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Story of VA Wine Brought to Life by Expert

Virginia wine is increasingly in the news. The region was recently acknowledged as a Top Ten Destination by The Wine Enthusiast. Our “Wine and Dine” week expanded to a month-long celebration in March with the participation of 500+ restaurants and retailers, and the Virginia Governor’s Cup competition brought in a panel of national judges to provide unbiased opinions on the quality of Virginia wines. Most of the accolades begin something like, (in stentorious tone): “When Thomas Jefferson planted vines at Monticello…” etc.

To get the whole picture, however, one needs to go Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, the clever title of Virginia wine expert Richard Leahy’s new book.

VA wine writer Richard Leahy

Richard Leahy introduces his new book, Beyond Jefferson's Vines. Carlo DeVito of Sterling Epicure assists.

Leahy is both connoisseur and authority when it comes to Virginia wine. His involvement in the trade dates to 1986, when he began writing for the Connection newspapers in northern Virginia. I first crossed paths with him in his role as coordinator for the International Eastern Wine Competition, Vineyard and Winery Management’s long-running and inclusive competition, now in its 36th year. Richard was an editor at the magazine for over a decade, garnering a wealth of information on the best (and worst) of the east. He was tapped by Kevin Zraly to edit our region for his American Wine Guide, and by the prestigious Oxford Companion to oversee the Mid-Atlantic and Southern sections.

All this to say Leahy has knowledge and experience with Virginia wine that is comprehensive. He shares these experiences with us in an eminently readable tale of the development of the vine in VA.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines – The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia is part travelogue and part history lesson – with more than a little viticulture and viniculture education – but all rolled together at a brisk, enjoyable pace. He knows the founders of the modern Virginia wine scene: Gabriele Rausse, Dennis Horton, Jim Law. Leahy shares conversations with leading VA winemakers (or wine growers, as many prefer to be known); the Circle of Wine Writers, a British-based group which includes illustrious figures like Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier; and Virginia Tech educators Tony Wolf and Bruce Zoecklein, among many others.

Leahy leads us on a tour of the state with stops all the way from Chatham Vineyards on the Eastern shore, to Rockbridge west of Rt. 81, and everywhere in between. A quick scan of the index reveals at least a mention of over 110 of Virginia’s wineries. Richard relates personal experiences with a majority of these, complemented by anecdotes from winemakers, owners and fans.

This is a must-read for people curious about the development of the wine trade in VA, lending insight into its roots and making predictions on where it’s going. With over 200 wineries – and even more vineyards – Virginia is among the top producers in the US. The wine trade, it was recently reported by the governor’s office, returned $750 million to the economy in the commonwealth and grapes reached number 19 on the list of top agricultural products. Richard Leahy’s book provides an excellent overview of every aspect of wine in Virginia.

Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, published by Sterling Epicure $19.99

Hardcover, 226 pages, with a foreword by Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre. Indexed. Available May 1 at Barnes & Noble stores in Virginia. If you can’t wait, check Richard’s schedule of personal appearances at Richard G. Leahy’s Beyond Jefferson’s Vines. And subscribe to the Richard Leahy Wine Report for the latest updates.