It all started with a crabapple tree one fall not too long ago. This tree’s fruit had been picked and made into jelly by a friend ever since we planted it, but one year the friend was too busy. My father and I couldn’t let all that fruit go to waste: so we followed an internet “recipe” and made a crabapple wine that wasn’t half bad. Whether for good or not, this early success set off an explosion of (legal) winemaking from every fruit we could get our hands on: apple, pear, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, persimmon, autumn olive, and finally…grape. Wow, grape—perfect in every way: sugars and acids are balanced; it settles nicely; the wine practically makes itself. And we were hooked.
We had just sold the family business and were getting in each other’s way trying to stay busy when it occurred to us that what we needed to do was plant grapevines. But as we learned more about growing grapes in Virginia, we were disheartened by the amount of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that we would have to use. We had almost abandoned the idea when we realized that there might be another way.
We conceived the organic vineyard project in 2007, and planted our first grapes the following spring in a Test Block to evaluate their compatibility with organic practices. When we hadn’t killed them after two years, we planted more. In 2012, when we cropped the vines for the first time, we had no more than three acres under vine. We will plant about a half-acre each spring until we max out the field, but will hopefully remain small enough to know every vine and work the vineyard by hand.
The vineyard is on the 150-acre family farm on which I grew up, tromping through the forests and fields with our dog. The hollow has changed quite a bit in 30 years, but it is the memory of that unspoiled “wilderness” that inspires us to farm better. We bring with us a commitment to be responsible to our neighbors, our community, our watershed, and beyond.