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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Melissa Close, Executive Chef

Barboursville Vineyards & Palladio Restaurant

In the 1970s Gianni Zonin, a sixth-generation Italian winemaker, visited Virginia and decided to plant a vineyard. Most people thought he was crazy and advised that he plant tobacco instead. But Zonin persisted, recognizing his homeland in the Virginia landscape. In 1976 he purchased the historic James Barbour Estate and rolled up his sleeves. Today, Barboursville Vineyards is a standardbearer in the Virginia wine industry, having established itself early as a successful producer of European varietals. In 1998 Zonin’s winemaker, Luca Paschina, was inspired to showcase Barboursville wines with food, and the Palladio Restaurant was born.

Melissa Close, an Alabama native, first learned about Italian food while working with Frank Stitt at his Bottega Italian Restaurant in Birmingham. She was hired as the Palladio Restaurant’s head chef in 2000. Melissa brought with her to Virginia a passion for fresh ingredients and, of course, an appreciation for good wine. The menu at the Palladio Restaurant is a marriage of northern Italian inspiration and Melissa’s Southern roots. Her Terrina Caprese, for example, is an heirloom tomato and basil aspic terrine served with homemade mozzarella. Melissa is also committed to taking full advantage of Virginia’s seasonal bounty, which includes Barboursville wines.

Date of interview:

Amy C. Evans

Amy C. Evans

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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