We spent last Saturday at the Clarksville Lake Country Wine Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce. This is the only wine festival we are doing this year, and for good reason — its a sophisticated crowd, composed mostly of wealthy people from nearby urban centers, and some more remote — Richmond, Charlottesville, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Winston-Salem; even Charleston, West Virginia — who own lake front vacation houses. We chatted with a couple of regulars at this event (and Annefield Wine Club members) who were frustrated that other wineries don’t send their “good” wine.
It is a commonplace notion among winery owners that they use festivals to move product they aren’t entirely happy with, or wine they make especially for festivals, which are perceived to be rookies with a sweet palate. We see that approach as a marketing mistake, because you have a captive audience that is there because they enjoy Virginia wine — why not promote your best products? Sure, there are events that are just drunk fests, and we don’t do those. We were pouring for one couple who walked up and said repeatedly, “No sweet wines!” By the time they sampled the third wine, their tune had changed: “Where can we buy your wine in Richmond?”
The town of Clarksville is in Mecklenburg County, Virginia’s only lakeside town, and as such it has evolved into a resort community, being the hub for the residents of the numerous lake-front vacation houses that surround the lake.
Curiously, the lake, which is the largest in Virginia, has two names, as does the river that flows into it (more on that later). The name of the lake from the outset was contentious; Virginians insist on calling it Buggs Island Lake, for a family that owned land surrounding the impoundment dam, which was completed in 1952. The people of North Carolina, meanwhile, call it Kerr Reservoir, in recognition of the work of Congressman John H. Kerr of North Carolina, who was instrumental in having it built. Most official signs and most references in North Carolina call it Kerr Lake or Kerr Reservoir (pronounced “Car”).
Angered by the perceived over-reach by Congress, in 1952, Virginia State Senator and future Governor Albertis S. Sarrison, Jr of Lawrenceville introduced a joint resolution in the Virginia Senate proclaiming that the body of water created by the dam shall “forever more” be known as Buggs Island Lake. The resolution passed unanimously through both houses. The posted signs on the Virginia side are for Buggs Island Lake.
The resulting lake is the largest reservoir in Virginia by surface area. Upstream, Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s largest by water volume. At its maximum capacity, Buggs Island Lake is one of the largest reservoirs in the Southeastern United States. The lake has over 850 miles of shoreline and covers approximately 50,000 acres. It touches Vance, Granville, and Warren counties in North Carolina, and Mecklenburg, Charlotte, and Halifax counties in Virginia.
In 2015, Virginia State Senator Frank Ruff, at the request of tourism officials, introduced a bill that would allow them to use the Kerr Reservoir name when marketing the region. The bill won unanimous approval in committee in January, and is likely to pass. Just to be clear — the bill does not seek to re-name the lake; it is only to grant explicit permission to Mecklenburg County officials to use both names in their marketing of the region. Maybe you can have it both ways.
The River with Two Names.
Stubbornly sticking to tradition and resisting any sort of change appears to be a trait in these parts — witness the Charlotte Courthouse Kerfuffle we wrote of last week. Its likely that if the name of the lake is changed to Kerr, but the locals will forever call it Buggs Island. So too a stretch of the Roanoke River that feeds into Buggs Island Lake that has always been known as the Staunton River.
The section of the river is in south-central Virginia and forms the boundaries of Campbell, Pittsyvania, Halifax and Charlotte counties. This 81-mile segment of the Roanoke River begins at Leesville Dam and continues to the confluence with the Dan River where it feeds into Buggs Island Lake. It is again called the Roanoke at that point.
The Staunton River is named for Captain Henry Staunton, who before the American Revolution commanded a company of soldiers organized to patrol the river valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the mouth of the Dan River. Their job was to protect early settlers from attacks by Native Americans. This section of the river became known as “Captain Staunton’s River” and, later, the Staunton River. In 1984, the 51 miles of the river between State Route 360 and State Route 761 (at the Long Island Bridge) were designated the “Staunton State Scenic River,” a component of the Virginia Scenic Rivers System.
We are seriously using this historic anomaly to our advantage. Over the years we’ve worked (off and on) on an application for an American Viticultural Area for our region. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — and the industry — likes to have them clearly defined and focused, and the Staunton River watershed can be a starting point for defining that region. Much study is needed of the different soils, the climate, and the many other factors that are considered when creating such a thing. The “Staunton River Valley AVA” has a nice ring to it, and ties this emerging wine growing region to its earliest history, which is something this history-conscious community would appreciate.