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    Wine Wednesday: We’re talking grapes by the tons

    Breaux Vineyards in Purcellville is one of the largest growers in Loudoun County. Photo/Trevor Baratko

    Loudoun County grape growers outpaced a robust statewide showing in the 2014 wine grape harvest, boasting a 20 percent increase from 2013, according to a commercial grape report released by the governor's office in March.

    Virginia as a whole saw a 17 percent harvest spike.

    The latest tally is a welcome sign for an industry hard-pressed to meet ever-increasing demand.

    Loudoun ranked second in the commonwealth in grape tons produced in 2014, with 1,294 to Albermarle's 1,316. Orange County, the only other locality in the four figures, came in third with 1,028. Overall, the state produced 8,038 tons, up from 6,863 in 2013.

    One ton of grapes makes roughly 60 cases, or 720 bottles, of wine.

    By varietal, chardonnay (1,104 tons), merlot (995) and cabernet franc (994) were the heftiest pulls.

    “The report tells me that the private sector is investing in the Loudoun winery industry,” Kellie Boles, an agricultural development officer with Loudoun County, told the Times-Mirror. “Loudoun has more new vines planted than any other county in the commonwealth.”

    Boles, whose department works to inform and advise the agriculture sector and interested vineyard operators, said the investor confidence is especially heartening considering the high financial stakes that come with investing in grape-planting, which costs roughly $15,000 per acre.

    "In order to make that type of investment, landowners must have faith in the future vitality of the Loudoun grape and wine industry.”

    Most of the local fruit stays in the county, Boles said, but at least one of the county's top growers, Breaux, often sells grapes to the prestigious Barboursville Vineyards.

    Buying, selling or even trading grapes is a common practice in the often-communal Virginia wine industry.

    Speaking to the grape report, Dr. Tony Wolf, a viticulturist at Virginia Tech, noted last year's harvest went “generally well,” with limited weather and wildlife disruptions.

    “The consensus was that the favorable weather in the final 30 to 50 days before harvest was associated with very high-quality fruit and great wine potential,” said Wolf.

    Gov. Terry McAuiffe (D), upon the report's release, praised vinous leaders while also calling for farmers to plant more grapes.

    "With sales increasing steadily over the last few years and interest about our wine industry growing along the East Coast, the United Kingdom, China and other markets, we must plant more grapevines, increase harvests, and produce more wine to meet that demand,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

    One of Loudoun's newest grape growers, Merle Russ at Hobby Horse Vineyards a few miles south of Lovettsville, said his operation is a retirement hobby. With one acre planted and four more to go, Russ explained he has no ambitions to be a winemaker. Rather, he simply wants to help local wineries like Hillsborough, whom he partners with, produce top-tier wine.

    Russ expects his five-acre vineyard of petit manseng, petit verdot and chambourcin to be fully operational by 2018.

    “My wife and I have always enjoyed good wine,” Russ said. “And we just wanted to be involve. We just want to be a part of the industry.”

    Featuring news on the Loudoun County wine industry, the Times-Mirror's award-winning “Wine Wednesday” appears the first Wednesday of each month. Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Check out recent Wine Wednesdays:

    -"Meritage is the new black" -- March 4, 2015
    -"Let's Get Weird: Five funky wines in Loudoun" -- Feb. 2, 2015
    -"Formerly of Wine Kitchen, Michael Foote arrives at Salamander" -- Jan. 7, 2015

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