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Monticello dismisses world-renowned winemaker and father of Virginia wine Gabriele Rausse

The father of Virginia wine is out of a job.

Gabriele Rausse, revered in the commonwealth and around the world for his dedication and contributions to the booming wine industry that has taken root in Central Virginia, began working at Monticello, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and former estate of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in 1995. Before his dismissal, he served as the museum’s director of gardens and grounds, overseeing the vegetable gardens, orchards, woodlands and vineyards that replicate some of what was planted by the third president.

But, the nonprofit that owns and operates Jefferson’s mountaintop home and the world-renowned winemaker have parted ways.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello said the move is due to a reorganization of its viticultural and agricultural operations over the past few years. During that process, Rausse’s position was eliminated.

“We are sincerely grateful for Gabriele Rausse’s many years at Monticello and his groundbreaking contributions to wine in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” a spokeswoman for the foundation told The Daily Progress in a prepared statement.

But that statement was all the foundation was willing to provide. It did not respond to a number of questions from The Daily Progress, including whether it will hire someone to replace Rausse, if he was terminated or if he was made to sign a nondisclosure agreement — the latter of which Rausse confirmed himself.

“Per policy, I am not able to comment further on personnel matters,” director of communications Jennifer Lyon said in an email.

The move caught much of the local wine industry off guard.

“To be honest, I had not heard that information, and so I cannot contribute anything other than to reiterate my respect and gratitude for a lifetime of work that Gabriele has poured into the Monticello American Viticultural Area,” George Hodson, general manager of Veritas Vineyards and Winery and vice-chair of the Virginia Wine Board, told The Daily Progress in an email.

The general consensus is that without Rausse, Virginia’s wine country would never have blossomed into the giant it’s become: a $2 billion industry pumping out roughly 2 million gallons a wine every year, most of that concentrated in the Monticello region. A section of Monticello’s own website describes Rausse as “a legendary viticulturist who played a pivotal role in the successful commercial cultivation of wine in Virginia in the late-twentieth century, and the realization of Thomas Jefferson’s dream to create fine wine from Monticello-grown grapes.”

A native of Vicenza, Italy, Rausse came to the U.S. in the 1970s after a friend asked him to help him plant European vitis vinifera grapes, which had long produced some of the world’s most popular wines. He started at Barboursville Vineyards and then went on to Jefferson Vineyards. That’s where Stephen Barnard first got to know him.

“He’s obviously a legend responsible for the modern Virginia wine industry,” Barnard, president of the Monticello Wine Trail, winemaker at Mountain and Vine Vineyard and Winery and former winemaker at Keswick Vineyards, told The Daily Progress. “Basically, he’s had an impact on growth on the whole industry through the 1980s and ‘90s and proved you could grow grape varieties and make quality wine in Virginia, which hadn’t been done before.”

“He’s vital to all of us and where we are today,” Barnard said.

He had not heard of Rausse’s dismissal from Monticello when contacted by The Daily Progress but described the father of Virginia wine as extremely charming.

“He’s really just a good soul with lots of stories and lots of history and loves to encourage and help everyone in the industry to continue what he started,” Barnard said. “He’s helped so many people and really put the industry above his own ambitions for sure.”

He noted that Rausse, who will soon turn 78 years old, still has his own winemaking operations: Gabriele Rausse Winery. Rausse still has a lot to offer and a big role in the industry, Barnard said.

Rausse was unable to say much about his separation from Monticello when contacted, telling The Daily Progress that he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

“The only thing I can do is sing the song of ‘Silencio,’” Rausse said. “That’s what I use when they ask me things that I cannot answer.”

He was referring to “Il Silencio,” a 1965 number by Italian jazz trumpeter Nini Rosso which became a top hit throughout Europe. The three-minute song includes just three lines of lyrics:

“Good night, my love.

I will see you in my dreams.

Good night to you who are far away.”


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