wine possible.  We spend a lot of time in the vineyard working to ensure that the different varietals are handled in a way that gives each variety the opportunity to flourish.  What works well for one variety might not work well for another in terms of sun exposure, crop load and water stress.  Some varietals we can almost grow organically, while others need more love and attention throughout the growing season.  Once harvested, I try to highlight the beauty of the fruit in my finished wines and showcase each variety’s uniqueness. 

My style for white and Rose’ wines is very similar.  I like to produce lower alcohol wines that are crisp, fresh, and easy to pair with a variety of foods.  I use a variety of stainless steel and neutral oak for our white wine fermentations and I find that we can gain complexity in blending the two styles together. 

For red wines I use a small amount of new oak and try to focus more on the tannins that comes from the grapes itself, and only on bolder varieties like Petit Verdot and Tannat will we increase the new oak profile, as it makes a more balanced, complex wine.  I ferment the red wines longer on the skins and age almost two years in barrel to showcase the “terrior” of this area of the state.  The soils in Southern Virginia and the climate around Lake Gaston push our reds to have a strong influence of red fruits on the aromas with some underlying spice tones and complex, smooth tannins. 

Blending is one of the most important processes in pulling our wines together.  A final blended wine may be made from a single grape, but they may be grown in different areas of the vineyard.  Or, a blend may consist of multiple grape varietals, each bringing something unique to the finished wine.  Working in the cellar, thoughtfully blending to create the right balance, quality, and consistency that we are looking for, helps us make the best wines possible from each vintage.

I want to thank both Justin and Aubrey from Rosemont! If you have never been to this gorgeous winery, make sure you add it to your list! Another perk, they have bubbles! You know I am here for that!

This week is a little fun! I am highlighting three people but one winemaker! Cori and Jon are the wonderful owners of The Wine Reserve. They work with their stellar winemaker, Doug Fabbioli to produce delicious wine!

We love the collaborative spirit of the VA wine community. Here in Loudoun it’s a continuous exchange of ideas, experiences, and grapes. Our winemaker, Doug Fabbioli from @fabbioliwines, has been an incredible teacher throughout this journey. Working together with him in the “Fab Lab” we aspire to make wines for the head and the heart—conversation-starters with nuanced character that are fun to drink. 

Our passion for wine evolved from our love of travel–one particularly memorable experience was a road trip we took in a tiny Fiat from Paris to the South of France where we would stop at these off-beat family wineries along the way. Each experience was so unique. They would bring out cheeses and other goodies from their neighbors–it was cultural immersion for our senses. Our wanderlust influenced how we wanted to make our wines and share them–to create an “escape” and share our wines and those we have discovered along the way with our guests.

A big thank you goes out to Cori and Jon! If you haven’t visited The Wine Reserve, get to it! They have the coolest test tube flights that make the experience even more unforgettable!

Our fifth and final winemaker for this series is the amazing Corry Craighill from Septenary Winery. I wanted to end this series with a KILLER female winemaker!

I recently started with Septenary Winery in the spring of 2020.  I am excited with this new position that I will be able to focus on both the vineyard and the winery throughout the year.  We have two main sites that total about 16 acres, so I can dial in on the strengths and address the weaknesses.  Everything will take time though—learning about the sites doesn’t happen in one vintage, especially in such a variable climate like Virginia. Patience is not my virtue!  I plan to spend a majority of my time in the vineyard in order to learn how to make wines that express the sites, the vintage, and my own style.  However I am always learning and developing my winemaking techniques.  Starting a new chapter of my career will change how I make the wines, how I bring the vineyard into the cellar, how I approach every detail.   

Virginia is very collaborative.  The open dialogue within the community is really important in a state that has such variable conditions, and growers and winemakers are usually willing to share ideas to lend a hand.  I have a soft spot for Virginia because I was born and raised here, but I have seen the potential in the sites and wines that our community is producing.   

I want to thank Corry and the amazing crew at Septenary! I highly suggest a visit to this beautiful winery. Enjoy a glass overlooking their beautiful patio and mountains!

As we wrap up Virginia Wine Month, I want to thank y’all for following along! I had so much fun this month sharing my passion Virginia Wine!

Cheers, Paige

One thought on “A Spotlight on Virginia Winemakers

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s