Virginia wine gets more exciting all the time. We have celebrity sightings and Falcon Crest-style soap operas (the recent saga of Oasis winery), our wedding palaces and a lot of successful people living out their dreams of owning vineyards and producing their own wine. And the quality level is rising as well, despite the state's reputation for inconsistency. (Hey, I've tasted a lot of bad California wine lately.)
As the Old Dominion continues to thrive, with more than 130 wineries, there are some smaller ones that deserve attention. They don't seek out the limelight, they don't host polo matches and they won't appear in glamor shots in hunt country lifestyle magazines. Show up at their door, and they'll gladly pour you a taste of wine, but please don't show up in a bus or limousine and by all means don't ask them to host your wedding.
I call these winemakers "Virginia's garagistes." We've seen some of this type before, who have succeeded and grown fairly big - Jim Law at Linden Vineyards and Shep Rouse of Rockbridge come to mind - artisans whose focus is on the wine, not the lifestyle, and who sometimes act as though selling their wine is a necessary evil, an unpleasant flip side to the joys of mucking around in the vineyard and tinkering with ornery equipment in the winery.
In the March issue of Washingtonian magazine, I profile two of these garagistes. Bernd Jung of Chester Gap Cellars near Front Royal is very much in the Jim Law mold - a winegrower above all, who does his work in the vineyards, sometimes even with a rifle! And Michael Shaps, who made a reputation as Virginia's premier consulting winemaker when he helped several Charlottesville wineries in their early days, is setting out on his own with Virginia Wineworks, the Old Dominion's first custom-crush winery.
The March issue is on news stands now, and should be posted late this month on Washingtonian.com. But my detailed tasting notes of wines from Chester Gap and Virginia Wineworks are available online now.