Felica Rogan: Grande dame of Virginia viticulture
When you're the spokesperson for Virginia's wine industry, there's one given: You're always photographed holding a glass or a bottle of wine. And when asked to pose for The Hook yes, holding a glass and a bottle of wine Felicia Warburg Rogan gamely agrees to the shot she's done so many times before. [Including one for an early '90s Albemarle magazine with this unforgettable headline: "Red wine, white wine, and blue bloods she has known." –editor]
Rogan's schedule is full. As if last weekend's Monticello Wine Festival weren't enough, there's the media pestering her for interviews. The occasion: Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery's 20th anniversary.
That date is a milestone in Virginia winemaking, marking how far both the nascent industry and Rogan's own winery have come in two decades. But the woman who's indelibly associated with Virginia wine makes one thing perfectly clear: "I'm not a winemaker. I own the winery."
Rogan moved to Charlottesville in 1976 when she married Boar's Head Inn owner John Rogan. And while it wasn't quite like Eva Gabor moving to the country in Green Acres, there was still a bit of culture shock for a woman who'd led "a very glamorous and exciting life" in New York City.
That included being married to Robert Sarnoff, former head of RCA, and then Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., who brought her down one weekend to look at cattle in Charlottesville, where she met Rogan.
Wine came into the picture after meeting Lucie Morton, who took care of her family's Northern Neck vineyards, in 1977. "I knew wine in New York," says Rogan, "but you can't grow vines on Park Avenue."
With the encouragement of her husband, she plunged into planting a vineyard and starting a winery, today freely acknowledging she didn't have a clue about either.
"Having been one of the first, I'm credited with being a pioneer," says Rogan. "I don't know if that's a compliment or not. Now the state viticulturist makes it much easier for people to know about site selection and varieties." That was a resource Rogan didn't have when she turned Oakencroft Farm's pastures into vineyards, admittedly not an ideal site for grapes.
Still, "it was a tremendously exciting venture," she says, embarking on a new industry where few men– and no women– had gone before.
Rogan offers this advice to those who want to drink award- winning wines but are confused about the wine competitions that seem to come every weekend. Which ones count?
"The biggest one is the Governor's Cup," explains Rogan. "And in this area, the Monticello competition." And of course, a mention in Wine Spectator is gold.
So after 20 years, is winemaking a profitable venture? "It's a question no winery will answer," replies Rogan. She pauses. "We do very well."
What brought you here? I married my late husband, John B. Rogan, and he lived here.
What's worst about living here? The deer staring at me in the kitchen and eating my flowers and grapes
Favorite hangout? My Oakencroft barrel room
Most overrated virtue? That I am overly organized
What would people be surprised to know about you? That home is best
If you could change one thing about yourself? I wish that I could stay up late.
What accomplishment are you proudest of? Being the first woman in Central Virginia to start a vineyard and winery 20 years ago.
What do people find most annoying about you? That I interrupt a lot
Whom do you admire? Daniel Pearl's widow
Favorite book? Robert Frost's poems
What subject causes you to rant? Sloppiness
What thrills you about living in the 21st century? The ease of communication, the challenges ahead for women, and the breakdown of the old society rules
What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? That time passes too quickly, there's too much to do in too short a time, and that my dogs can't live forever
What do you drive? A three-year-old Subaru Legacy
What's in your car CD player? Nothing
What's your next trip? Washington
What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Tricking my stepbrother into meeting a foreign journalist to interview him in Central Park about his love of bullfights
What do you regret? That my husband, John Rogan, died 15 years ago and never saw the realization of Oakencroft winery
Favorite comfort food? Caviar, smoked Scottish salmon, and warm foie gras
What's always in your refrigerator? Chocolates
Must-see TV? CNN News
Favorite cartoon? I don't read them.
Describe a perfect day. Sitting on my terrace at sunset, looking out on the sun sinking below the Blue Ridge Mountains and drinking Oakencroft Merlot with my three dogs next to me.
Walter Mitty fantasy? I would have a small villa in Tuscany on a hill, looking over vineyards and olive trees and enjoying the fruits of the vine and trees.
Who'd play you in the movie? Dina Merrill
Most embarrassing moment? Not enough space to relate them all.
Best advice you ever got? When applying for a job at NBC, my father-in-law, General David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA, asked me what I would like to do, and I answered, "anything." He looked at me for a moment and then said, "We don't have a job called 'anything.'" I learned from that to answer questions specifically.
Favorite bumper sticker: Save water. Drink Virginia wine.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO