Barboursville Vineyards Review
Address: 17655 Winery Rd. Barboursville,Virginia 22923.
Phone Number: 540-832-3824
Tasting Hours: Mon-Sat 10:00-5:00, Sun 11:00-5:00
Region: Monticello AVA, Virginia
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Review Date: 10/26/2013
Reviewer: Brian Yost
Depending on where you are coming from, the village of Barboursville can be reached using either State Route 20 or 33. Both are scenic drives through the rolling hills and horse farms of the Virginia Piedmont. The village sits at the intersection of these two routes and at the foot of Southwestern Mountain. Look for the winery signs as you enter this small community, and you will be directed to turn onto Governor Barbour Street and then Vineyard Road. Its not very far before you reach the gate of Barboursville Vineyards, but be vigilant. Ive driven past it more than once.
The property takes its name from the ruins of the Barboursville mansion. The mansion was designed by Thomas Jefferson and was home to Virginias Governor Barbour until it was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1885. Today the ruin is a major regional landmark.
On the Barboursville property you will also find the 1804 Inn and cottages (either of which can be reserved as accommodations), and the Palladio Restaurant. I have not dined at Palladio, but it receives excellent reviews and it has been on my list for some time. The cuisine is mainly Northern Italian and it is paired with the Barboursville wines. Given the availability of dining, lodging, and of course wine, this could be a perfect weekend getaway.
Gianni and Silvana Zonin, who also own vineyards throughout Italy, began planting grapes at Barboursville while Virginia winemaking was still in its infancy. The Zonins brought 150 years of winemaking experience to the task. First Gabriele Rausse and then Luca Paschina operated the winery as general manager and winemaker. Both are winemaking superstars and both shared and continue to share their knowledge with the Virginia winemaking community. The current success of Virginia viticulture can be attributed, in no small part, to the influence and expertise of Rausse and Paschina.
In 1976, Barboursville Vineyards became one of the first wineries in the state and was also the first to grow vinifera (traditional European varietals). This is significant, because the prevailing wisdom at the time was to grow French hybrids. It was widely believed (and reinforced by pronouncements from viticulturalists at Virginia Tech) that traditional European grapes could not be grown in Virginia. Barboursville proved them wrong and set the stage for production of world-class wines in the Commonwealth.
Barboursville currently produces about 35,000 cases per year. By Virginia standards, this is a pretty large operation, but not so large that they’ve lost sight of quality. This vineyard is definitely recognized for fine wine and has earned accolades both in Europe and the United States.
On my most recent visit, there were nineteen wines available for tasting and five more for sale. I obviously cant talk about all of these without putting you to sleep, but I should at least orient you to the Barboursville lineup. As you might imagine, there are a number of Italian varietals on the list. Ive been to a few Virginia wineries that pretend to specialize in Italian grapes, but Barboursville is the gold standard. They produce Sangiovese, Barbera and Nebbiolo Reserves, with Vermentino as the single white Italian varietal. They’ve had nearly forty years to figure out what works, so I doubt that you will be disappointed with any of the Italian varietals.
Of the remaining seven whites, the Viognier Reserve was, of course, exceptional. You almost cant go wrong with Viognier in Virginia. The real surprise for me was the Riesling. You dont encounter a lot of Riesling in the Commonwealth. This example is something of an Alsatian-style, off-dry wine with nice fruit. The other whites are also quite good and displayed the characteristics typical of the local terroir.
Aside from the Italians mentioned above, there are a number of French varietals featured on the menu. I found the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve to be particularly inspired and one of the better examples I’ve encountered in Virginia. The main event, however, is the Octagon, which is a Bordeaux blend. It is a consistent medal winner and, in my opinion, the finest of the Barboursville wines. Its worth the trip just to sample this offering.
The tasting at Barboursville is divided into stations. I cant say I’ve seen this before, but I can say that its an interesting way to organize the experience. So it breaks down like this, the first station contains all the white varietals. Then there are stations for Italian reds, French reds, Octagon, Reserves and finally dessert wines. I find it an unusual organizational concept, but it does work. Unfortunately, on a busy day it can result in waiting in multiple tasting lines. This is one winery that consistently draws a crowd, so be patient. Its worth the wait.
I have to say, that if you were only going to visit one winery in the state, this would be the one. Nearly every article or discussion of Virginia wine includes some mention of Barboursville Vineyards. Its historical significance is reason enough, but the quality of the wine and the beauty of the Virginia Piedmont are even more compelling motivators.