Barboursville Vineyards: Virginia Wine, Italian Soul

By Published On: December 13, 2023

Credit: Barboursville Vineyards

In the 1970s, Italian winemaking pioneer Gianni Zonin harbored a dream to establish a winery in the United States. While renowned regions like Napa Valley and the Finger Lakes beckoned, Zonin’s path led him to an unexpected destination: Virginia.

With just a handful of wineries operating in the state at the time, the idea seemed audacious. Yet, Zonin was captivated by Virginia’s diverse terroir, characterized by a range of soil types, slopes, and weather patterns that he believed held immense potential for producing exceptional wines.

Zonin’s vision materialized when he transformed a sprawling 900-acre farm nestled in the foothills of the Southwest Mountains in central Virginia. Here, he established Barboursville Vineyards, marking a landmark event for Virginia’s wine industry. Zonin’s expertise and unwavering passion would help propel the region into a renowned producer of world-class wines.

Barboursville’s wines are born from the very bones of the earth, shaped by the ancient Blue Ridge Mountain rock formation that lies beneath the soil. Greenstone, a prevalent soil type in the region, imparts unique characteristics to the grapes, contributing to their depth, complexity, and aging potential.

Winemaker Luca Paschina, a protégé of Zonin, champions traditional Italian winemaking methods while incorporating innovative techniques to craft wines that are both elegant and expressive. Guided by the principle of terroir-driven winemaking, Paschina carefully sculpts his approach to each grape varietal, considering the specific soil conditions and climatic nuances of Barboursville’s vineyards.

Credit: Barboursville Vineyards

Paschina’s journey to creating exceptional wines revealed that Virginia’s clay-rich soils favor certain grape varietals over others. Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot have consistently thrived in Virginia’s terroir, producing wines of expressive depth, structure, and aging potential. Cabernet Sauvignon, on the other hand, proves to be a more demanding grape, delivering its finest expressions only in exceptionally dry vintages.

His flagship red blend, a fitting emblem, “Octagon” embodies the collaborative spirit of Barboursville Vineyards. He, along with his associate winemaker and vineyard manager, each independently craft five blends on paper. These blends are then produced in small quantities and meticulously numbered to maintain anonymity during subsequent tastings. The following day, the trio reconvenes to evaluate the blends, which have been renumbered by winery staff to eliminate any bias. This blind tasting approach ensures that the final blend is selected based solely on its quality, without the influence of individual preferences.

Paschina’s first encounter with Nebbiolo, the noble grape of Barolo, occurred during his teenage years in Piemonte, Italy, where his father entrusted him with making his own batch of wine. This early exposure instilled in Paschina a deep appreciation for the grape’s potential. In 1995, he ventured to Virginia and planted his first Nebbiolo vintage. Despite initial concerns about ageability, Paschina’s Virginia-grown Nebbiolo has revealed a surprising ability to age gracefully, rivaling its Italian counterparts. While Nebbiolo can be a grape that demands meticulous care, Paschina believes that with careful attention to soil selection and viticultural practices, it can thrive in Virginia’s terroir. He is encouraged by the growing interest in Nebbiolo among Virginia vintners and anticipates a surge in expressions of this grape in the years to come.

Credit: Barboursville Vineyards

Since the 1980s, the Monticello AVA, home to Barboursville Vineyards, has witnessed an explosive growth in winemaking activity. Spanning six counties, this region now boasts over 30 wineries, each contributing to its growing reputation as a premier wine destination. The Monticello AVA’s success is deeply nourished by an ingrained spirit of collaboration among its growers and winemakers. Regular meetings foster a culture of knowledge sharing, ensuring that expertise and experience are disseminated throughout the region. This collaborative approach has been instrumental in elevating the quality of wines produced.

Virginia’s historical ties to winemaking, dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s pioneering efforts, breathe life into a legacy and charm to the region. As visitors embark on a wine-tasting journey through the Monticello AVA, they not only savor exceptional wines but also immerse themselves in a rich legacy of viticulture and culinary traditions.

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative reporting.

Wine Recommendations

2007 ‘Octagon’ Red Blend- this is a stunning example of a Virginia wine, displaying a complex bouquet of black cherry and vanilla. The palate is rich and smooth, with a long, smooth finish. The wine has softened a bit over the years, but still retains its freshness and balance. This is a wine of great character and elegance, ready to drink now or cellar for another decade

2019 ‘Octagon’ Red Blend – this wine has a deep garnet color and a complex bouquet of blueberry, black currant, violet, sage, and cedar. On the palate, the wine is silky, and balanced, with layers of ripe fruit, spice, tobacco, and vanilla. The finish is long, cool, and refined, with a touch of minerality.

2014 Nebbiolo- The wine has a deep brick orange hue that reflects its rich and complex character. The nose is full of black cherry, spice, and earthy notes, while the palate is firm, dense, and seamless. The tannins are well-integrated and provide a long and satisfying finish. This wine has aged beautifully and shows no signs of fatigue. 

2021 Cabernet Franc Reserve- complex aromatics of ripe cherry, plum,  and cedar. On the palate, a silky texture and superb balance. The flavors are rich and layered, with notes of red and black fruits, vanilla, smoke, pepper and earth. The finish is long and persistent. This is a wine that can age gracefully for another decade or more, but is already delicious to drink now.

2019 Nascent White Blend-  A blend of Viognier, Vermentino, and Falanghina, it showcases the aromatic intensity and complexity of these varieties. The color is a bright straw yellow, with hints of green. The nose is expressive and inviting, with aromas of lemon, grapefruit, pear, white flowers, and honey. 

2014 Viognier- a bouquet of pear,melon, citrus and herbal nuances. The palate is dry, and crisp, with a remarkable balance of fruit, acidity and oak. The wine reveals a long and refreshing finish, with a touch of minerality.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .