Jefferson Vineyards Wine Blog
To Thomas Jefferson, wine was a "necessity of life." . In a glass, he seemed to see a benefit to health, to culture, and to society. In his founding vision of our young country, he perceived a place for wine and carved a place for our first commercial viticultural endeavor in Albemarle County. It is on that same land that our forty-year legacy continuing Jefferson's vision began.
The Founding Vision
In 1773, convinced by Benjamin Franklin and sponsored by Thomas Adams, a friend of Jefferson’s, prominent Italian viticulturalist, Philip Mazzei, arrived in Virginia. Mazzei shared Jefferson’s vision of planting vines and bringing to the new world the centuries old viticultural tradition. On his way to land promised to him, he and Thomas Adams paid a visit to Monticello. Without hesitation, Jefferson persuaded Mazzei to conduct his agricultural endeavors not on the separate tracts of land promised to him, but as his neighbor. Jefferson offered Mazzei land adjacent to his own, land that is a part of our present-day property, just south of Monticello.
One year later, Mazzei established a commercial agricultural company for “the purpose of raising and making wine, oil, agruminous plants and silk” with the support of 38 shareholders including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson himself. Mazzei was taken with his land, later exclaiming “In my opinion, when the country is populated in proportion to its extent, the best wine in the world will be made here…I do not believe that nature is so favorable to growing vines in any country as this.” Mazzei was deeply moved by American politics, he declared himself a patriot and first suggested the famous words “All men are created equal”. Though his precious vines were later trampled by the horses of a Hessian General, Mazzei anticipated the success of Virginia wine and supported Jefferson’s own viticultural vision for the new world.
Pioneers in Virginia Wine
Centuries later, Shirley and Stanley Woodward Sr. saw the same viticultural potential in the land. The Woodwards purchased the Colle property on the advice of their close friends, Major General “Pa” Watson and Mrs. Watson, whose own nearby Kenwood home was frequently visited by President F.D. Roosevelt. The Woodwards commissioned Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s distant cousin to construct their house atop of the foundation of Mazzei’s original home. There, the couple entertained a range of friends, family, and dignitaries. On numerous occasions, they hosted President Harry S. Truman, the first of which coincided with the Roswell UFO incident.
Having lived in Paris, Stanley Woodward was passionate about European wines, like Jefferson. At each of the Woodward's gatherings, a bottle of wine stood at the center of the table, a centerpiece around which colorful conversations took place. To share wines crafted from their historic land with their guests, Stanley and Shirley Woodward Sr. hired Gabriele Rausse. Like Mazzei, Rausse came to Virginia from Italy and brought with him rich viticultural expertise, and revived Jefferson’s viticultural vision.
Having previously played a critical role in instituting Barboursville Vineyards, Rausse became our first winemaker. In 1981, he planted European grapes such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rausse himself came to be regarded as the Father of Virginian wine. Virginia was in its infancy as a growing region; there existed no expertise to reference as Rausse experimented with varietals and the Woodwards continued to invest in the vineyards. Only a handful of other wineries existed in the region at the time and success followed after a tedious process of trial, error, resilience, and impassioned perseverance. Yet, the Woodwards and Rausse saw in the land the same potential Mazzei recognized. As pioneers in Virginian wine, the Woodwards strove to provide a home for Virginia’s early wine talent.
Incubators of Talent
In 1993, the second generation of Woodwards, Marie Jose and Stanely Jr., took the reins and committed themselves to elevate the characteristics of our wine. Following Rausse, the Woodwards recruited Michael Shaps to Virginia. Shaps greatly advanced the quality of our wine and is now a renowned figure in the present-day Virginia wine industry. The French Frantz Ventre followed Shaps, and created intricate nonfiltered wines that aged beautifully. In their last decade at the vineyards, they hired Andy Reagan. Reagan furthered the quality of our red wines and garnered much acclaim.
In 2013, the third generation of Woodwards came to the helm of Jefferson Vineyards, and with them came a new winemaker. Chris Ritzcovan continued the legacy of merit set by the talents before him. With his expertise, our Viognier program in particular shines as an emblem of consistency and excellence. With each winemaker and every vintage came an opportunity to advance our craftsmanship, to continue in Jefferson’s viticultural vision, and to propel forward the reputation of Virginia as a wine destination.
