The latest addition to Francis Ford Coppola’s growing wine empire, Virginia Dare Winery is a Sonoma-based operation with an old-timey feel. “American Wines Since 1835” is a bit of an odd thing to say for a winery that was founded in 2015, but it turns out the name has been around for quite a bit longer than that.
The story of the Virginia Dare Winery began with North Carolina’s first commercial winery, Medoc Vineyard, which opened in 1835. Two businessmen, known as the Garrett brothers, purchased the property in 1865 calling it Garrett & Company. They began producing the Virginia Dare label which quickly became one of the nation’s top selling wines. With the start of Prohibition in 1919, Garrett & Company was forced to move, first to Brooklyn, New York, and then to Cucamonga, California, where the business transformed into the Virginia Dare Winery. It was one of the first wineries to sell wine after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 and was considered a booming business for much of the late 40s and 50s, but eventually saw turmoil and nearly faded into history.
So who is Virginia Dare? Born in 1587, she was the first English child born in the British colonies, and she was named after the land in which she was birthed. There’s a lot of mythology around Dare — none of it wine-related — but digging into all that is left as an exercise for the reader.
Thoughts on the two inaugural wines follow.
2014 Virginia Dare Chardonnay Russian River Valley – This is a chardonnay with restraint. It shows the usual oak and brown butter notes, but aromas of lime zest and herbs add some nuance to the typical character. The overall impression is surprisingly restrained and fruit-forward — an easy, everyday white that still has some class. B+ / $25
2014 Virginia Dare Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A perfectly pleasant pinot, like the chardonnay it showcases restraint while engaging with notes of blackberry, ground black pepper, and a slug of black olives. That sounds awfully black, I now realize, but everything is dialed back and kept in harmony — perhaps it’s dialed back a little too far. Again, it’s a simple wine, but it has lots of charm, particularly at this price point. B+ / $25