Luca Paschina — Celebrating 30 Vintages of Stewardship, Learning and Improving
It is 5:45 am on a mid-August morning, and winemaker Luca Paschina, vineyard manager Fernando Franco, and their team have been working in the vineyards at Barboursville for several hours.
“We started harvesting around 2 am this morning to get the grapes in while they are cool,” said Paschina, who is in his 30th harvest as the head winemaker and general manager at Barboursville Vineyards. “We’ll start picking Viognier in a couple of days and then Chardonnay. We’ll probably pick Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the next two weeks depending on the weather.”
The Barboursville team harvested about 40 tons of Pinot Grigio over two days and expects to harvest around 500 tons of grapes this vintage and produce 34,000 cases of wine.
As with past vintages, several of these wines will earn national and international acclaim, building on Paschina’s reputation as one of the premier winemakers in the Commonwealth and Barboursville’s position as one of the most important wineries in the region.
In 1976, sixth-generation Italian wine scion Giani Zonin purchased an 870-acre Antebellum property in the rolling foothills of the Southwest Mountains in Orange County, about 20 miles northeast of Charlottesville.
This historic property would be home to Barboursville Vineyards, marking the beginning of the modern Virginia wine industry.
The property was once home to James Barbour, 18th Governor of Virginia (1812–1814) and contemporary of Thomas Jefferson. The ruins of Barbour’s former home, which was designed by Jefferson but burned down on Christmas Day 1884, still stands on the property, a short walk from the tasting room.
From the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, Paschina brought his vision and drive to Virginia in 1990 to take over winemaking and vineyard management at Barboursville.
After earning an Oenology degree in 1983 from Istituto Umberto, Italy’s leading wine academy, Paschina worked as the assistant winemaker at Luigi Bosca E Figlie Winery in Canelli, a comune in the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, where his father was head winemaker.
The enthusiast and talented Paschina could not have picked a worse vintage to join the Virginia wine family as 1990 was one of the worst in decades.
“The weather in 1990 was terrible. It was one of the worst vintages ever in Virginia, but I had too much work to do to let rain stop me,” said Paschina. “When I arrived there were about 42 acres planted here. After surveying the vineyards and varieties, plant material, and clones, I realized we needed to replant everything.”
Much of the original acreage was planted to varieties like Riesling and Pinot Noir that are generally not well suited for Virginia’s hot and humid climate. It took Paschina and his team about a decade to replant those original 42 acres of vines and have since expanded to about 185 acres of vineyards.
“Only after replanting with the correct clones and grapes better-matched to each block and our Davidson red clay soils did the vineyards reveal their potential.”
Today, Paschina, 57, tall and slim with an endearing Italian accent, is one of the most respected and accomplished winemakers in the eastern U.S. and has done as much as winemaker to change perceptions of Virginia wine.
Says Robert Jones, Richmond-based Master Sommelier, “I’ve known Luca since mid-1999 and what impressed me when I met him and still does, is his focus on quality and his awareness of his role as a caretaker of the Barboursville Estate. His respect for nature, wine, the earth, and people make him a rare commodity.”
In 2015, Paschina was awarded the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the highest distinction in occupations which reflect honor upon the nation and the Italian people, in cultural pursuits, the economy, public service, the military, philanthropy or humanitarian activities, and named one of the 20 Most Admired Winemakers in North America by Vineyard and Winery Management magazine, among other accolades.
Though he’s garnered many personal accolades, he’s also worked tirelessly to help raise the stature of Virginia wine and built Barboursville into one of the most notable producers of fine wine in the eastern U.S. Barboursville wines have claimed as many national and international awards as any Virginia winery, including four Governor’s Cups, the state’s top wine honor.
Contributing to the success of Barboursville is Paschina’s focus on building a world-class team of wine professionals who share his talent, work ethic, and old-world sensibilities.
Fernando Franco joined the Barboursville team as viticulturist in 1998, after 15 years in California viticulture and in overseeing some of the most notable vineyards in this region. Franco came to Virginia in 1982 from El Salvador where he earned a plant physiology degree from the Escuela Nacional de Agricoltura Roberto Quiñónez.
In 2015, Franco was named ‘Grower of the Year’ by the Virginia Vineyards Association, the highest honor bestowed on grape growers in the Commonwealth.
Daniele Tessaro, who hails from the Friuli region of Italy, joined Paschina in the cellar as associate winemaker ten vintages ago.
Though the trio has over 80 years of viticulture and winemaking experience in Virginia, they are not resting on their past successes. They remain committed to experimenting with new varieties, working to better understand the terroir at Barboursville, and elevating the experience of their customers.
Their commitment to continuous improvement includes new techniques in the vineyard. “Several years ago our colleagues in Italy helped us with new pruning techniques that help maintain a proper sap flow resulting in better vine health,” explained Paschina.
As part of their vineyard expansion plan, Paschina, Franco and their team will be planting eight acres of Cabernet Franc next year. “We are planting more of the grapes that I know work here in our vineyards and is known to our customers.”
Elevating consumer’s experience at Barboursville has been an important theme for Paschina over the past three decades, especially with developing Palladio Restaurant in 1999, (see sidebar).
Five years ago they opened Library 1821, an intimate tasting lounge, to offer guests the opportunity to taste older vintages of Barboursville wines. Paschina believes, “it’s the experience and the wines that keep people coming back to Barboursville.”
As the General Manager and head winemaker, Paschina is the steward of the 1804 Inn (named for the year the first tax payment on the property was recorded), Palladio Restaurant, tasting room, vineyards, and winery.
With 185 acres of grapevines at Barboursville, most of which will be harvested over the next few weeks, there’s little time for Paschina to rest and reflect on his 30th vintage.
When I ask about what keeps him going after accomplishing so much over 30 vintages, he says, “it’s a lifestyle, not a job for money. I grew up in a deep food and wine culture, and this is my life, something I love.”
Pausing a moment before moving the grapes from the vineyard to the winery, Paschina says, “to make great wine, we never stop learning about our land and working to improve.”