During the annual meeting of the Virginia Vineyards Association on May 12, the Grower of the Year award was given to Shepherd Rouse, proprietor of Rockbridge Vineyards. The award was announced by Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr.
“For more than three decades, Shepherd has been one of the true pioneers of Virginia’s wine industry. He started and expanded his vineyard, produced a number of award-winning wines and stands
readily available to assist others in the wine and vineyard industry,” said Lohr.
Rouse first found a taste for German wines when visiting there in 1974. After graduating from Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Va., with a degree in geology and biology, he returned to Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and participated in the 1977 harvest in the Rheingau and Baden wine regions.
Returning to Virginia, Mr. Rouse said he and his wife, co-owner Jane Millott-Rouse, found a vineyard site in northern Rockbridge County. In 1989, he planted his first vines—five acres of Vidal grapes.
“Then I realized that if you’re going to buy a tractor and sprayer and all the other equipment you need, you’d better have enough vines to justify the cost,” he said.
He continued to expand the vineyard, and today his 17 acres are planted with seven different grape varieties complemented with fruit from other top-quality growers in neighboring counties. His wines are made from vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay and Riesling, hybrids such as
Chambourcin and Vidal, and native American grapes such as Concord. All told, Rockbridge produces about 6,000 cases of wine a year.
“Everyone in the Virginia wine and vineyard industry knows and respects Shep and what he does,” VVA President Skip Causey said. “I think the person who summed it up best is the woman who answered the phone when I called Shep at the winery. ‘He’s not here right now but I
am sure he is in the vineyard,’ she said. ‘He is always in the vineyard.’
“I chuckled because that’s who Shep is,” Mr. Causey added. “He keeps his head down and works hard in the vineyard and the winery to make some great wines.”
Rockbridge’s most distinctive wine is their V d’Or, a blend of Vidal, Vignoles and Traminette hybrid grapes that are pressed while frozen making a sweet, concentrated dessert wine. V d’Or is frequently awarded gold medals, and is seen regularly in the Governor’s Case, the top scoring 12 wines in the Governor’s Cup wine competition. The 2018 V d’Or is in the 2022 Goveror’s Case.