Virginia’s most awarded American Viticultural Area (AVA), the Monticello AVA, is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello where he worked to establish vinifera vineyards with Filippo Mazzei in the 1770’s in the hopes that Virginia could become a wine making area, creating wine on par with those he enjoyed in the Old World while traveling as Minister to France. Though they were interrupted in their viticultural pursuits by the American Revolution and stymied by environmental factors, they’d clearly be delighted to see today how the Monticello AVA is carrying out their dreams of producing world class wines.
"We could, in the United States, make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe," wrote Jefferson in 1808, "not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good."
The Monticello AVA is Virginia’s oldest, established in 1984, and covers roughly 800,000 acres of the Central Piedmont including most of the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Orange and Nelson all within approximately 25 miles of Charlottesville. Growing more than 30 varieties of grapes, the Monticello AVA is most noted for Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier which is often noted as the area’s signature grape, well developed by the wine pioneers at Horton Vineyards.
Tucked into the Eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and including the small ridge known as the Southwest Mountains, the hardiness zone of the Monticello AVA is 7a except in some higher vineyards which are 6b. The warm summers and the wind protection of the mountains contribute to success in the vineyards’ expression of terroir. Soil types range widely from fertile silty loams to heavier clay-based soils rich in granite. The greatest challenge in the climate is warm humid summers which are managed by extensive canopy work, trellising and pruning techniques that can even be block specific on some properties. Winter freezes and late frosts after bud break also challenge viticulturists, leading to careful site selection, often at altitudes of 800 feet and up.
Several Monticello AVA wineries have earned national and statewide recognition. In 2022 some of the most notable awards included The Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association presentation the prestigious 2022 Monteith Award to Sharon Horton of Horton Vineyards, Barboursville Vineyards’ Viognier Reserve 2020 won double gold in the San Francisco Chronicle competition and several wineries placed in the Virginia Governor’s Cup Case: Barboursville Vineyards – 2020 Vermentino Reserve, Wisdom Oak Winery – 2019 NINETEEN, Michael Shaps Wineworks – 2019 Chardonnay, Stinson Vineyards – 2017 Meritage, Trump Winery – 2015 Brut Reserve, Pollak Vineyards – 2017 Meritage.
The culmination of the spring awards season for wineries was the annual Monticello Cup competition. Wisdom Oak Winery won the 2022 Monticello Cup for their NINETEEN, a Bordeaux-style red blend.
Virginia is quickly becoming a leader in our domestic wine market. With more than 300 vineyards statewide and over 4,000 acres under vine it is becoming easy for everyone to enjoy the terroir of Virginia.