Vicky Kuharski, Staff Writer~

Though it may not come immediately to mind when considering the biggest wine states, Virginia tops out at number five for states with the most wineries in the U.S.

This is due in part to one of the country’s most esteemed founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Though famous for being the third president of the United States and being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, he is also noted for being the “Founding Father of Wine.”

Jefferson’s plantation at Poplar Forest in Bedford, VA. will be host to the 9th Annual Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival. The festival will be held Saturday, Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will include hors d’oeuvres, special wine tastings and a private audience with Thomas Jefferson and Gabriele Rausse. As of right now VIP tickets are sold out, but keep an eye out for more being posted in the week leading up to the event. Designated Driver tickets are available for $10 for the non-drinkers.

A number of different vendors will be available. Alcohol vendors include Lazy Days Winery, Peaks of Otter Winery, Rebec Vineyards and Jefferson Vineyards. Food and craft vendors will be in attendance, as well. Some vendors to look out for include Favored Flavors, Alpaca by Jaca, Gregory’s Grill and Muddy Pup Soap. A full list of vendors can be found on the festival’s website.

Thomas Jefferson's House at Poplar Forest. Photo provided by Vicky Kuharski. March 31, 2017..
Thomas Jefferson’s House at Poplar Forest. Photo provided by Vicky Kuharski. March 31, 2017.

Virginia’s first winery was established at Monticello. When Jefferson envisioned Monticello, it was with vineyards. He gave up 2,000 acres of his land to Filippo Mazzei, an Italian viticulturist in an effort to make his dream a reality.

Unfortunately, many factors were in play to work against Jefferson’s intent to turn Virginia into wine country. The Revolutionary and Civil Wars not only destroyed important land, but also distracted Jefferson and others from pursuing their dream.

The wine industry got another hit during Prohibition. It was a crucial time in the beginning development of vineyards in the country when Prohibition struck. Unfortunately, many of the vineyards were destroyed and many winemakers chose to move to different countries to follow their passion. Because of this, much knowledge was lost by the time alcohol became legal again.

The only wine production and consumption during this time was strictly for religious purposes. Rabbis were able to approve the sale of wine for the Sabbath under the Volstead Act.

Jefferson tried and failed seven times to cultivate crops for wine. Virginia did not see much success at growing the proper grapes until 1835, when Dr. Daniel Norton cultivated a domestic grape that kickstarted Virginia’s history of award-winning wines.

Though it had a rough start, Virginia’s wine history is expansive and intriguing. Even though it is likely that Thomas Jefferson never got to fully experience the fruits of his labor, his legacy lives on in the vineyards that are scattered through Virginia today.

Come celebrate Virginia’s history on Saturday by exploring Poplar Forest and sampling flavors from different wineries. More information can be found at the Poplar Forest website or on their Facebook page.

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