Archive for February, 2015


Grape Gap

Posted on Feb 28 2015 | By

Virginia vineyards struggle to meet growing demand 

Reaching unanimity on any subject today is rare. We live in a world of diversity, nay controversy. But there is one fact that’s undisputed in the Virginia wine industry: There are not enough Virginia wine grapes to meet the rising tide of the Old Dominion’s vinous success.

027To be certain, it’s a good problem to have. But if not addressed, it could stymie the growth of the Nation’s fifth largest wine producing state. It may also create a dependence on out-of-state fruit.

In 1975, Farfelu Vinyards received the first winery license in the state. While it’s no longer in operation it started a floodtide of wineries. Today, 275 winery licensees dot the state’s landscape.

In the process of achieving such explosive growth, it catapulted the Commonwealth to the fifth largest wine producing state in the Nation.

Not bad for a state known more for battlefields than vineyards.

Let’s do the 2013 numbers:

Sold 6.25 million bottles of wine

Employed more than 4,700 people

Collected $1.8 million in wine litre taxes

Generated over 1.6 million tourist winery visits

Contributed almost $750 million to the Virginia economy

Harvested 6,862 tons of fruit from 3,088 acres of vineyards

By any measure, the industry is emblematic of the word success and demonstrates what science, talent, and passion can bring to bear on making quality wine.

Wine cognoscenti no less esteemed than Bartholomew Broadbent (listed as #48 in the 2013 Into Wine 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry) opined, “Virginia is capable of producing balanced, Old World-style wines—the types that made Napa what it was 25 years ago. Virginia’s reputation is ripening.”

It’s a commonly heard refrain from national and international wine critics and consumers alike. But as the industry is poised to rise to the next level, the engine driving its success could begin to stall.

Without an increase in Virginia grapes Virginia wine is threaten.

What is Virginia?
Federal and state law permits up to 25 percent of out-of state-fruit to be bottled and labeled Virginia wine. If the fruit comes from a specific Virginia American Vinicultural Area—such as Monticello—and is labeled as such, 85% of the fruit has to originate from that AVA. Virginia has seven designated AVAs.

In 2011, the state’s premier wine competition, the Virginia Governor’s Cup, revamped its rules requiring all entries be made from 100% Virginia fruit, further increasing the importance of the regional character of the competing wines.

Moreover, all entries require an affidavit with a certification of the 100% requirement, including the growers’ names, location, as well as information on alcohol, acidity and residual sugar.

The message was clear: Virginia wine counts.

Yet in 2013, grape production dropped 670 tons from 2012: 6,862 tons versus 7,532 tons, respectively. The loss was a combination of insufficient vineyard acreage growth and weather related pressures such as spring frosts, persistent rains and the ever present animal depredation.

Overall, 2013 was considered a fair vintage quality-wise, it was typical of the unplanned effects of Mother Nature combined with a paltry increase of only 114 new vineyard producing acres statewide.

Tom Kelly

Tom Kelly

“There is absolutely a grape shortage in Virginia. It’s moderately severe and likely to get more severe as time goes on if it’s not addressed,” said Tom Kelly. Kelly serves as President of the Virginia Vineyards Association and owns Kelly Vineyard Services, a consultant firm.

Kelly said farmers are planting more grapes but it takes time for those grapes to come into production. A new vineyard takes three to five years of growth before measurable fruit can be harvested.

Kelly goes on to explain that one reason for the supply shortage is that many wineries are coming on line and not planting vineyards at a rate that satisfies their share of wine production.

A winery producing 1,000 cases of wine a year but only growing enough fruit  to produce 100 cases will contract for the additional grapes elsewhere; either in-state or out-of-state. The small amount of acreage such a winery might plant is referred to as a “billboard vineyard”; the vines signal it’s a winery but the fruit contributes little to its wine production.

The supply problem is well-acknowledged in the industry. “We have determined we need to grow grape acreage by 200 acres a year for the next five years in order to meet projected growth,” said Kelly.

Why not more grapes?
With the industry having met with success over the last 40 years, why isn’t the grape supply keeping pace with demand? The simple answer is the amount of money and labor required to plant and nurture the vines.

