Beautiful Barboursville in Virginia – from Thomas Jefferson to the Italian influence

It was Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the USA, who originally attempted to create a winery near Charlottesville, Virginia towards the end of the 18th century at his home in Monticello. Jefferson was a man of many talents; a diplomat, philosopher and statesman. One thing Jefferson could not conquer in Virginia was winemaking. 200 years later, the Zonin family from Italy bought the Barboursville estate and did the one thing Thomas Jefferson couldn’t do in Virginia… make wine!

The real reason Thomas Jefferson struggled to make wine was because Vitis Vinifera (the wine making strain of grapes) couldn’t grow on the East Coast until hybrids were formed!

The estate has now been owned by the Italian Zonin family for almost 50 years, since 1976. Although you are in Founding Fathers territory, you can certainly feel their Italian influence. As the restaurant is closed on Mondays and because they had a wheel of Parmigiano left over, the staff at Barboursville invited us to join them for dinner, which was quite simply, and yet magnificently, pasta cooked in the wheel of Parmigiano! It might have been the family style dinner we had, the Nebbiolo I was drinking or the fact that I was sitting next to Deniele (the Italian assistant winemaker), but there is a (Italian) family feeling to Barboursville. Many of the staff members live on site or close by, which is part of the charm of this beautiful Virginian estate!

Thomas Jefferson even designed James Barbour's former residence, which unfortunately burnt down on Christmas Day 1884. The ruins are well preserved at Barboursville as a tourist attraction today.

James Barbour's former residence at the Virginian winery, designed by Thomas Jefferson

James Barbour's former residence, designed by Thomas Jefferson

The winery near Charlottesville, Virginia is well set up for tourism and the latest addition to the estate is the Library, which is a beautifully restored room. Alyson (head of The Library) along with her friendly team have created a relaxed atmosphere where you can taste all of their vintages along with a selection of meats/cheeses. With good company it’a a great way to while away an afternoon!

We tried a range of wines, some varieties that are common in Virginia but other Italian varieties, too: aromatic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Franc and the “best Nebbiolo outside of Italy”! And then there is the prestigious Octagon which is Barboursville’s signature red (a Bordeaux blend).

If you want more than wine and cheese then I am told the restaurant ‘Palladio’ is fantastic, although closed on Mondays… Good to know for next time!

If coming or going from Charlottesville, I thoroughly recommend taking the SkyLine drive. Meandering through the Blue Ridge Mountains, it really is a great experience and a fabulous way to take in the vast beauty of the forested landscape.

Meet Fernando, the viticulturalist at Barboursville winery near Charlottesville, Virginia. He has a fascinating story to tell. Having escapes war-torn El Salvador in 1980, he was taken in by a friend who was a Peace Corp worker from Virginia (the two men had met previously in El Salvador.) Living in Virginia, Fernando studied Agronomy and, through playing soccer, he met Joachim Hollerith, who needed help planting Prince Michel, the first winery in Madison County, Virginia. This journey then took Fernando to California, where he worked for Frenchman Jean Leducq, and finally he returned to Virginia with Barboursville (21 years ago) as Head of Viticulture. He is a great man and passionate about his role! Hopefully you’ll catch him doing his thing at Barboursville!

Fernando, the Viticulturist

Fernando, the Viticulturist at the winery near Charlottesville Virginia

The man, the myth, the legend!

The winery at Barboursville is part of the Monticello Appellation. On top of the restaurant and tasting facility, the estate also offers nine rooms of accommodation. Three rooms are in James Barbour’s original house, three are in the former slave quarters and three are in the former civil war hospital on the river. Barboursville has done a great job in keeping the sense of history alive throughout the estate. The accommodation has kept many original features and you feel as if you could still be at the turn of the 19th century, especially when sitting on the veranda, overlooking the lake with the church bells ringing.

Each morning at 8:00am, the nearby church plays four hymns, so don’t miss it! We sat out on that crisp autumnal morning last year listening to the birds and church bells with a coffee in hand. It was certainly one of the more enjoyable mornings I’ve experienced and a far cry from the stresses of city life!

I only wish I had more time at Barboursville, as I imagine it would be a wonderful place to relax, grab a book, walk the grounds and enjoy the serenity. If you’re looking for a winery near Charlottesville, Virginia then come to Barboursville. It offers a wonderful wine experience immersed in a magnificently historical estate. Pop in for a drink, stay for dinner or stay for the weekend! I think Thomas Jefferson would be proud of his legacy and that good wine is finally being produced at Barboursville.


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The former slave residence turned into accommodation

Italian chefs know best!

James Barbour's original house, now accommodation

Thomas Jefferson designed James Barbour's former residence

Wine & Cheese anyone?

The original staircase at James Barbour's former residence

James Barbour's former residence

The Octagon Wine Barrels

The man, the myth, the legend!


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