One day Paul Breaux was clearing a field on a farm he had bought in 1994 in Loudoun County, Virginia when he found some old grapevines. He recultivated the vines and made a little wine for family and friends.
They told him he should make some more and sell it. He planted 2.5 acres of vines and three years later Breaux Vineyards was open for business.
Today Breaux has 104 acres of vines set in 404 acres of land, and the vineyard is run by Paul’s daughter, Jennifer, who’s the General Manager and company Vice-President. It wasn’t a role that she’d planned for herself.
‘I thought I was going to be a teacher,’ she says as we tour the vineyard and tasting room. ‘I was at college when my dad bought the farm and decided he wanted to start a vineyard. We were in a bar when he sat me down and said: “We have to talk about this.” He wanted me to work with him in the vineyard. I’d no experience at all, so I learned by doing. I was forced to learn pretty fast! I’ve taken wine courses since then, but I was here several years before I had time to go out and tour vineyards in California, to see what they were doing.’
When it began, Breaux Vineyards was only the 4th winery to open in Loudoun County and was at the forefront of the boom in Virginia wine, which now ranks 5th in the USA for the number of wineries – over 300 of them, with Loudoun County having more than any other county in the state.
‘My dad started planting more vines before expanding,’ Jennifer says, ‘as he didn’t want to begin by importing grapes from California, which some vineyards do. He took it to a different level. No-one was doing anything like that back then. He had no idea Virginia wines would grow so much.’
The vineyard stands in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a mile outside the small town of Mechanicsville but only an hour’s drive from Washington DC. This means a regular influx of weekend visitors from the nation’s capital.
‘You really have to come to Virginia to have Virginia wines,’ Jennifer explains, as we settle down to a tasting in their large and airy tasting room and reception area. ‘Our wines are only available in four states locally. In California you get California wines on restaurant menus but we can’t do that here because of the smaller scale of production. Some restaurants will stock some Virginia wines but generally, they’re too pricey and you have to come to the vineyards to get them. At the vineyard, our wines sell for about $19-48, approximately.’
Viognier is the signature grape in Loudoun County, although Chardonnay is more widely planted. Breaux also makes a wine from seyval, a hybrid grape, which they call Jolie Blond in a nod to Paul Breaux’s Louisiana roots. They also make deliciously fragrant rosés, one of which is called, what else, Breauxmance.
The Loudon terroir suits white wine varieties better, while Virginia’s other main wine region, around Charlottesville, is better suited to reds.
‘Charlottesville is a little warmer,’ Jennifer says. ‘Here we have more hills, more altitude. Charlottesville gets more frost and their terroir is a little better for cabernet sauvignon.’
The growth of wine-making in Virginia shows no signs of going away, either.
‘At the moment,’ says Jennifer, ‘there are twenty more potential licensees for vineyards in Loudoun County alone.’
Breaux itself now employs 85 people, including part-time staff. Not bad for something that started when Paul Breaux stumbled across some old vines.
Tell me more about Breaux Vineyards
Breaux Vineyards, 36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Purcellville, VA 20132, USA.
Tel: (+00-1) 540-668-6299
The vineyard is open daily from 11 am except for major public holidays. Winery tours are available on weekends only and cost $5. Guided tastings are available daily and cost $15.
Where to Stay: The Hidden View B&B is 2.5 miles from Breaux Vineyards.
To plan your trip to Virginia in the Capital Region of the USA, visit www.capitalregionusa.co.uk.
All photos (c) Mike Gerrard.