Tucked between Jefferson’s Monticello and Monroe’s Highland, our land first defined our story. Here, Mazzei began his early attempt to realize Jefferson’s viticultural dream. It is this same land that attracted Shirley and Stanley Woodward and inspired them to create European wines like those which so enamored Jefferson. It is to this land that we today welcome our patrons and on which we strive to produce high-quality wine.
Though our visitors see only a small fraction of our property, our estate span 700 acres nestled between Carter Mountain and two presidential homes. The Woodwards began caring for this historic land before we made our first wine, placing 700 acres of land under conservation easement in perpetuity to protect it from development for generations to come. We have invested in the health of our land and its inhabitants, from caring for our orchards and vineyards by hand, to the eight acres of wildflowers planted to support pollinators, and to the 12,500 tulip poplar trees planted to improve the health of our ecosystem.
Just as we have cared for the land, we are investing the care for our community. In celebration of our 40th Anniversary, Jefferson Vineyards has partnered with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and committed to a donation capable of funding approximately 48,000 meals across the Thomas Jefferson service area.
A Toast to Forty Years
We have faced trials and tribulations over our forty-year heritage, but none have been so great as to deter us from pursuing Thomas Jefferson’s viticultural dream on the land it was first attempted. Here, we drew inspiration from the efforts of Philip Mazzei and Thomas Jefferson to create a legacy establishing and advancing the reputation of Virginian wine. Our Viognier and Petit Verdot programs continue in this pursuit.
Over the course of these four decades, we have expanded and experimented with a range of wines in a ceaseless effort to share with our patrons the best expressions of our craft. We have created a broad range of traditional wines and experimented with unique grape varieties and production techniques. In every glass we have tasted and every bottle we have shared, we continue in our founding legacy and find endless reason to continue forward.
To celebrate our 40th Anniversary and all we have accomplished together, we are revealing the rich details of our history and craftsmanship by opening our cellars to offer monthly limited vintage releases. Additionally, we will share the details of our story and the wines that have defined us over the decades through our blog.
We thank our patrons and the Virginia wine industry for their ceaseless support. Please join us as we raise a glass to the years to come - the bright future ahead for Virginia, its wine, and us all.
 Thomas Jefferson memorial association of the United States, et al. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Definitive ed. / Washington, D.C.: Issued under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson memorial association of the United States, 1905
 Marchione, Life and Wanderings, 184-87, 202, 203
 From Thomas Jefferson to James Strange, 18 September 1806,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-4291.
“Plan of Philip Mazzei’s Agricultural Company, 1774,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-01-02-0096.
 Sacalia, S. Eugene. “Chapter 16: Albemarle County – 1773 – 1779, Wild Grapes.” Philip Mazzei: My Life & Wanderings, edited by Margherita Marchione, by Philip Mazzei, American Institute of Italian Studies, 1980 pp 212.
 United States, Congress, Cong. House – Post Office and Civil Service. Designating October 1993 and October 1994 as “Italian-American Heritage and Culture Mont, 1994. 103rd Congress, 2nd Session, Bill H.J.Res.175, 1994.
 Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, January 25, 1793, in PTJ, 25:92. Transcription available at Founders Online.
Jefferson Vineyards is thrilled to be awarded three gold medals in the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup. Our 2019 Viognier, 2019 Cabernet Franc, and our Petit Verdot based 2016 Jefferson’s Own Estate Reserve each was awarded gold medals, highlighting the quality of fruit and craftsmanship across Jefferson Vineyards' wines.
The accolades awarded by the Virginia Governor’s Cup celebrate the craftsmanship of our winemaking team, Chris Ritzcovan and David Woodside, as well as the hard work of our vineyard team. Their combined efforts and ceaseless commitment continue our 40-year tradition of crafting high-quality wine.
Jefferson Vineyards is honored by the recognition our Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot based Estate Reserve have received. Each of these varietals defines Virginia as a growing region. To have received recognition within Virginia’s top varietals such as Viognier, the state grape, and Petit Verdot, is thus especially humbling, reaffirming both our investment and dedication to these programs.
