Andrew Painter is a Virginia guy who fell in love with Virginia wine.
Painter, a Northern Virginia native and land use specialist at a Leesburg-based law firm, caught the wine bug as a graduate student at the University of Virginia. Since then, immersing himself in the roots—and fruits—of wine in the commonwealth has become a decade-long passion. And the result is a juicy 500-page history of Virginia wine.
Painter’s new book, “Virginia Wine: Four Centuries of Change,” is slated to be released next month. His goal was to write a comprehensive academic history of the Virginia wine industry, but also a reference accessible to the average wine lover, full of great stories about the rebirth of Virginia wine in the past 50 years.
Nine years ago, as a young lawyer and wine enthusiast, Painter set out to write a concise guide to Virginia wine, with a short preface on the industry’s history. But that planned introduction took on a life of its own.
“I started doing the research for that first part of it—the history—and it consumed everything. Nine years later, I’ve got a 500-page book just about the history,” Painter said. “I’ve tried to write it in a way that’s chronological, that’s engaging and that’s informative for the average reader who might not know anything about the wine industry in Virginia.”
Painter, who grew up in Alexandria, remembers his first winery visit—a trip to a Charlottesville winery with visiting family members when he completed graduate school at UVA in 2004. It was a fun day of discovery that still sticks in his mind. And when Painter went on to law school at University of Richmond, he began planning weekend wine trips in central Virginia with classmates.
When Painter got his first job as an attorney in Arlington, he turned his sights to Loudoun’s growing crop of wineries, organizing trips for colleagues and friends. And it was around this time that the idea for the book was born.
Since then, Painter has developed a reputation as a land use expert at the Walsh, Colucci, Lubeley & Walsh law firm, and he and his wife, Mary Anne, have become the parents of three young children. A busy law practice and new role as dad have meant lots of late nights at the writing desk, but for Painter, the book has been a labor of love.
“This is definitely a bucket list item and a life goal that I can check off now,” said the 37-year-old Painter.
“Virginia Wine” starts from the earliest days of viticulture in Virginia, predating the Jamestown settlement. But the heart of the book focuses on Virginia wine pioneers of the ’60 and ’70s, who created what Painter and other experts consider a turning point in the Virginia wine industry that has set it on its currently booming track. Painter credits a group of pioneering young winemakers and viticulturists, along with government officials, including the administrations of governors Mills Godwin and Gerald Baliles in the ’70s and ’80s, with setting the Virginia wine industry up for success at a time when tobacco and apples were still the agricultural heavyweights in a culturally conservative state.
“The wine industry in Virginia didn’t just happen, Painter said. “This was a decision that was made by state government to emphasize quality winemaking in Virginia. … To have state government emphasize making an alcoholic product is just remarkable when you think about it.”
In his in-depth picture of wine production in the commonwealth, Painter certainly hasn’t overlooked Loudoun, where so much of his law practice has developed. Painter gives kudos to the county’s rural economic development policies and marketing programs that have branded Loudoun as DC’s Wine Country and helped preserve open space in the county’s west while creating job growth.
Loudoun is a great illustration of the diversity of winemaking in Virginia, Painter said, with early pioneers like Willowcroft’s Lew Parker operating alongside new state-of-the-art wineries opened by owners who have made fortunes in other realms before jumping onto the winery scene.
“You’ve got that small mom-and-pop farm winery aspect, and right on the same street you’ve got Stone Tower which is burgeoning, just massive—the exact opposite from a size perspective but produces high-quality wine.”
In the early days of Virginia’s winemaking rebirth in the ’60s and ’70s, leaders like Dennis Horton of Horton Vineyards in Orange County made the crucial decision to focus on high-quality European grape varietals instead of native grapes and hybrids, Painter said. And that decision is paying off as Virginia makes a name as a leader in excellent but less well-known varietals like Viognier and Petit Verdot.
“Virginia can’t be the best at everything, but it can be very competitive with things that go well here,” Painter said.
And above all, Painter said, the book is a tribute to those pioneers, like Horton, prominent viticulturist Lucie Morton, Felicia Rogan of the now-closed Oakencroft Winery near Charlottesville and other industry leaders who are actively working but now entering their 60s and 70s.
“Just hearing their stories, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall back when this was getting going,” Painter said. “That is the group that I’m trying to write this for before they pass away from the scene entirely. I want their story to be told.”
“Virginia Wine: Four Centuries of Change” is scheduled to be released Nov. 22 and is available for pre-order at amazon.com and at upress.virginia.edu.