Virginia Peninsula AVA Established by TTB
September 02, 2021
A peninsula bordered on the north and south sides by rivers and a large salt-water bay to the east might not appear to be the best place to grow grapes and make wine, or to become the most recent American Viticultural Area (AVA) established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). However, on August 27, the TTB announced that the Virginia Peninsula AVA would join the eight other AVAs that cover most of the rest of Virginia.
The Virginia Peninsula AVA is located on the southernmost of three peninsulas on the east coast of Virginia. The Chesapeake Bay is to the east; the Pamunkey River feeds into the York River to form the northern boundary of the peninsula and the James River is the southern boundary. The western boundary of Charles City County and New Kent County is approximately coincident with the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line and the Hopewell fault, which mark the beginning of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge regions of Virginia.
The wineries in the new AVA include:
- Gauthier Vineyard – Barhamsville, VA; founded in 2011; 3 acres; 1,200 cases
- New Kent Winery – New Kent, VA; founded in 2008; 22 acres; 7,000 cases
- Saude Creek Vineyards – Lanexa, VA; founded in 2009; 20 acres; 5,000 cases
- Upper Shirley Vineyards – Charles City, VA; founded in 2013; 17 acres, 300 cases
- The Williamsburg Winery – Williamsburg, VA; founded in 1985; 42 acres; 40,000 cases
As of September 24, the Virginia Peninsula AVA will be official, and the five wineries within the new AVA will be permitted to produce estate bottled wines and to market their distinct region. Katherine Meyerhoff, general manager of Saude Creek Vineyards in Lanexa, told Wine Business Monthly that everyone at Saude Creek was happy that the AVA had finally been approved. “This area is special – the soil, the climate, the land,” she said. “We’re pleased the AVA will be official right before October, which is Virginia Wine Month!”
Kirsten M. Duffeler and Amanda Shortt from The Williamsburg Winery, located just south of Williamsburg, Virginia, were the petitioners for the AVA that includes the region around Jamestown that has distinctly different climatological and geological conditions for growing grapes. The winery, founded by Patrick G. Duffeler in 1985, is one of the five largest wineries in the state. They now have 42 acres of grapes and produce approximately 40,000 cases of wine each year.
Patrick Duffeler reported to WBM that the AVA project was actually started ten years ago, and he and the other wineries in the region were delighted that The Williamsburg Winery was pushing for the establishment of an AVA. Originally from Belgium, Duffeler first visited Williamsburg in 1961 and fell in love with the area. In 1983, he and his wife Peggy purchased 300 acres of land and founded The Williamsburg Winery in 1985, when there were only 14 wineries in all of Virginia. He is pleased that there are now a total of five wineries in the new AVA that are doing well and he views the formalization of the AVA as a recognition that they are in a geographic area with some special characteristics. There are the physical aspects, such as the James River, and historical events like the founding of Jamestown in 1607, the Battle at Yorktown in 1781, and the town of Williamsburg, that attract tourists who also like to visit wineries.
The history of wine in Virginia goes back to the first permanent English settlement in North America. Two years after Captain John Smith established Jamestown in 1607, he made about 20 gallons of wine from wild grapes growing near the settlement. Lord Delaware, governor of the colony of Virginia, arranged in 1619 for the Virginia Company in London to send vinifera vines and eight French vignerons to Virginia. Even with laws in place requiring plantations to grow some grapes and every male over the age of 20 to plant 20 grapevines, that didn’t make the vines survive. It was not until after the end of Prohibition that test plots of vinifera grapes were successfully planted in Virginia.
Today there are 333 wineries across Virginia and eight existing AVAs:
- Middleburg, VA AVA – northern Piedmont region, 50 miles west of Washington, DC
- Virginia’s Eastern Shore AVA – 70-mile length of Virginia’s Eastern Shore
- Monticello AVA – central Piedmont area
- North Fork of Roanoke AVA – southwestern VA, 22 miles along the Roanoke River
- Northern Neck George Washington Birthplace AVA – western shore of the Chesapeake Bay
- Rocky Knob AVA – eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains with altitudes as high as 3,500’
- Shenandoah Valley AVA (shared with West Virginia) – Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Appalachian and Allegheny plateaus to the west
- Appalachian High Country AVA (shared with North Carolina and Tennessee) – includes Grayson County in the “Appalachian High Country”
The peninsula is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a region with elevations ranging from sea level to approximately 250 feet. It is underlain by Cenozoic-era sand, mud and gravel that were deposited during periods of higher sea levels. The bedrock tends to be fractured, allowing for greater root depth and greater rainfall permeability, all of which makes the region good for viticulture. The geology of the regions to the west of the peninsula consists of igneous and metamorphic rock, including granite and gneiss, and the bedrock is less porous and less fractured than that of the Virginia Peninsula AVA.
The region can be described as having a humid subtropical climate, with long, humid summers and moderate to mild winters. To the north and the south, regions have lower average growing season high temperatures, lower average growing season low temperatures, and lower average maximum high temperatures than in the peninsula region. The new AVA region receives more rainfall than the region to the north and less rainfall than areas to the south.