Jefferson's Own Estate Reserve 2016 was crafted solely from the estate’s finest Petit Verdot fruit. This oak-driven red boasts a powerful spice and fig bouquet with a balanced acidity and plum on the palate. The already highly awarded Viognier 2019 opens with intricate floral notes, white peach and nectarine on the nose, the palate is delicate and balanced, before a round and floral finish with a lingering acidity. The Cabernet Franc 2019 vintage is marked by aromas of dark cherry and vanilla, with a palate of piercing cherry, blackberry, and black pepper. In the finish, one tastes candied cherry and vanilla with a balanced acidity, medium tannins and hints of oak.
Jefferson Vineyards congratulates all of our fellow wineries, as well as the organizers of this year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup event. Together, we expand and advance the reputation of Virginia’s exceptional wines and wineries.
We will be reopening our doors to visitors on March 11, and warmly invite visitors to enjoy our award-winning red and white wines this Spring. In the meantime, you will find our Triple Gold Bundle available in our online store for a limited time. Committed to memorable wine, experiences and education, we continue in Jefferson’s own viticultural dream.
What a rollercoaster year we’ve had! Yet here we are, with an end in sight. We look forward to 2021 with hope and, of course, some delicious wines.
The year ahead represents a special milestone for us as 2021 marks our 40th Anniversary. The early days of Virginia wine were challenging. We learned through trial and error, we labored to determine which vine varietals would accept our land and which would not. Today’s wineries are blessed with the knowledge of years past. Today, we can leverage satellites and soil samples to determine which grape varietals will flourish in one plot of land, versus another. Just like that! Incredible! No such luxuries existed in 1981. Those were the pioneering days of the Virginia wine movement, days we remember fondly.
My grandparents started this venture in 1981 with the goal of creating wine to share with family, friends, and guests. As diplomats setting into a new life, wine was central to the conversations they had around the dinner table. In establishing a vineyard, they sought to make a wine of their own, a wine to serve and enjoy with whoever joined them at the table. They knew and appreciated the viticultural history of this land, and with the talented Gabriele Rausse, our first winemaker, we planted our first acres of vines.
Like my grandfather, my father too was educated in France and deeply appreciative of old-world wines. In 1993, he and his French wife took the reins of Jefferson Vineyards. Over the course of their twenty years here, they both focused on improving our wine’s quality with the help of now renowned winemakers. First, they flew North to convince Michael Shaps to relocate to Virginia. Michael became our second winemaker, and was succeeded by the French, Frantz Ventre. In my parents’ last decade, they hired the talented Andy Reagan. Each winemaker, in his own style, improved our wines and left an indelible mark on our winery.
2013 ushered in yet another new chapter for Jefferson Vineyards. My siblings and I, the third generation of Woodward’s, stood at the helm. We were incredibly lucky to join years after Jefferson Vineyards’ reputation had been cast but there was much work to be done. We strove to improve and expand: a new tasting room, a new deck, new gardens, new patios, and an expanded parking space. Our current winemaker, Chis Ritzcovan, and Assistant Winemaker, David Woodside, worked tirelessly on our Viognier wine program. Years later, it now stands as one of Virginia’s most highly awarded Viogniers, vintage after vintage. As it is the state grape of Virginia, we are deeply humbled by this honor.
In all of these endeavors, we were never alone. They say a rising tide lifts all boats, and so it is with other Virginia wineries. Together, we have vastly advanced Virginia’s reputation as an extraordinary wine region. Together, we are making wines that rival any of the best in the world.
In reflecting on how far we have come in these near forty years, I am most proud of Jefferson Vineyard’s unwavering commitment to producing quality wines, created to be shared together with friends, family, and guests.
In January, we will begin sharing a special blog each month to celebrate our rich history, wine programs, and our land. These stories will continue in our originating tradition, evoking the dinner table conversations of my grandparents and parents before me, each of whom believed wine is best enjoyed together.
As we look optimistically towards 2021, I express my immense gratitude to all of you who supported us this year. I am impressed by the talent of all our employees and our tasting room team who did their utmost to keep everyone safe with decorum and warmth. We could not have gotten through 2020 without your help.
Thank you, and merry holidays!