It was a beautiful summer evening in the Bordeaux countryside. We had spent the day visiting the region and tasting some of the most popular wines in the world in the places they are made. This wasn't our first trip to France in celebration of fine wine, but it certainly was a memorable one.
We had come to France to expand our knowledge of wines and the winemaking process. This particular evening, we felt extremely privileged to have the opportunity for a one-on-one dialogue with a world-renowned winemaker about the industry—the business models, the marketing, the technology, and the romance of it all.
We quickly learned the joy that comes from sharing a great bottle of wine you've produced with friends and loved ones.
We certainly weren't new to wine but we did consider ourselves on a perpetual learning curve. More than a decade before we had taken an extensive trip through the Burgundy wine country, which served as our introduction to winemaking and the techniques employed by some of the world's finest winemakers. Following that first trip, we expanded our interests in wines from around the world—making sure to try the local wine wherever we traveled, including from more unusual wine-growing regions like Croatia and India, as well as more well-known wine regions in Italy, South Africa, Oregon and Washington. We finally decided to dip a toe in the water of winemaking by joining Bill Harlan's Napa Valley Reserve, where under the guidance of his world-class winemaker, individuals and families can produce their own proprietary wine.
But I digress. Back to our wonderful evening in Bordeaux—that also turned out to be quite surprising. During our conversation, we asked about the competition, which in our minds was in relation to other fine wines from France, Italy, and California. And the winemaker’s answer surprised us: he believed that the greatest threat to great French wines would come from new, emerging regions both in the United States and in places like Chile, Spain, and Australia. He was seeing great winemaking techniques—starting with quality grapes—in more and more places around the world. He talked of how wine lovers’ tastes have evolved and how newer regions offer the consumer surprises and delights. But mostly he seemed impressed that wines from many of these regions were quite good.
If a fine winemaker in Bordeaux can find quality in these new regions, perhaps it was time to revisit the wines in our own backyard.
That conversation left a real impression. We had been favorably impressed by new regions as well, but it was quite another thing to hear it from one of the most respected producers of fine wine in the world. In fact, one of these burgeoning regions was in our own home state of Virginia. So we decided it was time to take a fresh look at Virginia wine.
My husband Steve and I both moved to Virginia more than 30 years ago. We loved the experiences we had helping to take a nascent industry forward -- in this case the online/Internet industry in the earliest of days.
When we both began our careers in technology in Virginia, no one had heard of the Internet yet a decade later, AOL was a household name. Since settling in this beautiful state, my love for this great state and its people has only increased. As a great fan of the rich beauty of Virginia's countryside and the state's remarkable history and contributions to our nation, I couldn’t think of a more ideal place to live.
To be completely honest, we had tried a few Virginia wines in the 1990s and found them lacking. At the time, there were few makers of wine in Virginia and we certainly didn't know the difference between the quality producers and others. But following that conversation in Bordeaux more than a decade later, we booked a stay in Charlottesville and spent days meandering the nearby wineries. We talked to wine stewards, restaurant owners, and enthusiasts about which Virginia wines they loved. We began tasting -- and really enjoying -- some of the Virginia wines.
Ultimately, the opportunity arose for us to really jump in and buy a winery in Virginia. It's true that we had the opportunity to consider purchasing wineries in other parts of the United States and around the world that produce some of the best loved and respected wines. In fact, a common question I get is, "Why didn't you guys buy a winery in France or California? Why did you choose Virginia?" For us, it was simple—we love Virginia, and we believe that our state’s wine has the potential to compete with some of the best wine regions in the world.
In our own unsophisticated "blind" taste tests we've conducted, we find people will choose some of the best Virginia wines against some of the better wines of the world. Yet we know many wine drinkers haven't opened their minds to Virginia wine so we have our jobs cut out for us here in this state. But I believe in the end, if people give Virginia wine a try, they'll agree there are some truly great wines produced here.
Since starting AOL and experiencing the explosive growth of the internet in the 1990s, to the investments we’ve made in companies like Zipcar and LivingSocial, we’ve been lucky to witness first-hand industries that quickly transition into something big.
I truly believe Virginia wine is at that tipping point—while few seem to be paying attention to our state’s wine right now, I believe that will change very quickly. We’re excited to join with those who have laid amazing groundwork for Virginia to take its place as one of the world’s top wine regions.
We've been impressed with people we've met who are a part of this wine revolution in the state—growers, winemakers, producers, and everything in between. There is a passion for great wine. Consumers who visit the wineries and taste the wines fall in love. And there is a sense that we are on to something here. Stay tuned.