BOSTON – As we prepare to celebrate a holiday that pays tribute to breaking away from our European roots, we are reminded that the genesis of American winemaking has ties going a long way back to the first colonists who settled in the New World in Virginia where the first child born was named Virginia Dare in 1587.
In 1865, the Garrett brothers began to make wines, purchasing the 30-year-old Medoc Vineyards in North Carolina, that state’s first commercial winery. When Prohibition began in 1919, they moved, first to Brooklyn, NY and later to Cucamonga, CA where it became known as the Virginia Dare Winery.
The wines from their Garrett & Company had sold well and after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, they were one of the first to sell wine under their new Virginia Dare label, which flourished well into the 1950’s.
It was later purchased and given new life in 2015 and today is located in Geyserville, CA where it is owned by well-known winemakers, Francis and Eleanor Coppola.
“The myth of Virginia Dare always intrigued me, and as a child I remember the Virginia Dare wine because of the pretty blonde girl on the label and a jingle they used to advertise it on the radio,” says Francis Coppola. “My goal is to revive the wine brand so that it isn’t lost to future generations. Virginia Dare Winery’s new home in Geyserville is the ideal location in the heart of American wine country to tell the origin stories of American wine.”
Virginia Dare, born to colonists well before the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, MA belonged to what became known as the Lost Colony because it ‘disappeared’ from Roanoke Island in the late 1500s, but legends claim that Dare later lived with native Americans, becoming engaged in a tragic love triangle, and was turned into a white doe by a jealous sorcerer and killed. Where she reportedly bled and died, a scuppernong grapevine, a variety of muscadine, sprouted with fruit that was stained red, and was known as the Mother Vine, said to be the oldest cultivated grapevine on the continent. It exists to this day and a clipping was transported to and planted in Virginia Dare’s estate vineyard in California.
Today, the wines produced at that winery offer distinctive variety, from Showcase Wines – Virginia Dare Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley and Virginia Dare Pinot Noir from the same locale – to The Legends, which start with The White Doe, a lovely blend of Chenin Blanc and Vigonier that was inspired by the Native American myth of Virginia Dare. Similarly, another Legend wine is Manteo, described as “the warrior wine”, a blend of Sonoma County Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It’s named for a legendary Native American Croatonan, a tribal chief and warrior who helped the English settlers at Roanoke Island in the late 1500s, becoming a friend and protector of Virginia Dare. The wine is rich in berry notes and black fruit flavors, aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels.
Two Arrowheads, a blend of Vigonier and Roussane from Paso Robles, brings hints of white peaches, guava, orange blossom and nutmeg to the sipper, along with tropical fruit, melon, honey and vanilla. It too is inspired by the fate of the “White Doe” whose heart, in the legend, was pierced by enchanted arrows, one of which turned her back into a woman while the other ended her life.
Last of the ‘Legends’ is The Lost Colony, a Sonoma Country blend of Syrah and Malbec with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Vigonier. The fruit is largely sourced from Dry Creek Valley. The name refers to the disappearance of the Roanoke Island’s early settlers, a vanishing that remains a mystery all these centuries later. The wine offers lush red and black berry flavors with peppery notes, clove, tobacco, and lavender as well as hints of minerals and toasted oak.
The Legend wines range in price from $14.99 to $25 (Suggested Retail Price). For restaurateurs and diners alike, they offer great value both on a wine by the glass or full wine list.