I’ll Drink To That Special Edition: Virginia Winemakers

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Episode 349 of I’ll Drink to That! was released recently and it features a tour of wineries and winemaking in the state of Virginia. This episode is a first in that it is entirely hosted by Erin Scala. Erin has regularly contributed wonderful Warm Up segments to IDTT for years now, but this episode sees her in the lead role, contextualizing a diverse winemaking scene and making sense of it for a special episode consisting of a number of interwoven interview segments.

This episode of IDTT is something unique for the show, in that it features a montage of interviews. As opposed to a solitary interview, leading personalities from the Virginia wine industry are profiled and queried, to better focus in on current events and trends in the Monticello AVA and surrounding areas in Virginia. Erin Scala leads off the episode with a brief history of Virginia wine, from Thomas Jefferson’s failed phylloxera-ridden vineyards, to the popular Scuppernong of the late 1800s, carrying through to the post-Prohibition wine trade that gained momentum in the 1970s after Treville Lawrence started his Vinifera Wine Growers Association.

As we find out in this episode, in the 1980s the first generation of today’s Virginia wine scene really set down roots in the wake of a few individuals making headway. The contributions of pioneers like Gabriele Rausse, Denis Horton, Luca Paschina, and Lucie Morton are detailed. And we hear about the parts played in the evolution of the area by people like Elaine Futhey, who was one of the first restaurant buyers to champion wines from Virginia. Also there is the fostering role of people like Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, who got conversations within the industry going with round table sessions for winemakers.

Erin’s interview segments vividly call to mind the challenges that pests and climatic conditions present in Virginia, and highlight the kind of vintage variation swings that can occur from year to year. This is an area where hurricanes can whip through the vineyard, and hungry bears can climb over even tall fences in search of grapes. Also: marauding turkeys can wreak havoc. It is a difficult area to grow grapes from many perspectives.

Because of the correlation of hurricane season with the timing of the red wine harvest, Erin makes it clear that early-ripening grapes tend to be preferred by growers, either white grapes or early-ripening reds. Thus Merlot is often planted, in addition to Viognier, Chardonnay, and (surprise!) Petit Manseng, which turns out to have significant acreage planted in the state. The conversations that Erin features with different growers make clear why such an unusual pick as Petit Manseng is as popular in Virginia as it is today. There is indeed the sense of being in a frontier zone for American wine, a place where the creation of new answers to different climate and soil puzzles have been required. It is also clear how much has been done by a collection of individuals, and thus the format of the episode that brings to bear a collage of different interviews makes perfect sense. Episode 349 is a well curated tour inside a zone that is relatively unknown even to hard core wine nerds today. Here is a perfect chance to become acquainted.

Listen to the stream above, or check it out in iTunes.

I’ll Drink to That is the world’s most listened-to wine podcast, hosted by Levi Dalton. Levi has had a long career working as a sommelier in some of the most distinguished and acclaimed dining rooms in America. He has served wine to guests of Restaurant Daniel, Masa, and Alto, all in Manhattan. Levi has also contributed articles on wine themes to publications such as The Art of Eating, Wine & Spirits magazine, Bon Appetit online, and Eater NY. Check out his pictures on Instagram and follow him on Twitter: @levi_opens_wine

About Erin Scala: Originally from Virginia’s wine country, Erin Scala’s earliest memories of wine include picking and crushing grapes as a child. Scala moved to Manhattan in 2008 and had fun working at PUBLIC, a one-Michelin star restaurant in Nolita, and their adjacent bar, The Daily. She was inspired by the restaurant’s Australian and New Zealand-focused wine list, and in 2013, was honored by Wine Enthusiast in their “40 Under 40” feature for the depth of her selections from the region. After a stint at The Musket Room, Erin moved to Charlottesville, Virginia to run the wine program at Fleurie Restaurant and Petit Pois Bistro. When she’s not working on a Warm Up for the podcast, Scala is off in search of a vineyard, drumming, or writing her blog www.Thinking-Drinking.com. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.