Monticello, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, was the home of Thomas Jefferson (third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia).
Jefferson, looking out from his house on top of the mountain, dreamed of the surrounding vineyards that would produce wine of such high quality that it could rival the best wines of the Old World. To make his dream come true, Jefferson asked for the help of Filippo Mazzei, an Italian globetrotting doctor, who became an honorary citizen of Virginia.
In 1733, Mazzei, intrigued by the availability of land and the possibility of planting vineyards and other Mediterranean crops, moved to Virginia, with a group of Tuscan farmers. In Monticello he met Thomas Jefferson, with whom he already had correspondence. Jefferson convinced him to stay, even giving up a portion of his estate to convince him.
This commercial partnership led to the birth of a first planting of a vineyard in the colony of Virginia. In over forty years of stay Mazzei has researched the terroir and planted thousands of vines in the land around Monticello and the nearby farms. The work was interrupted with the onset of the American Revolution.
After the Revolution, Jefferson continued in his dream which, however, remained unfulfilled, due to various vicissitudes, including the phylloxera disease.
Only in 1835, something began to change thanks to Dr. DN Norton, able to grow a native grape, not susceptible to phylloxera, which would bear his name, Norton.
Monticello wines, thus, obtained their first international recognition and Charlottesville became known as the “capital of the Virginia wine belt”.
Since then, the fame of Monticello and its winemaking tradition has been known throughout the world and has always been kept high also thanks to Associations such as Monticello Wine Trail.
Made up of wineries in the area, all within 25 miles of Charlottesville, the Association promotes the excellence of Monticello wines internationally. The cellars of the Association welcome the visitor (national and international) in a welcoming and bucolic atmosphere to taste their wine.
Let’s find out more from the words of Stephen Barnard, winemaker at Keswick Vineyards.
©Monticello Wine Trails- Knight’s Gambit
Since the birth of Monticello Wine Trail, which goals have you achieved and which ones remain to be achieved?
I think we can look back and be proud of the improvement in the quality of the wines, the establishment of the MWT as a destination for people who love wine and want to experience the diversity and beauty our trail has to offer.
We want to continue solidifying the MWT as a premier producing wine area and promote the wines further and expand our boundaries, which is important for the trail, but also has positive effects on other hospitality businesses within the area.
We have to realize that we are just stewards of the land for a short amount of time, and that we have to pass on information, protect the land and inspire generations to get into this business and build upon what has been done thus far.
What are the peculiarities of the territory and its wines?
It is a hard question to answer because there is not a single thing that defines this trail. Yes, the quality of wine is high, but I love the fact that it includes such diversity of varietals and styles. Our terroirs are so diverse and with the talent that we have in our area, the wines are so unique and expressive of site and offer the consumer so many wonderful options.
©Monticello- Afton Mountain Vineyard
What services/activities do you use to promote Monticello Wine Trail?
Social Media and website services are critical and we have hired New World Wine Consulting who handles all our day to day posts, sharing stories from all the wineries and delivering that content to consumers. Alongside the MWT website, we also work with the CACVB who have implemented a passport program to encourage visitors to visit other MWT wineries.
We hold the Monticello Cup Wine Competition and leading up to the gala we have a week long wine focused program that includes a festival and dinners (something we have not been able to do with the recent Covid upsurge but hopefully will do again).
Could you briefly describe the areas of cultural and wine tourism interest on Monticello Wine Trail?
The trail does serve as leverage for economic development and stimulus for the areas. Folks who visit the trail are staying at local hotels and B and B’s, eat at local restaurants, will visit Charlottesville and frequent local small businesses. Once that fall in love with the area, the wines, the culture; they hopefully go back home and write about it, convince other people to visit our area so all of us are.