A rookie’s guide to the Virginia Wine Expo

The 8th annual Virginia Wine Expo is right around the corner–kicking off with a Grand Cru preview at Estilo on February 17th and stretching on through Sunday. Here’s what you need to know to make the most of it.

The Virginia Wine Expo is big. It’s huge. In terms of Virginia Wine Things, it’s GIGANTIC. And big, huge, gigantic things can be intimidating. What exactly are you supposed to do? What if you miss the best stuff? Will there be a quiz at the end?

Dude, relax, this is a time of recreational drinking and eating. You’re going to be fine. Fortunately, founder John Papajohn, with Tracey Leverty and the Echelon Management team have been making this show happen for the past eight years. They know the Virginia Wine Expo better than it knows itself.

Here’s what YOU need to know:


Do you ever wish there were a convention-center-sized wine store that sold only Virginia wine and offered tastings of every single bottle with thoughtful, detailed descriptions from the makers themselves. THAT’S THE WALK AROUND GRAND TASTING! You wished for a thing that already exists! (Don’t worry, according to wish-science, you still have two more wishes.)

The grand tastings are the featured event of the expo, and Saturday’s tasting is always very well attended. To give folks a less people-dense option, organizers have added a VIP ticket with two hours of early access for a few more bucks. Also, Leverty points out, Sunday’s tasting always has a more leisurely vibe for visitors who want even less-bridled access to the winemakers themselves.

This year’s grand tasting, which is presented by Wines from South Africa, also features wines from…South Dakota. JK, South Africa! Over one hundred South African wines will be available to taste only. Virginia wines will be available to taste AND will be for sale by the bottle, which, as Tracey Leverty points out, allows guests to “experience a number of different wines from different wineries without driving all over the state.” Leverty says expo organizers decided to feature South Africa as a point of comparison to give a more complete understanding of the nuances of Virginia wine, noting “For example, the Rustenberg John X Merriman 2011 is a South African Bordeaux blend that compares well with numerous Virginia Bordeaux blends.”


I discovered in college that wine consumption facilitates learning, and there’s plenty of learning to be done at this year’s expo, with an impressive roster of teachers. Mixmasters T. Legget of the Roosevelt and Mattias Haglund of Heritage will lead a seminar on creating cocktails with Virginia wines. Chef Jason Alley, Shepherd Craig Rogers, and Southern Season Sommelier Elizabeth Cooper will instruct seminar-goers on pairing VA wine with food. And Stephen Mackey of Notaviva Vineyards will bend minds with the science behind pairing wine with music

Rounding out the list of teachers-I-wish-I-had-in-school is Dany Schutte, who’ll bring her cheese expertise to a seminar on pairing cheese with Virginia cider, featuring selections from Blue Bee and Foggy Ridge, among others.


If you have feelings about burgers, buy your Burger Blast tickets RIGHT MEOW because they will sell out, and you’ll be trying to buy tickets from scalpers who, I’m told, do not exist in this market.

First the bad news: Burger Blast is NOT an event where people fire burgers out of t-shirt cannons into a ravenously hungry live audience. But the good news: IT SORT OF IS. That is, over 15 restaurants who know ’bout burgers, from Carytown Burgers & Fries to The Savory Grain, will fire their burgers out of grills (not cannons) and pair them with over 35 Virginia wines and another 35 Virginia craft beers.

You can also look forward to relaxing in a “Wine & Burger Garden,” which sounds like a total upgrade from the typically less-relaxing “flower and vegetable garden.”


If I could create an ideal brunch environment for myself, based on Richmond restaurants, it would look very similar to what you’ll see at Sunday’s Great RVA Brunch PartySub Rosa Bakery, WPA, Pizza Tonight, Perly’s, Sugar Shack, and EVEN MORE RESTAURANTS. Stretching from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, this brunch party is giving you ample opportunity to carb-load before enjoying the less-bustling Sunday Grand Tasting. If that sounds like your kind of plan, check out the combination ticket (scroll the to very bottom of the ticket page), which will give you $22 dollars off (to spend on Virginia wine).

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Stephanie Ganz

Stephanie Ganz thought there would be pizza.

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