All Wines are not Created Equal 

October Virginia Wine Month is upon us, now how about some discretion?

The real answer is that every grape, every region and every winemaker has a different level of quality. Wines exist on all levels of both quality and price — it's just up to us to find them, including the best.

How do we find the best in Virginia? An interesting debate occurred on Long Island about this very subject. Ted Conklin of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, N.Y., did his own quality classification of the local wineries. Naturally it provoked controversy among the wineries themselves, but it greatly assisted the consumer.

It is interesting to look at Conklin's reasons for this task. He laid them all out in an article in the New York Times on June 6, 2001: "A rating system is necessary now because quality is being sacrificed to rapid expansion. The first generation [of winemakers] were dedicated. Some second generation wineries were built for economies of scale and still others were using juice from outside the region to exploit the tourist trade."

In Virginia, too, all wineries are not equal.

Wine classifications aren't scientific — Conklin's certainly wasn't. Also, they aren't meant to last for long periods of time. Ideally, they should be revised every few years. To the right is my list, the first-ever classification of Virginia wines. The criteria for quality are awards in local, state and national competitions over time, together with quality performance alongside ones peers. A single major win certainly feels good but doesn't show long-term greatness. There are two groups that were omitted from the list: the very newest wineries with little or no track record, and those who have no recognition beyond their own tasting rooms.

This marks the 13th year since the beginning of October Virginia Wine Month. It is time to change the mentality that "no winery in Virginia can or should be singled out for producing the best." For Virginia wineries to succeed we must know who is the best so that others can attain that goal. We will all be the better for it. S



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