This story originally appeared in the Napa Valley Register.
Visiting a wine region for the first time can be a daunting experience. For those of us who regularly visit wine regions, we forget how overwhelming it can be.
For example, if you were heading to Napa for the first time, would you know the difference between Atlas Peak, Diamond Mountain District and Howell Mountain? Would you know if one area is better known for a grape variety than another? Would you know that the cabernet sauvignon from Atlas Peak has more cherry fruit and acidity than the cabernet sauvignon from Howell Mountain that has notes of blackberry and rich tannins?
I have the privilege to travel to many wine regions. I regularly go to Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma, as well as some international areas, and over multiple visits have gotten to know these regions and what differentiates one designated AVA over another.
I take for granted this knowledge and insight of Santa Barbara wine regions that I have, as I realized when I traveled there this past week with some friends. They had not spent significant time in Santa Barbara wine country, and it was an opportunity to delve into the diversity of the region. Being told about how the transverse mountain range affects the climates from Santa Maria to Happy Canyon is informative, but is difficult to truly comprehend without tasting.
Of course, the ideal is to spend time in each AVA, tasting a few wines in each area in order to get a sense of place. But if time does not allow, there are two places that offer an opportunity to gain an understanding of the entire region in one place.
The Valley Project
The Shenandoah Valley sits between two mountain ranges, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Allegheny Mountains.
Tucked in a valley, it does not have close proximity to urban centers as its neighboring wine regions (Middleburg AVA has Washington, D.C., and Monticello AVA has Charlottesville). What the Shenandoah Valley has is the town of Winchester to the north, which is the apple capital of the country, and the small town of Staunton to the south, a charming place.
In addition, the Shenandoah Valley is located at a higher elevation and gets less rain compared to the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains and other wine areas in Virginia. It is a statistically drier and cooler area, and perhaps it is the most ideal place to be making wine in Virginia.