There are more than 200 vineyards in Virginia, including a growing number led by female winemakers and owners. These wine professionals’ entrepreneurial spirits have brought new opportunities to the state’s wine scene via charitable support, unique dining options and new grape varietals—and in one case, heading out of the vineyard and into the brewery.
Della Bogaty was already helping run a successful wine business at Veramar Vineyard in Berryville, when she and her husband opened the Argentinian-inspired Bogati Bodega in Round Hill. This year, Bogati added a new chocolate pairing menu for both its whites and reds and will release an estate-grown Malbec and new varietals such as Touriga Nacional
“I wanted to look outside of Virginia and take some chances—be on the cutting edge,” Bogaty said. She noted that Virginia is full of friendly competition, and she is heartened by the recent influx of educated winemakers elevating the quality—and exposure—for wine in Virginia.
Sharon Roeder of Barrel Oak Winery
Sharon Roeder, winemaker-owner at Barrel Oak, echoed the sentiment. She and her husband Brian stumbled into the marketing tool that became the hallmark of their business—dogs. The couple and their pups play host to guests and their canines every weekend at the five-year-old Delaplane winery.
“We attract a weekend crowd that wants to get out of the house but not leave their pet family behind. It looks like the Westminster Dog Show out here some days,” Roeder said, adding, “Some people never make it past the porch.”
Another personal passion for the couple is supporting the local community. Shortly after opening, they were approached to host a fundraiser, and while many wineries focus on weddings and meetings—Barrel Oak has become a popular spot for charitable events.
At a recent pediatric cancer event in honor of one of the winery’s regulars who lost a daughter to the disease, husband Brian walked through the crowd raising money to shave his head. A ham with a big heart.
Roeder said she learns something new with each harvest, and always feels “welcome at the table” of regional roundtable discussions and tastings that help Virginia winemakers make the most of their varied backgrounds: some are self-taught while others have trained in Europe and received instruction at the nation’s top oenology programs.
“Winemakers work together. You can use them as a life line, phone a friend. ‘Can I borrow three cups of citric acid, can I borrow filter pads? Or, my press just broke, and I have three tons [of product] sitting on the crush pad. Can I bring it over?’”
This year, look for the winery’s stainless fermented Reserve Chardonnay, estate-grown Petit Manseng and single varietal Petit Verdot, normally seen in blends.
At Loudoun Valley Vineyards in Waterford, winemaker-owner Bree Anne Moore is taking a different approach—comfort food for the wine drinker’s soul. The Farmer’s Table, the winery’s new in-house weekend restaurant, uses locally sourced produce and meats for its menu of small plates, including beef sliders and red neck eggrolls stuffed with pulled pork.
“The communal table concept is exactly what we had in mind when we opened the winery. We want people to feel welcome, like a part of our family,” said Moore.
She noted that she and other winemakers—including her female peers—network when they can.
“We’re all strapped for time, but if anyone has questions, my door is open and so are theirs. The women in the Virginia wine industry are an intelligent, amazing bunch. I’m lucky to be a part of this group,” she added.
Lori Corcoran, co-owner and winemaker at Corcoran Vineyards, and her husband Jim started growing grapes on their Waterford farm in 2001. Soon after, Corcoran went to Virginia Tech to get a better understanding of the chemistry of winemaking and over the next decade increased the winery’s annual production from 500 to 5,000 cases.
The education was key. “It is necessary to never stop learning about winemaking, especially here in Virginia since Mother Nature seems to give us different types of grapes every year [depending on the weather],” Corcoran wrote in an e-mail.
She makes 17 different wines a year, including several sweeter wines that incorporate fruit such as fermented blackberries in Chambourcin blend Black Jack, and raspberries in the Merlot-led RAZ. This year, Corcoran is releasing its first Pinot Noir—a rare single varietal in the Virginia because of the grape’s notoriously thin skin.
The Corcorans expanded their empire two years ago by opening a brewery. The dual options allow them to satisfy lovers of the grape and the grain—especially helpful when one half of a couple wants a Chardonnay and the other craves an IPA.
Interested in learning more about the life of a winemaker? Corcoran is active on Twitter @corkysfarm—especially in the early mornings.
You can’t name your vineyard Well Hung and not expect some below the belt jokes. Good humored co-owners Amy Steers and Kathy Rash have fully embraced the name—coined when one of the original owners made a comment about how well the grapes were hanging on the vine—putting an image of the lower halves of Steers’s (urologist!) husband and two sons on the label.
Steers, a former oncology nurse turned viticulturist, and her family own the vineyard. She and her husband, a wine geek, put the grapes in in 2000 as a hobby, selling fruit to local wineries. When business developer Rush entered the alliance things started to take shape and Well Hung bottled its inaugural vintage in 2009.
The Charlottesville-area vineyard doesn’t aspire to be a destination—they have no plans for a tasting room and don’t own production equipment. Well Hung contracts with famed winemaker Michael Shaps, who bottles and blends the wine. Steers and her team are also responsible for all of the bottle sales, conduct tastings and work the festival circuit, including plans this summer for the state’s largest wine event—Vintage Virginia in Bull Run. Other plans for 2013 include a limited bottling of estate-grown grapes and release this spring of Well Hung’s first-ever rose, made from 100% Cabernet Franc. The grapes are legit—the 2010 straight varietal won a bronze medal at the Virginia Governor’s Cup.