One of the major reasons Virginia wine has attracted wide attention is that beginning in the early 1980s, the growing of Vitis vinifera grapes accelerated dramatically; the species produces 99 percent of all wine worldwide. Prior to then, mostly hybrids and native grapes dominated the paltry number of tasting rooms.

Attempting to sell wine labeled Niagara, Delaware, Catawba, Baco Noir or even Vidal Blanc and Seyval Blanc was a challenge. Most wine drinkers had simply never heard of wine with such strange sounding names.

Then science was brought to bear to grow wine in the state that the world loved: Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot to name a few. All of these Vitis vinifera grapes put the Commonwealth on the wine map. But there was a price to pay.

“A vineyard costs in the neighborhood of $20,000 an acre to install. And that does not include the land,” said Kelly. “And it does not end up in the black until about year seven.” Even then, profitability is low.

Simply put, the delicious Eurasian grapes are more at home in climes less brutal than Virginia’s. As a result, it takes an enormous amount of farming to successfully bring in each year’s harvest.

Many a Virginia winegrower struggles to produce clean fruit in a frost inclined, rainy, fungi-laced, cold winter and humid summer environment. One could not be blamed if they viewed their hard earned fruit as grapes of wrath.

Tony Wolf, VA State Viniculturist

Tony Wolf, VA State Viniculturist

“Many would say it’s cheaper to buy grapes as to try to grow grapes, said Tony Wolf. Wolf is director and professor of viniculture at Virginia Tech and has been instrumental in advancing the state’s grape culture.

Last year’s winter “caused a dip in production and it has intensified into a more systemic problem. The capacity of wineries is out stripping the capacity of Virginia grape growing acreage, said Wolf.

“It’s a big enough problem that has made getting more vineyards into the ground one of their number one priorities.”

He goes on to state, “There is a lot of land that can be planted. We launched an online vineyard evaluation tool about a year ago. It allows the user to go in and look at a parcel of land and produce a report that gives the land a grade for the suitability for grape growing.”

A shortage of available land is not necessarily the problem. “As I look around, I see a lot of forested land. It isn’t going to be cheap but there is some good land that could be planted,” said Wolf.

The cost and difficulty of farming the fruit has also led to a growing phenomenon called “custom crush”. The concept permits new wineries to contract with larger ones to secure grapes and make wine that in turn is sold through the new winery’s tasting room.

The problem is obvious. As such operations proliferate, the shortage of grapes is exacerbated. It’s a legal and above board operation that simply diverts fruit that was previously available on the open market.

John Delmare

John Delmare

Other unforeseen market actions can also accelerate supply and demand problems. John Delmare, owner of Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, offers one explanation.

“The problem was masked because 300 acres of Kluge grapes in Charlottesville were being sold into the marketplace each year. Then Trump took over and they started keeping a large portion of their fruit. The industry went, ‘Oh my gosh, not enough fruit here! People began losing contracts.”

A similar situation happened with the former Sweely Estate Winery. Steve Case, of AOL fame, purchased Sweely in 2011 and re-opened it as Early Mountain Vineyards, “and all of a sudden it put long term contracts on a couple of vineyards. Overnight some wineries lost big contracts,” said Delmare.

It’s a multitude of reasons contributing to the problem and people are starting to plant as a result of the pressure, “But it’s too little too late. I’ve heard we are 300 to 500 acres short of grapes statewide. I would argue that over the next 10 years we need to plant 1,500 acres to meet demand,” said Delmare.

His assessment is on point. Planting more vines is the only long term way to solve the problem. In the short run, the solution points to going out-of-state to meet the shortfall.

In-state versus out
With supplies getting tighter each year, the cost of grapes has begun to rise. “In the last three years, grape prices on average have gone up a total of about 35 percent. We’ve finally crossed that magic point where somebody can actually plant grapes and make money at it,” said Delmare.

Thirteen years ago, Delmare was paying $1,300 to $1,500 a ton for Cabernet Franc. Today, quality red fruit can command $2,200 to $2,400 a ton. Rising prices will help spur future plantings.

In the interim, fruit from California, Oregon and especially Washington State are legally ending up in bottles of Virginia wine. It’s a simple matter of financial survival for many wineries. With typical investments of $2 to $5 million for a new winery, owners cannot let production fall short of capacity without jeopardizing their businesses.

Fruit is the engine that drives profitability and it makes little difference to the bottom line if its grapes are from Virginia or elsewhere. Owners are in broad agreement that ideally only Virginia fruit will be used to make their wine but necessity demands importing fruit from elsewhere. Much of that fruit is from Washington State.

Chris Pearmund

Chris Pearmund

Many wineries are loathe to admit they use grapes grown outside of the Old Dominion but it’s not an unheard of practice elsewhere. “In Maryland, there are more grapes grown out-of-state than in-state,” said Chris Pearmund, owner of Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run.

Last year, the Maryland Grape Growers Association reported only 40 percent of its grapes were used to produce the state’s wines; 60 percent of the remaining fruit came from across its borders.

“Seventy-five percent of foods in a grocery store won’t even tell you what country the food came from. Go to a restaurant and you would rarely know where that food came from either,” said Pearmund, explaining how many industries operate.

In Virginia, “We have taught the consumer to ask ‘Where do your grapes come from?’ Now we are getting bit by that.”

If one accepts that Virginia wine produces a particular style of wine that is directly attributed to grapes grown in Virginia, “and you cannot make that style of wine from grapes from other sources, it will affect the character and style. And yes, Virginia does have a distinctive terroir,” said Pearmund.

He goes on to say, “We’ve planted 38,000 grape vines on 28 acres this year at an out-of-pocket cost of well over a million dollars to purchase the land and plant the vines. Our needs are going to be met by planting this vineyard but it takes three to four years to get there.”

“The industry is a slow, slow turning boat. We need about 500 more acres to fulfill Virginia’s needs, said Pearmund. In the interim, an increasing number of wineries are seeking fruit elsewhere.

Westward Ho
Lisa KendallLisa Kendall’s business, Kendall Farms, is a success story by any measure. Her father was a grape grower in Washington State and she took over his operation a decade ago. In 2005, she sold the vineyards and focused solely on selling grapes and juice. Today, Kendall has 30 Washington State growers selling her fruit.

“Virginia was my first customer. I thought, ‘Washington ships all kinds of produce why can’t we ship grapes?’ I connected with a winery in Virginia and shipped them fresh grapes,” said Kendall.

It was a nascent business that blossomed like a spring vineyard. “Virginia is one of our biggest customers today. We’ve had a huge increase in business from there since 2006. I worked hard to build awareness that Washington State fruit was for sale,” said Kendall.

Demand for her fruit from across the US today is dramatic. West Coast fruit is grown in what is often described as a Mediterranean climate. Conversely, Virginia and many other states host a Continental climate. The net effect is that grape growing on the West Coast is easier that on the East Coast.

Evidence of this is reflected in the numbers. California produces over 90 percent of American wine consumed in the states. Last year, the Golden State shipped 215 million cases of wine for distribution within the Unites States and 258 million cases for both domestic and international distribution.

By comparison, Virginia bottled 521,000 cases, almost all of which was consumed within its borders; a mere drop in the Nation’s wine bottle.

These figures, coupled with a growing demand for Virginia wine, set the stage for importing out-of-state fruit. “We serve 40 states and have 350 customers. Virginia is one of our biggest customers. I have a lot of connections in Virginia. We ship them red grapes and white juice.

“I have 27 customers in Virginia and sold them 500 tons of fruit and bulk wine this year. I believe Virginia will be dependent on out-of-state wine for the foreseeable future. Due to weather conditions it’s just not in the cards; the rain, the hurricanes, et cetera. We don’t have that in Washington. We are known for our consistency of weather here,” Kendall underscores.

She goes on to state that Virginia “will become more dependent on out-of-state fruit because there are wineries going in all the time. Things are looking great here. Hopefully, we meet the need that Virginia has. We’re glad we can help.”

Further south in California, a similar story is heard from Mike Colavita, owner of F. Colavita and Sons, another grape supplier. While smaller than Kendall’s business, he too sees “an increase in fruit headed towards Virginia.”

In 2014, he shipped 35 tons of fruit to six Virginia wineries, doubling sales within the last few years. He goes on to explain that the growth is driven to some degree because of “Mother Nature. Like last winter when a lot of vines got hurt. I was a supplement.”

He reinforces that wineries across the U.S. want to use their own state’s fruit. “But when their crops fail I can keep them in business, explains Colavita.

