Chelle Koster Walton
After our fourth Virginia Charlottesville-Piedmont region winery of the day, my notes were just a wee bit wine-spotted. The chardonnays and viogniers were beginning to swim together.
After a total of six wineries in two days, we learned three important lessons about Virginia wines: 1. They are not California wines and do not try to be; 2. The beauty of their setting is equally intoxicating; 3. The region’s gourmet inclination is deeply steeped in local heritage.
Thomas Jefferson himself uncorked the story of Virginia wine and food obsession, and so there we began our foray into grapes and grub.
Jefferson has been credited with bringing grape rootstock and recipes from France to the U.S., to his Virginia mountaintop home of Monticello.
"Dinner is served in half Virginian, half French style, in good taste and abundance," Monticello signage quotes Daniel Webster, circa 1824.
The former president was a farmer first and foremost, growing 40 varieties of peas alone in addition to a number of other crops, producing food for the table, beer, and wine. The historic site tour takes in the home’s kitchen, wine cellar, and beer cellar.
With nearly 25 wineries in the surrounding two-county area (250 in all of Virginia), Jefferson’s legacy for growing grapes and making wine survives, along with his delight for fine food.
The still-functioning garden at Monticello keeps the historic site’s Café in fresh produce and special garden tours are available with paid admission. Gift shops sell heirloom seeds and Monticello brand peanuts, root beer, and preserves.