Mr. Grape Man: Gorman's got the juicy details

Cabernet Franc. Mark Tim Gorman's words: that's the wine that will make this region famous.

He should know. Not only is he president of the Virginia Vineyards Association, but the 38-year-old Afton grape grower sits on the Governor's Commission on the Virginia Wine/Grape Industry as well as the board of the Virginia Wineries Association. And soon the public will get a taste of Gorman's expertise literally when he opens Cardinal Point Winery in April 2003.

Although the move into commercial winemaking is new, Gorman has spent the past 16 years mastering all things grape.

In 1986, the same year he graduated with a psychology degree from James Madison University, his father, a retired Army officer, purchased a 90-acre vineyard in Nelson County. When Gorman's brother, John, mentioned they needed help in the fields, the now bald and bespectacled Gorman recalls, "I came and pretty much never left."

He did, however, take time out to earn a second degree, this time in horticulture at Virginia Tech: He graduated cum laude in 1993. Although Gorman lacked confidence going in, "I learned I knew a lot." He adds that by the second week, one professor had asked him to take over teaching his fruit lab.

Back on the farm, Gorman established a solid reputation in viniculture, selling grapes to such wineries as Afton Mountain, Oakencroft, and Williamsburg. Last New Year's, during a Cardinal Point board meeting, a.k.a. a family dinner, he proposed turning the family-owned vineyard into a full-fledged winery. Approval was unanimous. His sister, Sarah, says, "I was completely behind him. It was a long time coming."

Even as work progresses on the winery (with John, a local architect, designing the buildings, and Sarah, a Charlottesville attorney, navigating the legal maze of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), Gorman still finds time for other projects, such as advocating for state legislative reform. He laments that Virginia wineries are currently barred from shipping their products across the state line.

"A full 40 percent of visitors to Virginia wineries are from out of state," Gorman points out, "which means you can't get wine to your customers."

Another endeavor is promoting the Grapefork, a small harvesting tool he invented in 1996 that reduces the chance of fingers getting cut while one is picking grapes. Gorman says enthusiastically, "Every year, I ask, 'Is it as good as I think it is?' And every year, I think, "Yes, it's fantastic!"

That spirit fuels Sarah's assessment of her brother: "To me, he is Mr. Grape Man. He's all about the grapes."

Waving off Virginia as "the next Napa," Gorman says his goal for Cardinal Point is different. "I don't want to be the biggest winery. I want to be the favorite winery."