Around this time last year, winemakers in the area had a lot to worry about.
For starters, spring came way too early, with "bud break" occurring on grape vines on March 17. For more than a month, jittery growers watched the thermometer with apprehension every time the mercury dropped to around the freezing point.
And then they wondered and worried if the first Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival would be a success. That question is answered by the second festival, which will be from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Charlottesville.
The event features live music, food and more than 90 locally produced wines to sample. And, like the Virginia wine industry itself, the plan is to continue to make the festival bigger and better.
"We're trying to build the festival into a week-long event that will include things like educational programs and winemaker dinners," said Elizabeth Smith, chairperson of the festival and co-owner and general manager of Afton Mountain Vineyards.
"This is one of the few festivals I'm aware of where every member of the Monticello AVA [American viticultural area] is participating. There are many festivals throughout the state, but this is the only one where it's solely members of the Monticello AVA.
"This is an opportunity to get all 30 of our member vineyards in a central spot. And some of the wineries only participate in this festival."
For each winemaker, knowledge of his or her particular AVA is of critical importance. Smith explained that the concept of an AVA is based on the idea that certain grapes are going to grow in certain soils a certain way.
"The Monticello AVA is here on the east side of the Blue Ridge Mountains," Smith said. "The Shenandoah region on the west side of the Blue Ridge is a completely different AVA, with different soils and so forth.
"So an AVA is a growing region that's based on a certain type of soil, sunlight and rainfall that is going to produce a general quality of grape. We're in a large AVA, compared to others.
"And it's a very high-quality AVA, and we're very proud to be a member of it."
Virginia is the fifth-largest producer of wine in the nation, with some of the finest vintages coming from the Monticello AVA. Wine Enthusiast Magazine voted this area one of the top 10 wine vacation destinations in the country.
Evidence of the growing awareness of the quality of local wines can be taken from the fact that 11 of the 12 top-scoring wines selected for the 2012 Virginia Governor's Case were made in this area. And 40 percent of ticket sales for last year's festival came from people who lived outside the Charlottesville area.
The festival is also about creating musical moods to accompany the wine and food being offered. Greg Howard will be performing from noon to 2 p.m., followed by the Rick Olivarez Trio, which will play from 2 to 6 p.m.
Howard is a master of the Chapman Stick, which is a relatively new stringed instrument that produces its own unique music. He shows the instrument's versatility by playing classical, rock, new age and jazz on it.
Howard had been playing piano for years when he discovered the Chapman Stick. The instrument, which looks like a guitar without the body, is named for its inventor; Emmett Chapman came up with the idea in the early 1970s. As soon as Howard played the instrument for the first time in a Washington, D.C., music shop in 1985, he said he knew it was what he wanted to make music with.
One of the things Howard liked about the Stick was that, unlike a piano or synthesizer, he could change the sound of the notes after playing them. He said it has the best qualities of the piano and the guitar put together in one instrument.
"The stick produces sweet music, but it's a sound you have to hear for yourself," Howard said.
The same might be said about the Rick Olivarez Trio. The group's mix of gypsy, Latin jazz, eastern European folk songs and favorite standards is nicely suited for sipping wine.
Accompanying Olivarez will be Jeff Cheers on guitar and Dave Berzonsky on bass. The Pavilion's grassy border area is ideal for picnicking, and bringing blankets and lawn chairs is encouraged.
The proceeds from the festival will benefit the Jeffersonian Wine Grape Growers' Society, which is the organization behind the Monticello Wine Trail. The society plays an important role in supporting local tourism and generating interest in area wines and wineries.
Smith said all the member wineries in the Monticello AVA work together to promote the quality of grapes grown here, as well as help each other. With such a large variety of wines to sample at the festival, visitors should be able to find what they're looking for.
"There's no one answer to what a person is looking for in a wine," Smith said. "Some people want something cold, sweet and easy to drink.
"Others are looking for something big and robust. Perhaps they want a wine to accompany a steak dinner, or take to the next dinner party.
"It really comes down to, 'What wine do you like to drink?' "
The second Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion on the east end of Charlottesville's Downtown Mall.
Special VIP entry will be from noon to 1 p.m. The $75 VIP package includes parking, VIP laminate, early access to the festival VIP area, catered heavy hors d'oeuvres, the opportunity to sample select wines not available to the general public and a chance to talk with winemakers. VIP designated driver tickets are $25; VIP tickets for ages 13-20 are $25.
General admission tickets are $29, $10 for designated drivers and $10 for those ages 13-20. Children age 12 and younger are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at www. monticellowinetrailfestival.com.
Taste of Monticello Wine Trail
1-6 p.m. Saturday
music by Greg Howard from noon to 2 p.m. and Rick Olivarez Trio from 2 to 6 p.m.
nTelos Wireless Pavilion
$75-$29; $25-$10 designated drivers and ages 13-20; children ages 12 and younger get in free.