The Monticello Wine Trail currently consists of over 30 member wineries located within the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was the first established AVA in Virginia.
The mission of the MWT is to support our members and promote quality grapes and wine produced in the Monticello AVA. To be eligible for membership, a winery must hold a farm winery license, maintain a vineyard and winery within the Monticello AVA with the primary production produced and sold onsite, have a physical retail space with regular hours, and meet approval from the MWT Board of Directors.
The boundaries of the AVA were inspired by the historical significance of Thomas Jefferson’s vision for American wine and the location of his mountaintop home, Monticello. At Monticello, Jefferson dreamed of surrounding vineyards that would produce high quality wine that could rival the best Old World wines.
To help realize his dream, Jefferson enlisted the help of Filippo Mazzei who tirelessly researched the terroir and planted thousands of vines on land around Monticello and neighboring farms. Their progress was brought to a halt with the beginning of the American Revolution.
After the Revolution, Jefferson and then Secretary of State Colonel Monroe would continue to pursue the cultivation of grapes surrounding Monticello. These efforts would too fail due to a combination of environmental factors and disease pressure, most notably from the insect phylloxera. Despite his passion and unrelenting drive, Jefferson’s dream of producing quality wine would remain unfulfilled during his lifetime.
The biggest advancement to follow Jefferson’s efforts would come in 1835 when Dr. D.N. Norton was able to propagate a domestic non-foxy native grape, which would eventually bare his name, Norton. Since Norton would not be susceptible to phylloxera, the grape would thrive in Virginia and become the foundation for the Virginia Claret. Wines in this period would gain international recognition. The Monticello Wine Company won a gold medal in Vienna in 1873 and a Silver in Paris in 1878. Grapes from those medals came from the current Monticello AVA and during this time propelled Charlottesville to become known as the “Capital of the Virginia Wine Belt”. The Rivanna River, which runs through it, was called the “Rhine of America”.
Any progress made during the 2nd half of the 19th century was brought to a halt by Virginia’s statewide prohibition of 1914 and the Volstead Act (national prohibition) of 1920. The end of prohibition encouraged a revival of the former industry, but these efforts would too be stalled, this time by the Great Depression and then again by World War II.
The next big push for wine in Virginia came in the spring of 1976 when Barboursville Vineyards began operations under the direction of Mr. Zonin S.p.A. of Gambellara (Vicenza), Italy. Then in 1978, vines were planted at the Rapidan River Vineyards on a farm owned by Dr. Gernard W.R. Guth of Hamburg, West Germany.
From there the growth of the grape and wine industry in the Monticello area would only continue to grow.
In the early 1980s, the Jeffersonian Wine Grape Grower’s Society (JWGGS) was established to combine the knowledge and resources of those involved in the industry.
In January of 1982, the JWGGS proposed for the establishment of an AVA surrounding Charlottesville, to be known as the Monticello AVA. The proposal was granted in 1984 based on the nationally recognizable name, the historical significance of the boundaries, and most importantly the geographical features (climate, soil, elevation and other physical features) that distinguish the area.
Today the Monticello Wine Trail, a subset of the JWGGS, is an active association of the collection of wineries, all in 25 miles of Charlottesville and producing wines of national and international acclaim. Each member winery owes homage to Thomas Jefferson’s vision of winemaking and are honored to help fulfill his dream.
Member wines are consistently ranked highly in state, national and international wine competitions. Reflecting the high level of quality, which has been achieved in the AVA.
The wineries all take the greatest pleasure in crafting their wines and in welcoming visitors from around to world to sample their wine, take in the history and relax among the beautiful bucolic hills, farms and vineyards. With this in mind, we invite you to discover the Birthplace of American Wine.