How Two Italians Achieved a 200-Year-Old Dream of Virginian Wine

The phone call was from one viticulturist to another. Rausse was 30 years old and working on a French vineyard. (He had been working in Australian wine, but his visa was revoked on a technicality.) His childhood friend, Gianni Zonin, was president of the Italian winemaking company Casa Vinicola Zonin. The two had grown up together in Italy’s Veneto wine region, and their phone call forever changed the U.S. wine industry.

Together, Zonin insisted, he and Rausse were going to establish the first Virginia vineyard to have commercial success growing Vitis vinifera , the species of grape responsible for fine wine.

“I was worried,” says Rausse. “All I could think was, ‘My God, he’s gone insane.’”

The article goes into good technical detail about the specific type of graft they ended up using and even how they calloused their vines.


Good article. I was surprised to learn that they ended up using an Omega graft because V grafts weren’t strong enough (and weren’t calloused well enough) to handle the weather. So one wonders whether it was the only graft that worked, or if a whip and tongue, banana, or even a chip or bud might have worked.

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I read the article. Very interesting. However… it isn’t really a technical article glossing over the various use of sprays for mildews and insects. Vinifera in the East is a true battle because of the humidity and rain. It is a real battle to keep them alive and producing. The mildews constantly mutate and the sprays that work for a few years tend to suddenly be ineffectual. It is not possible to grow the Viniferas in the East organically. Also American hybrids have been developed that hold their own against vinifera. The hybrids are much more disease resistant, and easily grown by the homeowner.There is still quite a bit of unmerited hype, favoring the one over the other.


The article is slightly confusing regarding the graft. The first vines they planted failed at the graft, not because of the scion’s winter susceptibility. Omega grafts are common with grapes now, but were rarely used 50 years ago. The key to success was combining a very tight graft union with using a hot callusing box to get the grafts accepted quickly. Note also that average vinifera would have failed from the cold, but they sought out more cold tolerant varieties.


It is actually closer to 400 years old (the dream). The Pilgrims were thinking of making money making wine when they landed in Virginia in the 1600s. They could watch the Sun’s elevation in the sky and conclude that they were at the same latitude as Spain. Little did they know about the Little Ice Age and the effects of the Gulf Stream on european climate.


I totally agree. There are some nice wines made from grapes grown here in (:wine_glass: snobs all cringe now) Iowa. But the best I have had have still come from deep but drier soils in loess.


I really liked the part that almost looked like a threat from the “experts” at Virginia extension:

“When Virginia’s commissioner of agriculture ascertained what was happening, he summonsed Rausse to a conference room in Richmond. For two hours, 24 scientists and professors took turns lecturing. Plant pathologists explained American diseases and virologists told of native viruses. One after another, they said Rausse would fail. The meeting adjourned with the commissioner pointing to a cigar box: “Tobacco is the real future of agriculture in Virginia, not wine.” A Virginia Tech professor added, “The moment you get a Virginia farmer excited about something that does not make any sense, we have a duty to step in and stop you.””

Surprise! The experts were wrong. The production of Flue Cured tobacco as well as the price has been declining in Virginia for a good while. During this same time period, the production of wine grapes and wine has experienced a boom. Growing to about 3000 acres of wine grapes and over 250 wineries. The Virginia Extension “experts” were very late to get to the wine party but they can’t quit talking about now.

The NC Extension folks made the same mistake. They changed their mind when the owner of Westbend Vinyards starting winning awards in international competition for wine made from Vinifera grapes grown in the piedmont region of NC. Prior to prohibition, North Carolina was one of the largest producers of wine in the US, but it was sweet wine made from Muscadine grapes