A wine’s pedigree can be defined at least in part by its geography. Within Virginia, there are eight federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (or AVAs) that have characteristics, or terroir, that distinguish them from surrounding areas and affect how grapes are grown there. A ninth extends into North Carolina and Tennessee.
Coastal Virginia AVAs
Between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this AVA is synonymous with its sole winery, Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek, where the Wehner Family, second-generation winegrowers (with a third budding), farm an area distinct for its maritime climate and deep, well-drained soils on ancient ocean beds, to produce stunning chardonnay, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Their Winter Wine & Oyster Weekends (January 14-16, February 18-20 and March 18–19) epitomize terroir meets merroir or, “what grows together goes together.”
Northern Neck/George Washington Birthplace
James Madison and James Monroe also were born in the Northern Neck, where sandy loam and a stable, temperate climate year-round favor cabernet franc, chardonnay, vidal blanc and chambourcin. One of the largest (and oldest) wineries in the state, Ingleside Vineyards, is here as is one of the smallest, The Dog and Oyster, a micro-vineyard in the front yard of the Hope & Glory Inn.
Williamsburg Winery’s team worked tirelessly to have this area designated an AVA, distinguished by its subtropical climate, extended growing season and, bounded by the James and York Rivers, maritime features such as sedimentary soil. When it received the designation in 2021, winemaker Matthew Meyer said, “This news validates that Virginia continues to be up and coming in the wine world.” New Kent Winery, Upper Shirley Vineyards, Gauthier Vineyard, Jolene Family and Saudé Creek Vineyards also are situated here.
1. Appalachian High Country Spanning Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, it’s not officially counted among Virginia AVAs as none of its wineries is within the Commonwealth. Yet.
2. Eastern Shore, See above.
3. Middleburg Rich soils from eons of granite and sandstone erosion produce top quality wines like the 2022 Governor’s Cup Winner, and Winery’s Unité Reserve 2019.
4. Monticello Thomas Jefferson attempted winemaking here; today it’s home to the highest number of Virginia wineries, including Barboursville, Horton and Michael Shaps.
5. North Fork of Roanoke With gravelly soil, stunning elevations and cool morning fogs, it’s likened to France’s Rhone Valley.
6. Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace, See above.
7. Rocky Knob The smallest of Virginia’s AVAs by area contains Chateau Morrisette, beloved for its labels featuring dogs.
8. Shenandoah Valley Rocky, fertile soil and a warm, relatively dry growing season suit many varietals in Virginia’s largest AVA geographically, stretching into West Virginia.
9. Virginia Peninsula, See above.