FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Return to Virginia

Few regions in the United States share California’s climate and environmental conditions for growing grapes. Yet the desire to produce fine table wine has been a longstanding dream for many Americans, including Thomas Jefferson, whose attempts to plant vines imported from Europe (Vitis vinifera) were foiled by the humidity and cold winters of Virginia’s climate.

Scientists at Virginia Tech’s Agricultural Research and Extension Centers, working with growers and winemakers, developed successful practices for producing wine from the state’s diverse soils and climate conditions. While production of the popular French varietals like Cabernet and Chardonnay eventually became possible, some Virginians also experimented with and embraced different types of grapes that thrive in their state.

Map of Nelson County, 1990s

Map of Nelson County, 1990s

Using mapping technologies, scientists recorded the characteristics of soil, climate, and topography in Virginia’s wine-producing areas. Growers used these maps to determine which varieties of grapes to plant. Scientists and growers have also collaborated to develop best vineyard practices for various terrains.  

Courtesy of Virginia Tech

Flip chart, 1990s

Jennifer McCloud, a newcomer to Virginia wine country, sought advice from various sources on the best grapes to plant. This flip chart reveals the substance of a key conversation with a wine expert, which led to McCloud’s planting of Viognier, a white French varietal, at Chrysalis, her winery near Middleburg, Virginia.

Gift of Jennifer McCloud

View object record
Tasting Virginia, about 2010

Tasting Virginia, about 2010

In the 1990s, the acreage devoted to grape growing in Virginia increased 300 percent, and by 2000, the state ranked fifth in wine production in the United States.

Courtesy of Richmond Times Dispatch

Research vineyard, 2009

Research vineyard, 2009

Professor Tony Wolf and students at the Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Winchester, Virginia.

Photo by Jim Stroup, courtesy of Virginia Tech