A New Spirit

The 11th Virginia Wine Expo is changing things up with new events and a sleek new venue.

Like a good Cabernet, the Virginia Wine Expo is maturing. 

The six-day expo, which starts Feb. 27 and comprises more than 20 events—from master class seminars and wine pairing dinners to grand tastings—moves to the soaring new glass-enclosed space of Richmond’s Main Street Station. But this isn’t the only change on deck for the event. For the first time, wineries exhibiting at the expo will do so by invitation only. Founder and executive director Alex Papajohn and his team are hand-selecting each wine, he says, to “ensure the wines poured at the event are only the best wines.”

When Papajohn launched the inaugural Virginia Wine Expo in 2008, there were around 100 wineries in the state. Today, that number hovers near 300. “Ten years ago, Virginia wines were considered more of an insider’s secret,” says Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board marketing office. As oenophiles have become more aware of Virginia wine, explains Boyd, visits to our wineries have increased, jumping from 1.6 million in 2010 to 2.2 million in 2015, and events such as this provide an introduction to those wineries. 

Also new to the expo this year is the inclusion of spirits. Virginia distilleries will exhibit alongside wineries at the expo’s Walk-Around Grand Tastings—five shifts over Saturday and Sunday featuring hundreds of bottles of wine from Virginia, as well as Oregon, Australia and New Zealand, this year’s guest regions. 

“Much like Virginia wine, Virginia spirits have a true sense of place as they relate to quality, heritage and craftsmanship,” says Amy Ciarametaro, executive director of the Virginia Distillers Association. 

SMOKED!, a Friday event serving food smoked on-site, will feature whiskey as well as a pig cutting demonstration by chef Tanya Cauthen, owner of Belmont Butchery in Richmond, followed by a mini-auction of the retail cuts from the Autumn Olive Farms pig.

New events include Bounty of Virginia where visitors stroll between stations serving Virginia farm-to-table and Chesapeake Bay specialties. “The focus on Virginia signature food items—oysters, crab meat, pork, venison—is a natural fit with the overall event,” explains Papajohn. 

“The expo emphasizes local,” he adds. “We are about Virginia wine—and now Virginia spirits—and native Virginia cuisine.” VirginiaWineExpo.com

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