“Wine Country”… Which is More Unexpected, Azerbaijan or Virginia?
As expats, wherever we travel we find interesting facts about the countries we explore.
Apparently, that characteristic sticks with us, even after we repatriate.
This was brought home to me again as I discovered something new when we went to visit friends who had just moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the university he founded, the University of Virginia.
Not many people know that Jefferson, in addition to being the principal crafter of our Declaration of Independence, also managed a 5,000 acre estate that produce wine grapes among other things.
I’ll bet you also didn’t know that there are enough wineries in Virginia that they even have a map of Virginia “wine country”? Neither did I, but indeed they do.
I’m not new to the wine world, having lived all my life in wine-producing regions- Texas (surprise), California, Azerbaijan (a stretch), and now Virginia continues the trend. (I’ll bet no one ever thought those places would be in the same sentence as wine producers!)
I have to admit though, that I was quite surprised to hear that Virginia produces “award winning” wines. I’ll be honest- I was skeptical. I’ve tasted some other states’ wines that I would rate as … well, let’s just say, I wouldn’t.
No one has ever mentioned how many climatic or “viticultural” zones Virginia has, so hearing them say we were in “wine country” was news to me. To hear people praising Virginia wines made me wonder who had been drinking what, but I agreed to give the Virginia wine tour a try.
When I lived in Azerbaijan, in any conversation with local folks, you would hear certain facts recited within the opening moments of virtually every conversation upon meeting a new expat. The first was always that Azerbaijan has 9 of the 11 climatic zones. So proud are the people of their diverse land, that this factoid would be inserted into nearly every conversation.
I thought about the wines I had tasted that have surprised me from Azerbaijan and around the world, some positively and others, well, not yet, but in the end, all were worth a try.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan had to jump-start everything on their own. Oil came first, naturally, but in due time wine and spirits caught the attention of the government, which then put out a request for bids to take over the development and production of wine and beer.
Interesting for a Muslim country, I thought at the time. But, Azerbaijan was honoring its historic heritage as well as its secular and religious culture.
When the offers and awards were announced, everyone was quite surprised at who had won. It seems that the French had won the beer concession, and the British had won the wine award! (…what??!)
The general consensus was that someone had mixed up the announcement, but, mais non! This is exactly what happened.
Most expats felt that warm wine and fussy beer were in the offing!
The beer, “Khirdalan,” actually turned out to be quite good according to the working crews that consumed vast quantities of it on Friday nights. That it was also only about $.85 per litre helped a lot, I’m sure.
The wines took longer to produce of course, but people were proud of the “Seven Beauties” and “Maiden Tower” names, even if the contents were as yet untested. Azerbaijan wines have an interesting history.
Someday maybe Caucasus spirits will be on the map… literally!
According to historians, wine-making in Azerbaijan dates back to ancient times. Several sorts of grapes were cultivated throughout Azerbaijan.
In both the Goygol Rayon (region) and the Khanlar district of the country, archaeologists have found jars with remains of wines which date back to the second millennium B.C. The Greek historian, Strabo who had traveled to northern Azerbaijan (Caucasian Albania at that time), described cultivation of crops of grapes as so abundant that the residents were not able to harvest them.
But here, it’s a different story.
We learned that “Virginia Wine Country is the strongest of the East Coast’s wine regions. Rich with tourism, wine country’s various regions host a multitude of events and festivals, including the exciting Virginia Wine Month each October.”
This according to none other than “The Donald”- Donald Trump has purchased a vineyard and winery in Virginia, not far from where we were this week.
Virginia must be doing something right to be on the radar of big names like Trump. Surprised? Here’s more, another fun fact (not as exciting as the climatic zones, perhaps, but interesting, nonetheless), courtesy of the “Virginia Wine Notebook” blog and “VA Wine Ambassadors,” John Thompson and David Rosse:
Which of the following celebrities/moguls does not own a winery in the state?
A. Robert Duvall
B. Donald Trump
C. Dave Matthews
D. Jack Kent Cooke
Maybe someday this one-time restaurant owner and intensely private Virginia resident will plant some vines. He would love the smell of ripening grapes in the morning.*
(* An insider reference to a famous Robert Duvall quote, for our international readers who may not have seen the film, "Apocalypse Now")
We tasted both reds and whites on our tour, and, for John and David, we were much surprised.
In fact guys, we’re planning to take you up on your mission to “spread the word to the world about the unexpected pleasures of the Virginia wine scene” by following your tour around wineries of the Shenandoah Valley AVA. We’ll let you know hoe it turns out!
Maybe one of these days you can take a trip to Azerbaijan and do the same for them? (smile)