Beyond Jefferson’s Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia by Richard G. Leahy is an easy pickup for anyone who is highly interested in Virginia wine, as you can see in the subtitle. This would be my first read on Virginia wines given to me by my brother, who also has a passion for Virginia wines and has visited many more wineries than I.
The book begins with a very good history and overview of Virginia and it’s relationship with wine along with Thomas Jefferson’s experiment of growing his own hopeful wine grapes in Virginia. I really enjoyed this part of the book. It makes someone look back and remember the history lessons taught about Thomas Jefferson both positive and negative and I just think to myself that I wish my history teacher knew some of this information. But, then again, telling wine history to high schoolers might come off wrong or bore them to death.
The book continues with some focuses on certain Virginia wineries that are important to note. I personally enjoyed his first chapter on RdV Vineyards because it really transports you there to a winery in which you cannot just drive up and visit. A winery that is trying to create finer Virginia wines.
There were only two and a half drawbacks. The first is the mention of vintages of wines, so unless you followed these wineries closely, you will not be able to know when you could taste these vintages or more likely it will have been too late. More of a focus on the vines and getting to hear what each wineries long-term plans touch this book but may have been a better substitute. The other part of the book that I could not stand was when it went through the regions. The parts I enjoyed were about the owners or the descriptions of the wineries. What I really didn’t like was the turn-by-turn directions that the author provided like MapQuest for wine lovers. Now, I am sure many individuals might take this book and map out their trips to the regions and the wineries but quotes like “make sure you have your turning signal on” is a waste of time for a reader who is wanting the Virginia wine knowledge.
If I were the author I would have published this book and focused on the different tastes of the region and then came out with a pocket guide companion that would give you turn-by-turn directions. But with modern GPS, smart phones, and actual Virginia wine apps, this too might have been pointless.
The half of a drawback that I mention is the chapter, “Virginia Women of the Vine.” As much as I enjoyed the content of the chapter and understand that women are a minority in the winemaking world, that it would have been nice to highlight some other important individuals (regardless of gender). I’ve heard Gabrielle Rausse is one of the founding father’s of modern Virginia wine, but he is only briefly mentioned in this book.
In short, I really did enjoy the book and I found myself skipping the turn-by-turn directions and some of the winery descriptions as nearing the end of the book they began to turn into more directions than descriptions. It is a good read for those who are just Virginia wine lovers, but also for someone who is thinking about starting a winery in Virginia.