By Frank Morgan
Virginia is home to about 285 wineries and 3,200 acres of vineyards. It ranks sixth in the U.S. for wine grape production, which contributes nearly $1.4 billion to the state’s economy.
The state’s reputation as one of the most promising American wine regions is thanks in large part to the sweat equity and risk taking of trailblazing women such as Felicia Warburg Rogan, who founded the now closed Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery in Charlottesville in 1983, and the late Juanita Swedenburg, founder of Swedenburg Estate Vineyards, who in 2005 won a landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court to remove barriers that kept wineries from shipping directly to consumers in other states.
Though the larger wine world may be heavily dominated by men, women are the driving force of the Virginia wine industry — from winery owners to enologists, tasting room managers to vineyard managers, cellar hands to winemakers.
The following wine professionals are just a few of the women building the local wine industry.
Based in Charlottesville, Morton is an ampelographer, viticulturist, and a Virginia Wine and Lifetime Achievement Award winner. In 1973 she planted one of the first contemporary vineyards (Morland Vineyards) in Virginia at her family’s farm in King George County. Morton was the first American woman to study viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure Agronomique in Montpellier, France. Author of the book “Winegrowing in Eastern America: An Illustrated Guide to Viniculture East of the Rockies,” Morton now advises winery clients from throughout the mid-Atlantic and California.
Smith, along with her husband Tony Smith, jumped in to the wine industry when they purchased the
Afton Mountain Vineyards property in 2009. “We started taking viticulture and enology classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College and that is truly what hooked us on becoming a part of the industry.” As the general manager, Elizabeth wears many hats including managing all phases of the operation, working in the tasting room, vineyard, and cellar.
Maya Hood White
Born and raised in California, Hood White studied math and engineering as an undergrad and then earned a master’s in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis. She joined the Early Mountain Vineyards’ team in 2014 and was the first winemaker to produce a Virginia pétillant-naturel (Pét-Nat for short), a lightly sparkling wine.
After earning an degree in English from Virginia Tech, DeSouza returned to Leesburg to work at Casanel, the winery founded by her parents in 2008. She started as a tasting room associate
while learning winemaking from Katell Griaud and vineyard practices from Lucie Morton.
Born in the Netherlands, Harmon grew up in Charlottesville and got her start in the wine industry working with Virginia wine pioneer Gabriele Rausse. After earning a master’s in viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis and completing harvests in the Burgundy region of France and New Zealand, she returned to Virginia in 2008 to be the winemaker at Blenheim (owned by musician Dave Matthews).
In 1999, Vrooman and her husband Dennis, purchased a 103-acre property situated on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a retirement retreat. At the time she was working with her husband to manage their busy veterinary practice in Virginia Beach. The family planted their initial 2 acres of grape vines at Ankida Ridge in 2008. Today Vrooman lives at Ankida Ridge and oversees 6 acres of vines.
Other professionals contributing to Virginia’s rise in wine prominence include: Emily Pelton, winemaker at Veritas Vineyard & Winery in Afton; Mills Wehner, co-owner of Chatham Vineyards on the Eastern Shore; Jennifer Breaux, vice president of Breaux Vineyards in Loudoun County; Rachel Martin, executive vice president of Boxwood Estate Winery in Middleburg; Jenni McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards in Middleburg; Sudha Patil, owner and winemaker at Narmada Winery in Rappahannock County; Sharon Horton, co-founder of Horton Vineyards in Orange County; Katell Griaud, winemaker at Slater Run Vineyards in Fauquier County; and Annette Ringwood Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board marketing office.