Virginia Wine Pioneers Remember David King of King Family Vineyards

It seems everyone in Virginia Wine Country has a David King story except me. The man radiated strength and spirit. He was tall, handsome, terribly smart and so sharp, as well as the patriarch of one of the state’s very best wineries; I was much too awed to ever introduce myself. 

I regret that, because the stories that David’s friends and colleagues are now sharing behind the scenes paint him as not only toweringly impressive, but also fun, and funny, and irrepressible. 

David King, co-owner of King Family Vineyards with his wife, Ellen, passed away this week from a long-term illness that would have knocked the legs from under any ordinary man ages ago. And as with last year's passing of another icon, Horton Vineyard’s Dennis Horton, this seems like more than the loss of one person; it’s also in many ways the passing of Virginia wine’s rebellious youth. 

Much of what’s debated and fought for in today’s entertainment-centric wine industry seems trivial compared to twenty years ago, according to Jennifer Breaux, General Manager of Breaux Vineyards, another of Virginia's longtime winery leaders.

“We have that privilege largely because of people like David who fought for our rights," says Jennifer. "That’s what mattered back in the day. We were going to Richmond to fight to literally keep our doors open, to have the right to self-distribute, and to be able to actually serve tastings to our guests. Some of the newcomers don’t realize how much was done to lay the foundation.”

Asked to share a remembrance, Doug Fabbioli of Northern Virginia's Fabbioli Cellars said, “I was fortunate enough to serve with David on the Virginia Wine Board over the last 6 years. I learned to treat him as a mentor even if it was from afar. I also learned you can disagree with him, but you better do it with thought and confidence. I know I serve the industry better because I served with David King. Thank you, my cowboy hero!”

As comfortable on a horse as he was in front of a room full of lawmakers, David’s passion in his home state of Texas had been polo. Twelve flat acres for a polo field were the priority as the family searched for a suitable new home in the Virginia countryside in 1995. The award-winning King Family Vineyards came later. 

“He was in life, as he was in polo, powerful and graceful, precise and understanding,” said Chris Pearmund of Pearmund Cellars. “He led the Virginia wine industry when we needed someone of his high caliber to represent us as a true industry; previously we were not given much notice or respect in the legislative halls of Richmond. David fought back with intellect and an understanding of complex ways. As Chair of the Virginia Wine Board, he looked at the industry’s long-term plans - which some did not agree with - and was always the gentleman in guiding us to the best result.”

Five years after moving to Virginia, in 2000, King Family Vineyards opened with just over 8 acres of vines, and a first vintage of 480 cases. Today, the winery produces more than 10,000 cases a year on 31 acres. 

Earlier this week, King Family winemaker Matthieu Finot gave an emotional thank you to David and Ellen King, in absentia, as he accepted the Monticello Cup Award for his Mountain Plains red blend – the top award for the 30+ wineries on central Virginia's Monticello Wine Trail. Last year, King Family Vineyards won the Virginia Governor's Cup, the top wine award in the state. 

“When I think of David King, I think of quality; quality of his wines… of his vineyards and facilities… but mostly the quality of his person and his work,” said Jenni McCloud, owner of Chrysalis Vineyards. “He sincerely and tirelessly cared for our industry and its participants. Few people have great influence on industries; David King was one of those people.”

The King family will be hosting a casual celebration of David's life on Friday, June 14th at their family farm in Crozet from 7:30 p.m until 9:30 p.m. 

"David King was an integral part of a multi-faceted legislative effort that transformed the Virginia wine industry in the late 2000s that sparked the exponential growth of the Virginia wine and craft beverage industries today.  He was well respected by all, and his considerable influence shaped the Virginia wine policies and laws in the areas of marketing, distribution, and direct to consumer sales.  

He possessed a clear, long view vision for the wine industry, a strong moral character, a commanding intellect and a relentless generousness to and graciousness toward others.  He believed that together, we rise.  He was fiercely competitive, but always the consummate gentleman.  The Virginia Wine Industry has lost a dear friend and one of its great leaders."

- Philip Strother, Philip Carter Winery

"He was such a breath of fresh air when he and his family joined the Virginia wine scene......David King will be missed by the entire wine industry. His work on the Wine Board benefited every winery in the state. David's involvement with all facets of the industry was done with professionalism and consideration for all. It was my pleasure to have known and served with David on the Va Wine Board and he will be truly missed by all. King Family Vineyards set a new standard for the quality of wines produced in Virginia."

- Doug Flemer, Ingleside Vineyards

"When I was newly elected to the leadership of the Monticello Wine Trail in 2012-13, David King was extremely generous of his time. Emails, Q&A’s, coffee meetings.  David was so available to help me understand how we as a trail arrived at our current status, and his historical perspective and influence were a large part of that conversation.

A year or so later, David and I had slightly differing views on a topic - and for me that was scary all by itself!  At that time I was traveling with some other Virginia wine makers. When I returned to our hotel into cell coverage, I had a voicemail from David about an issue that we both thought important.

David’s voicemail said that he was calling me from his hospital bed in Houston while undergoing chemo. Of course I called him back and we talked through the topic at hand.

But most importantly, as many times as I’ve had to clear out my cell phone voicemail - I have always saved this voicemail from David King. Though he battled longer and harder in recent months, and still showed up for issues involving the trail, I’ll never forget the guy who called me from the hospital while undergoing chemo. David showed me what it meant to be dedicated to our businesses and our industry - the King of the ‘Coalition of the Willing”.

I’ve saved this voicemail from David  to remind me all the time, over the last 5 years, what it takes to be dedicated and committed to this Virginia Wine industry." 
- Elizabeth Smith, Afton Mountain Vineyards   

- Nancy Bauer, Virginia Wine in My Pocket