Most of his fruit comes from the Del Ray and Lodi areas. “I think a combination of western grapes and eastern grapes makes an excellent wine. Your lower sugar and higher acid wines and our higher sugar and lower acid ones makes a really balanced wine with good flavor,” said Colavita.

There is no definitive way to know how much fruit from outside Virginia is finding its way into the state’s wine cellars but it’s likely less than a 1,000 tons, but growing. By comparison, there was a total of 6,862 tons of fruit produced within state in 2013.

With an apparent increasing dependency on fruit from elsewhere, the question arises as to how the phenomenon is marketed to the consumer. Since legally up to 25 percent of out-of-state wine can reside in a bottle of wine labeled and sold as Virginia, is there any need to enlighten the public of the blend?

Brian Roeder

Brian Roeder

“If we muddy the waters about the source of our fruit, we go right back to where we were seven, eight, nine years ago when critics said ‘this is mighty good wine but is it Virginia?’, said Brian Roeder, owner of Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane.

Roeder is a straight-spoken winery owner who takes the subject head on.

“Everything we’ve done, especially the rules around the Governor’s Cup, has been designed to put that question to rest. I believe it’s going to damage, potentially, some or even a significant amount of the success we’ve had.

“At Barrel Oak we disclose the source of our fruit and customers don’t care because it’s about the experience at the winery. For wineries trying to position themselves for national and international distribution this could be a problem.

“We’ve never had to go out-of-state until this year. We’ll call our wine American or simply won’t say Virginia if the fruit is from elsewhere. Those are the two options. We will change our labels with wines made from out-of-state fruit,” emphasizes Roeder.

He goes on to say that a system should be developed that creates a marketplace for available Virginia grapes. “The process is still being done haphazardly, where somebody knows somebody who knows somebody, and through that network they try to find fruit.

“It’s been proposed, but not put in place, that an online marketplace be established where every farmer can post what they have available and that a winery owner can go and find and purchase it. That tool alone would probably provide at least one, two or three hundred additional tons into the marketplace,” said Roeder.

But he states it would still not be adequate to fulfill the industry’s needs. “The opportunity to expand is going to have to be tied to out-of-state fruit for quite sometime. Ultimately, it isn’t important to most consumers. But the issue of honesty is going to be very important to our reputation and to the critics who write about Virginia wine,” said Roeder.

Government support

Annette Boyd

Annette Boyd

Echoing the mantra heard around the state, Annette Boyd, director, Virginia Wine Board Marketing office, said, “Yes, there is a grape shortage. I think it’s predominately because we are selling everything we make. We need a couple of really nice years, nice harvests under our belt to see production to pop.”

No one would challenge that wish but Virginia is Virginia. “We are hopeful production numbers will increase this year. Everybody is really excited about the harvest,” said Boyd.

Indeed, word from around the state is that the quantity and quality of the 2014 harvest is very good. But what can be done at the state level to further assist the industry?

“Both the Virginia Wine Board and the Virginia Vineyards Association are evaluating what they can do to stimulate an interest in people growing grapes. But we can’t grow grapes directly. It’s a big investment and you need farmers who understand the risk and are willing to make the investment,” said Boyd.

The Board is funded through the General Assembly from excise taxes the wine industry pays to the state. One hundred percent of the tax revenues—$1.8 million—comes back to the Virginia Wine Board. One third of those funds go to research and two-thirds to support marketing efforts.

“I hear rumors of an increasing amount of out-of-state fruit all the time. The wineries that are choosing to bring in fruit are open about it. For everyone that chooses that path I know of five who say ‘I’m not. I want to use my estate fruit and I’m not choosing to do that even if that means capping production.’”

“Conversations are happening about incentivizing farmers. It’s something they want to do,” said Boyd.

“We are a product of our own success. We are in this predicament because sales are out pacing production. We are looking forward to getting more people interested in growing grapes. It’s happening. It takes time,” said Boyd. 

The Future
No less a luminary than Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”. Clearly, the determination of Virginia winery owners, winegrowers, and winemakers to further grow the industry will dictate how the current grape supply issue is resolved.

But with 40 years of continual advancement, it’s a safe bet that Virginia wine will continue to see its industry prosper. For it’s often through adversity that success is achieved.


Nature's Bounty

Nature’s Bounty

Published in the Winter 2015 edition of The Business Journal.    

