Jefferson-linked winery acquired by the Monticello Foundation

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Virginia’s wine community has long linked its history to Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s “first oenophile” who believed his native region could produce world-class wine, though his own attempts at Monticello failed. The area around Charlottesville is known today as the Monticello American Viticultural Area, and wineries market themselves as the Monticello Wine Trail. This spiritual connection to one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence was reinforced in early January when the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello, acquired the nearby Jefferson Vineyards.

The winery was established in the 1980s as Simeon Vineyards by Stanley Woodward Sr., a retired diplomat and Democratic Party activist, and his wife, Shirley. Their son, Stanley Woodward Jr., renamed the business Jefferson Vineyards when he took over in 1994. Over the next three decades, the winery helped prove Jefferson right by becoming one of the best de l’Etat, winning several awards for its Viognier and Bordeaux style. red wines. Its bottles are stamped with Jefferson’s signature, as if they came from his personal cellar.

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In 2013, the winery passed to the third generation of Woodwards, five brothers and sisters scattered around the world. For family reasons and because of the pandemic, they decided it was time to sell, Attlia Woodward, who largely managed the business, told me in an email.

The Woodward siblings felt the foundation was the ideal entity to take charge “because of our shared values” of Jefferson’s winemaking heritage and the foundation’s commitment to education and the preservation of land, said Attila Woodward. His grandparents had placed their land under easement – the first in Albemarle County – to protect it from development when the Interstate Highway was built nearby.

Woodward announced the sale in early January on his social media feeds, although the winery’s website has not been updated to reflect the new owner. The Jefferson Foundation also did not announce the transaction, although it plans a media rollout this spring, according to foundation spokeswoman Jennifer Lyon.

“As neighbors sharing a common history through Thomas Jefferson, this acquisition reinforces our ongoing efforts to safeguard the historic and scenic nature of the lands adjacent to Monticello,” Lyons said in an email. “It also presents new opportunities for education and interpretation, both at the vineyard and at Monticello.”

The winery’s connection to Jefferson is stronger than its mere proximity to Monticello, about two miles, halfway to James Monroe’s Highland Estate. Part of the winery and its vineyards sits on land owned briefly by Jefferson in the early 1770s, which he gave to Filippo Mazzei, an Italian winemaker who brought a team of winemakers to develop a wine industry in the Augusta County, a little further west. Jefferson convinced Mazzei to stay in Albemarle and gave him 193 acres of land. Mazzei then bought other adjacent land where he built his own estate and planted a vineyard, which he named Colle, Italian for hill. He founded the Virginia Wine Co., the first in the colony. Jefferson and George Washington were partners.

The Mazzei vineyards held promise but, according to legend, they were destroyed during the War of Independence by exuberant prisoners from Hesse who bivouacked there. He was never able to revive his winemaking efforts and returned to Europe. (Mazzei’s descendants still make wine in Tuscany.)

The Jefferson Vineyards sale includes the winery and approximately 400 acres of vineyard land. The Woodward family maintains approximately 300 acres, including the Colle site of the Mazzei home and vineyard. The Jefferson Foundation did not disclose the purchase price, although Charlottesville media quoted $11.75 million. Woodward would only say that local reports of the price were “not entirely accurate”.

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We will see how the foundation, a non-profit entity, manages to manage a winery, a type of business that does not always fit easily into a corporate culture. Lyon, the foundation’s spokeswoman, said no changes in staff or operations were expected and that winery operations would remain under the direction of winemaker Chris Ritzcovan, who has been on staff for more than a decade. ‘a decade. In a statement provided by the foundation, Ritzcovan expressed optimism about the winery’s continued success.

Incorporating Jefferson Vineyards into one of Virginia’s biggest tourist attractions could boost the profile of Virginia wine, especially since tour buses stop at the tasting room after leaving Monticello.

And the foundation has the opportunity to weave Jefferson’s legacy even more intimately into modern Virginia wine history. Jefferson Vineyards’ first winemaker was Gabriele Rausse, who came to Virginia in 1976 to help start Barboursville Vineyards as the American outpost of Italy’s Zonin wine empire. Today, Barboursville is arguably Virginia’s most important winery and has become completely wrapped up in Jefferson’s wine mythology.

Rausse planted Jefferson’s first vineyards and remained a winemaker until 1994, when he left to oversee Monticello’s gardens and vineyards. At 77, he is still there as director of viticulture and breeding. Lyon told me that Rausse would not have an official role at Jefferson Vineyards under the foundation’s ownership, “but we are considering valuable collaboration and potential opportunities to showcase his early work” there.

As Filippo Mazzei’s closest modern link, Rausse seems like the perfect choice to tie Monticello’s past to Virginia’s current wine history and success in making Jefferson’s dream come true.

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