BARBOURSVILLE, Va. - Winemaker Luca Paschina arrived from Italy 17 years ago on a mission to bring his craft to Virginia, tailor grape-growing to the local climate and soil, and succeed where Thomas Jefferson failed a couple hundred years before.
Paschina, general manager of Barboursville Vineyards, and other vintners have learned what works in Virginia, and some of their wines are drawing favorable attention and holding their own against products from more established regions.
As a result, Virginia also is attracting more tourists to partake in wine tastings, local cuisine and stays at nearby inns. The state has always lured visitors with history and natural beauty, but now it's working to grow this tourism niche by offering Virginia Wine Trails. The trails suggest itineraries for several regions across the state - wineries, restaurants, nearby historic sites and special events.
Barboursville, the sole American venture of Italy's Zonin winemaking family, is a destination on the Monticello wine trail, named after Jefferson's famous estate, where the third president planted European grapes in a doomed effort to produce wine.
It features the three-suite 1804 Inn, which sits next to the four-columned ruins of the Jefferson-designed plantation manor of former Virginia governor James Barbour and overlooks wooded, rolling hills.
Its signature wine is the Octagon, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon stored in its own barrel aging room, which was finished last year for the vineyard's 30th anniversary.
After sampling its wines, visitors can dine at Palladio, Barboursville's northern Italian restaurant where chef Melissa Close uses local produce and regional ingredients, such as crab and rockfish from the Chesapeake Bay. The fall season's offerings include several richer dishes that can be paired with the fuller-bodied 2005 Barbera Reserve: pan-roasted quail with grilled acorn squash, licorice-glazed venison loin with potato-mushroom tart and beef brisket with roasted new potatoes and sauteed baby vegetables.
Paschina said that the popularity of television food shows has helped spur a growing interest in culinary tourism, and he is starting to see more Americans developing an appreciation of wine, especially certain reds that were previously deemed 'too difficult.'
'People were seeing wine more as a beverage. It's meant to go on the table,' he said. 'People are just learning how to drink it with food, and they're starting to educate themselves and have fun at the same time.'
Since Barboursville's founding in 1976, Virginia vineyards have grown from a handful to nearly 120 statewide, placing Virginia fifth in the nation in the number of wineries. It's also among the fastest-growing wine-producing states, according to tax figures from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
'We as a state over the past three years have put a much greater emphasis on wine,' said Tamra Talmadge-Anderson, a Virginia tourism spokeswoman. Visitors who include a Virginia winery on their trips spend twice as much per person than the average traveler, $299 versus $129, according to a state tourism department study.
Several wineries are holding events throughout the fall, including open houses Thanksgiving weekend to kick off the holiday season. A sampling of other events from several regions:
The Williamsburg Winery, a 5-minute drive from the historic Colonial village, plans to open Wedmore Place, a 28-room European-style luxury inn, on the vineyard property.
Tarara Winery, in northern Virginia's horse and hunt country, is holding a barrel tasting in its 6,000-square-foot cave to mark the release of its new vintages.
Villa Appalaccia Winery on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwest Virginia plans to introduce its first release of aglianico, a new Italian red.
Virginia vineyards may also benefit from a growing interest in alternatives to traditional wine destinations such as Napa and Sonoma in California, Washington state and New York's Finger Lakes, according to Erik Wolf, chief executive of the International Culinary Tourism Association, a trade group.
Carolyn Roberts, a former Sonoma resident, strolled around Barboursville on a detour on the way from Philadelphia to her home in Knoxville, Tenn. Her plans included spending the night in nearby Charlottesville, home to Monticello and the University of Virginia - as well as Kluge Estate Winery and several other vineyards.
'It's a big country - California shouldn't have all the fun,' Roberts said.
SideBar: If You Go
Note: Hours for winery tours and tastings vary by season. Lodging rates vary by room, day and season.
Virginia Wine Destinations: www.virginia.org/wine or 800-828-4637.
Barboursville Vineyards: 17655 Winery Road, Route 777, Barboursville; www.barboursvillewine.com or 540-832-3824.
Palladio Restaurant (at Barboursville): www.palladiorestaurant.com or 540-832-7848. Lunch, Wednesday-Sunday, noon-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Friday-Saturday, 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Reservations required for dinner. Four-course menu, $70, with wine pairing, $95.
1804 Inn (at Barboursville): www.the1804inn.com or 434-760-2212. Rates $225-$550.
Kluge Estate Vineyards: 100 Grand Cru Drive, Charlottesville; http://www.klugeestateonline.com/ or 434-977-3895.
Keswick Vineyards: 1575 Keswick Winery Drive, Keswick; www.keswickvineyards.com or 888-244-3341.
Keswick Hall: 701 Club Drive, Keswick; www.keswick.com/web/okes/okes-a1a-splash.jsp or 800-274-5391. Rates $415-$925.