The story of vinifera in Virginia begins—and, for a couple of centuries, ends—with Thomas Jefferson. A Francophilic wine buff, the third president planted imported vines that failed, blighted by the parasite phylloxera. Contemporary winemakers have been more successful, while retaining Jefferson's Continental bent. Indeed, it's surprising how many Europeans you meet at wineries in the Piedmont and other mountainous Virginia areas—until you check the weather report. "The difference between a good and a great year in Bordeaux is when and how much rain comes," says Jay Youmans, head judge of the Virginia Governor's Cup wine competition. "Bringing over Europeans with experience with those conditions makes a lot of sense." Where 30 years ago, red wines here had a vegetal quality, today trellising and other methods that help grapes ripen and inhibit mildew have resulted, in particular, in polished, food-friendly Bordeaux-style blends.