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Judgment of Richmond

 

 

Vino Virginia
Jean Case Interview: Why Virginia Wine?

jean case Judgment of RichmondIt is easy to forget that California did not emerge internationally as a ‘world class’ wine region until the 1976 “Judgment of Paris,” tasting when California wines bested French competitors. . In July, New Jersey tried to create its own breakaway moment at the “Judgment of Princeton.” And in October, Virginia too made its own daring attempt to demonstrate the quality of Virginian wine.
At the Virginia Wine Summit, held on October 2, local wines won six out of eight rounds in a blind tasting against competitors from established regions. Steven Spurrier, the renowned English wine critic who organized the 1976 tasting, participated in this “Judgment of Richmond.” According to Jean Case, co-owner of Virginia’s Early Mountain Vineyards and CEO of the Case Foundation, the tasting has created a new dialogue about Virginia wine. Jean and her husband Steve, co-founder of AOL, have invested heavily in Virginia’s growing wine industry. At the Virginia Summit, Jean committed $50,000 toward the “Best of Virginia” Winemakers Network, a new Learning Series, and Incentive Awards for Best Practices—steps she believes will help the state grow strong local roots and international recognition.
To learn how the Cases are helping to transform Virginia’s wine scene, check out our interview with Jean:

1. The Daily Sip: How would you describe Virginia’s style of wine?
Case: I think the style is still being determined. Today we offer a number of different styles from different regions that appeal to a wide base of wine lovers. Our climate around Virginia changes as you move from region to region and we now have over 220 wineries. There is a lot of debate about whether one dominant style will emerge or whether we might have a few. It most likely won’t emerge as a region known for one single varietal.

2. The Daily Sip: Wine critic and Virginia Summit attendee Steven Spurrier believes that Virginia can be an innovator in the wine industry, rather than a product of existing habits. In what ways is Virginia innovating and distinguishing itself from other wine regions?
Case: It’s not just true of Virginia, but more broadly of the New World. The Old World wines are compelled to follow certain rules because of early regulations. New World wines are unleashed from that. So what we are seeing is innovation in everything from blending, to winemaking techniques, to vineyard management. So I think there is a comfort level with trying new things and not necessarily being shackled to old rules. We’re hoping Virginia will embrace the traditions that have worked while trying new things to push the envelope further.

3. The Daily Sip: For you, what was the big takeaway from the Virginia Wine Summit?
Case: Every now and then you go to a gathering and independent of what the gathering is, you say wow, this moment might really matter. I definitely had that feeling at the Virginia Wine Summit. I think the presence of Steven Spurrier and his true enthusiasm for Virginia wine made the difference. That wasn’t just because he was at the Virginia Wine Summit—he spent days going around to wineries and tasting, and he was very encouraging to the region. It means a lot to us given that he had such a significant role in California first emerging and creating a significant wine market.

4. The Daily Sip: At the Summit, Virginia wines beat internationally recognized competitors in six out of eight blind tastings with expert judges. What do the results of the blind tasting mean for the Virginian wine industry?
Case: I thought what we all walked away feeling best about is that Virginia wines can stand up to some of the best wines from any regions in the world. It was almost less compelling that six of the eight choices went to Virginia, but much more so in the nuance of the conversation that went on among the four experts. In every single case, Virginia stood strongly against the wines of other regions. I think everyone felt great about that. It was very sincere on the part of the experts.

5. The Daily Sip: What is the Best of Virginia Winemakers Network? Why are you investing $50,000?
Case: Early Mountain Vineyards is a new model where we’re offering some of the best Virginia wines at one location. The idea is a virtual Virginia wine tour under one roof. We’ve curated what we think are some of the best wineries and wines to ensure a positive experience for first-time Virginia wine tasters and for all tasters. So we have a number of different partners we work with, and we are also a social enterprise, which means that any profits that come from EMV will actually be put back into the Virginia wine region. Because we are a new business, we don’t expect to see profits for a couple years. So what Steve and I wanted to do is get an early understanding of how we can evolve together as a segment in Virginia. We want to deploy some of the techniques we’ve seen work in other new sectors: around collaboration, building networks, learning from each other, and integrating technology in our Learning Series. The idea is to come together as a region and learn from one another. That is something we are doing separate and apart from Early Mountain.

6. The Daily Sip: What gives you the most confidence in Virginia’s wine potential?
Case: We’ve always been excited when there is a sector ready for disruption or a potential market coming to a tipping point, and we think Virginia might be that. We love consumer businesses. We see everything poised in Virginia for that moment. We see the emergence of new wine regions taking on the old regions. We love the established regions, but we think there is great wine being made in a lot of places, and one of them happens to be our backyard. We’re strong believers that these wines can compete with the best wine regions in the world. We think that there is a climate, land, and expertise in the state that will enable that and were very excited by that.

7. The Daily Sip: What do you think is or will be Virginia’s edge in the industry? Among all available options, why will consumers choose Virginian wine?
Case: Because I think there are going to be beautiful wines in a price range many consumers can enjoy. We’ve seen this in some new and old world wine regions. Virginia already has beautiful wines in the $20-$30 price range.

8. The Daily Sip: Where do you see Virginia’s wine industry ten years from now?
Case: We’re really excited by the ‘go local’ movement. We think it has legs and it’s going to last. It bodes well for wine consumption in our own region. As people think about eating locally they are thinking about drinking locally. So we will of course be in a great position for Virginia wine drinkers. But more broadly, if you look at places like the United Kingdom, Virginia wine is starting to gain traction. We’ve been fortunate to have a governor who has spread the word and taken some of our great wines around the world, and we’re starting to see international markets pay attention.

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