Tom Kelly, a Board member of the Virginia Vineyards Association and past president, was named “Grower of the Year” for 2023 by the organization at its annual meeting on Friday, Feb. 17th. The award was presented by Beth Green, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville, the normal venue for this meeting.

Tom Kelly accepting “Grower of the Year” award from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Beth Green

2023 40th Anniversary of the VVA

At the wine reception Thursday evening, VVA president Skip Causey of Potomac Point Vineyard pointed out that this was the 40th anniversary of the founding of the VVA, and that the organization and the Virginia wine industry had come a long way. “Virginia now has 5,000 acres of winegrapes planted,” declared Causey. In addition, he confirmed, Virginia has now become a red grape-dominated region. Fifty-five percent of its winegrapes are red, with Cabernet Franc having the largest acreage, displacing Chardonnay for the first time. The three other leading winegrapes planted in Virginia are also red Bordeaux grapes; Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Annual conference organizer Tracy Kirkman shared that “It’s really nice to see everyone back this year,” since the 2023 meeting was the first regular indoor winter meeting since 2020, with Covid having disrupted the normal schedule. She said that the 2023 registration “is the highest I’ve seen in my eleven years running this meeting,” with 263 registered attendees and over 50 exhibitors staff.

VA Farm Winery Act Amended by the General Assembly on Unanimous Vote

VVA president Skip Causey shared that the Virginia Wineries Association had decided to petition the General Assembly to revise and update the Farm Winery Act, which regulates how Virginia wineries may legally operate. He said without further clarification that VWA members felt it was necessary to further clarify who qualifies as being a “Farm Winery”, now liberally defined as an operation with about a row of vines and a tasting room.

To give Virginia wine more integrity and authenticity, and to protect those playing by the rules, the VWA suggested amending the definition of a Farm Winery to one owning or controlling at least three acres of Virginia winegrapes. While there are wineries that don’t have processing facilities onsite and use custom crush services instead, it was stipulated that they must buy, grow or use only Virginia winegrapes or juice. “This suggestion passed unanimously, possibly the only time in recent memory that any legislation has had unanimous support from the General Assembly,” Causey declared.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Beth Green said that the Virginia wine industry was popular in the General Assembly, and noted that it contributes $1.3 billion to the state economy.