Just 50 miles outside of our nation’s Capital is one of Virginia’s fastest-growing appellations, the Middleburg American Viticultural Area (AVA). But how much do you really know about this AVA and its history?
The AVA Inception
In 2006, Rachel E. Martin, then-executive vice president of Boxwood Estate Winery, began the process to establish the Middleburg AVA. In 2008, she petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau (TTB), with the facts that there were 229 acres of commercial vineyards and 12 wineries at the time. In July 2009, Martin submitted a modification to the proposal boundary line to include several additional vineyards within the proposed area. It increased the size of the proposed viticultural area by 1,920 acres, and included 251 acres of commercial grape growing in 10 vineyards and 14 wineries.
In 1972, Archie Smith, Jr, owner of the Middleburg-based Meredyth Vineyards, planted the first 2,300 vines. That vineyard later grew to encompass 60 acres.
The Middleburg AVA was finally granted in 2012 as a 198-square mile region, with wineries located in both Loudoun and Fauquier counties. Its boundaries stretch from the Potomac River at the north, to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the west, to the Bull Run and Catoctin Mountains to the east. Today, Virginia Wine reports there are 24 wineries and 229 acres of commercial vineyards within the AVA.
Choosing the name was an arduous process. TTB regulations state that the name petition must provide evidence “that currently and directly associates a name with the proposed viticultural area, and that the area be known locally or nationally by that name.” Arguments flew that since Middleburg was located in Fauquier County that Loudoun County would not be well represented, and other names were suggested.
Middleburg AVA Wines
Most of the AVA’s wineries are situated around the region’s quaint villages in three main clusters: Middleburg, Delaplane/Markham, and Purcellville/Lovettsville. According to Visit Loudoun, there are 40 wineries and tasting rooms in Loudoun County, but not all Loudoun County wineries are included in the AVA, some fall outside its border. An updated winery map of the Middleburg AVA can be found at https://www.virginiawineguide.net/mash/wine-map-of-the-middleburg-ava.
Top varieties of wine grown in the Middleburg AVA include Norton, Viognier and Cabernet Franc, and Bordeaux-style blends are popular. Bordeaux red varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and Syrah, along with Cabernet Franc. Whites include Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Viognier.
As far as growing conditions go, much of the Middleburg AVA growing area is between 450 and 550 feet elevation which allows the region to experience a moderate climate. Its warmer lows and cooler highs aid in the grape’s gradual development. The soil is free-draining and can lack in nutrients, setting up an ideal environment for growing grapes.
The soil types are divided into four categories, each named after its nearby town. They include “Middleburg,” “Philomont,” “Purcellville,” and “Tankerville” atop a bedrock of granite and gneiss. Alex Blackburn, a soil scientist, was brought in to evaluate the soil. He described the soils as “being among the best in the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province for fruit production, and grapevines grown in these soils have better quality with few vigor problems because they are lower in natural fertility and in available water capacity than soils outside the proposed region.”
What is an Appelation?
According to John Thompson in the VA Wine Notebook, the legal definition of an appelation is “a legally-defined and protected geographical indication used to identify where the grapes for a wine were grown. In order to be designated an AVA, 85% of the wine must have come from grapes grown within the geographical AVA boundaries.”
The ruling by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau defines “a viticultural area for American wine as a delimited grape-growing region having distinguishing features, a name, and a delineated boundary. These designations allow vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin. The establishment of viticultural areas allows vintners to describe more accurately the origin of their wines to consumers and helps consumers to identify wines they may purchase.” Wineries within the Middleburg AVA can include that designation on their wine labels.
Why Visit the Middleburg AVA?
“The effort to create the Middleburg AVA began right here in Loudoun, with the family who owns Boxwood Estate Winery, just outside of historic Middleburg,” explained Beth Erickson, President & CEO of Visit Loudoun. “Several of Loudoun’s 40-plus wineries are part of this designation, and what sets this region apart is not only the quality of the wine being produced, but the beauty of the area.”
“The experience is also unmatched, as visitors are not only immersed in the winemaking process and history of the vineyards, they have the opportunity to visit nearby historic towns, hike trails, and stay in everything from cozy bed & breakfasts to luxury resorts. Loudoun truly provides the perfect weekend escape.”
Why not explore the Middleburg AVA yourself?
Inside the Middleburg AVA
- 8 Chains North
- Aspen Dale
- Barrel Oak
- Blue Valley
- Chateau O’Brien
- Crushed Cellars
- Hamilton Station
- Naked Mountain
- Sunset Hills
- Terra Nebulo
- Three Fox
- Walsh Family
- Wine Reserve