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Baby Alexander fights for life

Posted on Feb 27 2015 | By

 Local emergency care couple face own medical crisis

On February 11, Tommy and Heather Brown joyfully welcomed their son Alexander Wesley into the world. But within two hours, the baby boy was being transported to the University of Virginia Medical Center with life threatening lung and heart aliments.

Alexander Wesley Brown

Alexander Wesley Brown

The Browns experience health crises daily but it always involves others. Tommy Brown is an emergency room technician at the Culpeper Regional Hospital and Heather is a 911 dispatcher in Orange. They both volunteer with the Culpeper Rescue Squad.

Juggling the demands of competing medical emergencies is second nature to the hard working couple. But little prepared them for the emotional and financial crisis that occurred when their son was born with major health issues.

Alexander’s birth appeared normal at first. Heather came to almost full-term at 38 weeks gestation but delivered caesarian section; she had incurred some liver and bladder issues during her pregnancy but has recovered her health. Her son weighed a respectable six pounds 14 ounces at birth.

But shortly after transfer to the hospital nursery, respiration tests showed the baby’s oxygen saturation levels were in the 70 percent range; normal is mid-90s. Dr. Williams, the attending pediatric physician, quickly determined the condition could not be treated in Culpeper.

Alexander & Heather

Alexander & Heather

Fortunately for Alexander, the world famous University of Virginia Medical Center was an hour’s ambulance ride away. A Neonatal Transport Team was called into action. The team operates with three professionals and is on-call around the clock.

Tommy Brown accompanied his son on the swift drive to Charlottesville. His mother followed the next day.


Alexander Wesley Brown

Alexander Wesley Brown

Once in the highly specialized world of UVA pediatrics, it was determine that the baby had been born with a hole in his lungs and they were prematurely developed. The diagnosis was pulmonary hypertension. The resultant cardiac pressure had also enlarged his heart.

He was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO; commonly referred to as a heart-lung machine. The equipment provides cardiac and respiratory support for patients whose heart and lungs cannot function on their own. 

Under the care of the professional staff at UVA, Alexander has improved significantly but is not yet ready for discharge.

While his enlarged heart has returned to normal size his lungs are still a problem. He has been taken off the ECMO machine but is still on a ventilator. The doctors are in the process of weaning him off that machine.

“It’s a slow process until he can use his lungs on his own. They need to open up so he doesn’t need machine support to breathe,” said Heather Brown.

As is often the case with difficult medical conditions, an additional problem developed. Alexander is now having difficulty digesting food and may have developed protein intolerance. The parents are hopeful that condition will resolve soon and they can all return home.

“If he stays the path and gets on his own, it’s a minimum of another week at UVA,” said Heather Brown. “He needs to be able to breathe on his own. And then they need to be sure he doesn’t have any additional issues.

“They started feeding him Sunday and they checked his stomach and he hadn’t digested anything.” Once the stomach issues are resolved baby Alexander will be released.

“We have to give a big thanks to the Culpeper Hospital Family Birth Center and to Dr. Williams. He identified Alexander’s problem quickly. If he didn’t transfer him when he did, my son probably would not have made it,” Tommy Brown said.

The Brown’s have been living in Charlottesville since February 12. They are staying at a hotel five minutes from the hospital. They are on leave from their jobs and spend 10 hours a day with their son. They are grateful for the support their employers, family and friends have provided them during their ordeal.

“Our employers have been very understanding,” Heather Brown said. “They have supported us. My co-workers made dinners for my family and Tommy’s co-workers sent a care package down to the hotel. Our employers have been great.”

Both parents of the couple have been helping with their other two children, ages four and eight. “They’ve been getting the kids down here regularly to see us,” Heather Brown said.

As their son’s medical condition continues to improve, the looming financial costs of the ordeal will begin to face them.

While they do know their insurance plans will cover some of the medical costs, they have not had any contact with the companies regarding specific coverage. “The ambulance ride alone cost $10,000,” said Tommy Brown. “And the EMCO machine was $3,000 a day. We’ve already spent over $2,000 on hotels and meals.”

One of the couple’s good friends, Christy Hoeffer, has created a fundraising website for people to make contributions to help cover current and future medical costs. The site is The search code is: Healing Baby Alexander.

