CHARLOTTESVILLE, (Va.) – Shepherd Rouse, owner of Rockbridge Vineyard and Brewery in Raphine, has been named Grower of the Year by the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA). The award was announced today by Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr at the VVA’s 2022 Technical Meeting in Charlottesville.
“Virginia’s wine industry is a tremendous asset for the Commonwealth as it contributes $1.37 billion to the state’s robust economy, while also creating more than 8,200 jobs. Virginia is also one of the most dynamic wine-producing states in the U.S., with more than 28 varieties of grapes planted on more than 4,000 acres across the Commonwealth,” said Secretary Lohr. “For more than three decades, Shepherd has been one of the true pioneers of Virginia’s wine industry. He started and expanded his vineyard, produced a number of award-winning wines and stands readily available to assist others in the wine and vineyard industry.”
Mr. Rouse’s love for wine first developed when he was a college student traveling in Germany in 1974 and had the opportunity to sample that country’s Riesling wines. He became a big fan of sweet German wines but didn’t develop a taste for dry red wines until a second visit several years later.
After graduating from Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Va., with a degree in geology and biology, he returned to Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship and participated in the 1977 harvest in the Rheingau and Baden wine regions. At the end of that stay, he visited a friend in Florence, Italy, and they had Chianti with their lunch every day. That exposure to red wine made a lasting impression on him, he said.
He moved to California in 1978 and spent eight years there working in vineyards and attending classes at the University of California, Davis where he earned a master’s degree in enology.
Returning to Virginia, Mr. Rouse said he and his wife, co-owner Jane Millott-Rouse, found the perfect vineyard site in northern Rockbridge County. In 1989, he planted his first vines—five acres of Vidal grapes.
“Then I realized that if you’re going to buy a tractor and sprayer and all the other equipment you need, you’d better have enough vines to justify the cost,” he said.
He continued to expand the vineyard, and today his 17 acres are planted with seven different grape varieties complemented with fruit from other top-quality growers in neighboring counties. His wines are made from vinifera grapes such as Chardonnay and Riesling, hybrids such as
Chambourcin and Vidal, and native American grapes such as Concord. All told, Rockbridge produces about 6,000 cases of wine a year.
“Everyone in the Virginia wine and vineyard industry knows and respects Shep and what he does,” VVA President Skip Causey said. “I think the person who summed it up best is the woman who answered the phone when I called Shep at the winery. ‘He’s not here right now but I am sure he is in the vineyard,’ she said. ‘He is always in the vineyard.’
“I chuckled because that’s who Shep is,” Mr. Causey added. “He keeps his head down and works hard in the vineyard and the winery to make some great wines.”
Mr. Rouse said his goal is to produce wines which please a broad range of individual tastes, explaining that his winemaking style of using traditional small-batch methods with minimal processing allows him to capture the essence of the vineyard in the glass.
Rockbridge wines have won numerous awards, including the Virginia Governor’s Cup on two occasions, and his 2018 V d’Or dessert wine was honored this year with placement in the prestigious Virginia Governor’s Cup Case—the fourth time his wines have received that honor. He has also won Best in Show in the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association Wine Competition and Best in Show in the Town Point Virginia Wine Competition.
Since 2005, the VVA has been pleased to honor one of its members with the annual Grower of the Year Award. Recipients are active participants in the Virginia viticulture community with a track record of commitment and service to the industry.