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First lady McDonnell touts Loudoun, Virginia wine

Pictured from left, Sunset Hills Vineyards co-owner Mike Canney, First Lady of Virginia Maureen McDonnell, Sunset Hills Vineyards co-owner Diane Canney and Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore pose for a photo op with Sunset Hills in the backdrop. Times-Mirror photo/Trevor Baratko
“The wines of Virginia are no longer a hidden gem.”

While this statement made by Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Todd Haymore in Loudoun County Friday may be debatable for some, what can’t be called into question is the overall quality of Northern Virginia’s vin.

Haymore, first lady of Virginia Maureen McDonnell and an array of travel writers and representatives from Virginia Wine toured Loudoun and Fauquier counties last week as part of McDonnell’s FLITE venture, the First Lady’s Initiatives Team Effort that recognizes programs, activities, organization or individuals who embody the ideal of “getting involved and giving back.”

As a major aspect of both Virginia’s agricultural and tourism industries, the commonwealth’s wines are one of the focuses within McDonnell’s initiative. According to an economic impact study of Virginia’s wines released earlier in 2012, the wine industry contributes approximately $747 million annually to the state economy, an increase of 106 percent from figures in a 2005 study.

On the schedule for the Loudoun tour were stops at Sunset Hills Vineyards in Purcellville and Waterford’s Corcoran Vineyards and 8 Chains North. Each location provided a tasting of roughly a half dozen wines, ranging from white viogniers and sauvignon blancs, sweet limoncello-style and port wines to cabernet francs and merlots. Lunch was provided at Corcoran by local barbeque specialist Brian Jenkins of Monk’s BBQ, whose pulled pork and chicken, brisket and mac and cheese dazzled guests.

Addressing the roughly 20 tour-goers, McDonnell urged them to stock their shelves with Virginia wine and encourage friends and peers to do the same. The first lady of Virginia has held similar tours in the Charlottesville and southeastern Virginia wine regions to tout the state’s agricultural industry.

“We’ve been really building [FLITE] over the last three years,” McDonnell said. “There’s some great people in the wine industry and I always see that they work together, they endorse each other, they cheer each other on.”

While the commonwealth’s wines still have room for growth in terms of national and international visibility and recognition, Virginia now ranks as the fifth largest producer of wine in the United States. In recent years, the state’s wineries have garnered accolades in competitions such as the San Diego International Wine Competition, the London International Wine Fair and the International Eastern Wine Competition.

Tour attendee Lia James, a social media consultant with experience in the wine industry, commended McDonnell for bringing attention to the rapidly evolving Virginia wine scene. James said the state’s winemakers deserve credit for their positive role in Virginia’s economy.

“I think it’s excellent that the first lady of Virginia is highlighting the growth in the Virginia wine industry,” James said. “Virginia winemakers deserve all the recognition they’ve received recently for their contributions to the wine industry as a whole; it’s quite impressive to see how well they’ve done, especially considering Virginia’s unpredictable climate.”

Friday’s tour came less than 24 hours after a showcase reception for the upcoming Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, during which McDonnell was joined by her husband, Gov. Bob McDonnell. At the event, the governor unveiled a highway sign welcoming guests to the “Northern Virginia Wine Region.”
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