Though the first official vintage of the Winemakers Research Exchange was 2014, the ideas behind the project had been percolating for years before that. At a time when the Virginia wine industry as a whole was poised to move beyond the basics and explore ways to make truly distinctive, quality wine on the East Coast, winemakers were in need of structured regional resources for how to do this. When attending roundtable discussions, they left with a desire for more concrete comparisons of current and new techniques rather than just sharing successful wines. Demonstrations of products from enological companies were done on fruit from the West Coast, leaving winemakers wondering how these same products might work in Virginia. Academic work was done on a small research scale leaving winemakers wondering if the results would be the same when scaled up to production sized fermentation tanks. Taken together, these questions established a need for practical, production scale experimentation to test the application of techniques, products, and approaches in Virginia wineries on Virginia fruit.
In 2014, a small group of innovating winemakers in the Monticello AVA were given seed funding by the Monticello Wine Trail to put the idea of winery-based experimentation into practice. It wasn’t easy. The first year included working out approaches to experimental design that were scientifically valid with proper controls leading to reliable results while still practical enough to complete in a working winery. Another hurdle was the need for blind, unbiased sensory analysis without weeks of training and thousands of tasting glasses. All of this had to be done on a very small budget. Working with part-time research coordinators Maya Hood White and Scott Dwyer, winemakers worked together to address the issues and find solutions. Despite all of the challenges, 27 experiments were completed by 12 different winemakers in the Monticello AVA in 2014.
After a year of working out the details, the WRE first received funding from the Virginia Wine Board to continue its work in 2015. Recognizing the potential impact of practical experimentation on the further development of the Virginia wine industry as a whole, the Virginia Wine Board offered funding for the WRE to expand their efforts statewide in 2016 becoming the Virginia Winemakers Research Exchange (VWRE) at this time. This expansion in scope led to the hiring of the first full time staff, Michael Attansi, as well as the identification of regional directors to explain the idea and recruit participants from all over the state. Since 2016, it has been the mission of the VWRE to include participants from all winegrowing regions of the commonwealth and include experiments addressing issues that are of concern in each region.