By Emerald Adkins
The ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysus, god of the vine, of the grape harvest… and of wine. While it takes time to produce the latter, we can enjoy the fruit now.
Grapes, among the oldest cultivated fruit, were first grown in the Near East 6,000-8,000 years ago. They were enjoyed in Egypt and around the Mediterranean in ancient times, later spreading northward throughout Europe and, eventually, to North America (where a variety of grape already proliferated wild across the continent).
In Virginia, European cultivars of the fruit first made an appearance in colonial times. According to the Virginia Wine website, twelve years after the settling of Jamestown the Virginia House of Burgesse passed an act requiring each male colonist to plant and tend at least ten grapevines. Interest in viticulture grew over the years, notably with the 1770 founding of the Virginia Wine Company and its 2,000-acre vineyard near Monticello. But it was not until the late 19thcentury that the Virginia wine industry met with success, which, aside from a Prohibition-era hiccup, continues today, with nearly 300 wineries in our state.
Grapes are here for eating too. Right now farms in the Charlottesville area, including Wenger Grapes in Waynesboro, are wrapping up their harvest. In The Art of Simple Food II, Chef Alice Waters wrote: “Many stores are limited to only those green and red table grapes that ship easily. But local farmer’s markets offer the tender tasty varieties I love, whether eaten right out of hand, tossed into fall salads, made into smooth sweet sorbets, or roasted and served over ice dream or next to a grilled duck breast.”
If you’re interested in grapes of the fermented variety, join Local Food Hub, Junction and the Monticello Wine Trail for What Grows Together Goes Together at Junction on November 7. The evening will feature wine samples from 5 different area wineries, each paired with a carefully-curated food tasting. You’ll learn about tasting notes, food and wine pairing, and get a deep dive into the abundant varieties of Virginian wine. Full details and tickets here.