The site has already generated $3,920 from 49 donors. On the site Hoeffer states, “You may know Heather and Tommy Brown. They are the most selfless people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Please keep Alexander in your prayers and if there is anything you can contribute or do for them it is appreciated.”

Anyone interested in helping the Browns are encouraged to support the fundraising effort. It is a fitting way to repay these two Culpeper citizens who have given much to the local community.    


Alexander & Tommy

Alexander & Tommy

Published in the February 26, 2014 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Engineering success

Posted on Feb 25 2015 | By

Carson Ashley embodies full service land use consulting  

Visit the Carson Ashley web site and a dizzying array of services is displayed under its “Services” banner; 37 to be precise.

If it has anything to do with civil engineering, land planning or land surveying the firm has it covered. And in the off chance a client need is not listed, don’t panic. The company would likely amend the list to 38 offerings.

Jim Carson

Jim Carson

“We provide a high degree of customer service. Our firm is not a ‘hired gun’ environment. Our clients trust us and we trust our clients. We work together and we fight for them,” said Jim Carson, managing partner of the firm.

The corporate philosophy is central to the reason the Warrenton firm has thrived for 40 years. Carson is the third owner of the company. He purchased it on Christmas Eve 1997 and joined forces with Rick Ashley to continue providing land use services to the Piedmont and Northern Virginia areas.

So how did an up and coming entrepreneur continue the legacy of an established firm? Rely on the forces that helped achieve its original success.

After he purchased the firm “I did not have a dime to my name. Everything was in the business. I thank Mr. Harris, the previous owner, and his employees who continued to work at the firm,” said Carson. Harris retired in 2002.

Today, the company has 16 employees dedicated to “helping property owners avail themselves of the maximum potential of their property within government regulations.”

The firm handles approximately 100 projects annually with 85 of them being relatively short-lived smaller jobs. The profile tracks closely to the “80-20 Rule” that 20 percent of a firm’s business contributes 80 percent of its revenue.

The company is focused on front-end development of land use but can span the entire gamut of “soup to nuts” property fulfillment. Clients range from individual families to holders of large subdivisions. Size doesn’t matter. Achieving landowner goals does.

Unraveling the land development process highlights how involved each stage can be—or not. A small project might simply require quickly dividing a family plot into two parcels. Larger commercial jobs spanning hundreds of building lots can evolve into a decade-long effort.

“We completed a rezoning last month for about 200 building lots. It involved taking a piece of ground without plans and figuring how to fit 200 lots on it and then carrying the project all the way through the public process to get it approved,” said Carson.

Large projects start off with an initial surveying of the land, then creating a plan as to how the subdivision will look. From there it proceeds to engineering the plan, preparing construction drawings and obtaining county approvals.

Those steps lead to securing work permits, platting the sites, obtaining bonds, construction stakeout and bond release work.

The required interface with county governments underscores the level of professionalism that is brought to bear in successfully bringing a major subdivision to fruition.

Perhaps the old colonial British saying of “slowly, slowly catchee monkey” might best describe the process.  Patience is victor in this industry.

The economy
Carson AshleyFew business stories can be told today without addressing the moribund economy of the last several years. If lost business produces heartaches, then its surprising local intensive care units haven’t seen long waiting lines.

It’s been a painful time for men and women who own their own businesses. Carson Ashley is no exception.

“The economy really crushed the real estate business. And we are very much vested in real estate,” said Carson. “The bulk of our work was impacted by the real estate and housing slow down.

“The housing slow down affected our residential business and the commercial segment was affected by the tightening of lending; in large part because of the uncertainty in the market. Even if somebody had a great idea, they wouldn’t pull the trigger because of the uncertainty of things,” opines Carson.

Reading the 2007 recession tea leaves, Carson assumed it would take two or three years for the economy to bottom out, recovering by 2011. That prognostication slipped by two years. “And I didn’t have plan for those two years,” said Carson.

He goes on to say his firm is still not fully out of the doldrums. “It has stabilized. As I look into the future I see people doing stuff. But I personally don’t see us going back to anything like 2006,” said Carson.

He goes on to explain the Northern Virginia economy is not going to be the huge engine driving the economy as in the past. “Federal Government spending and employment reductions are going to slow down things.”

Underscoring his typical optimistic life view, Carson thinks growth will occur but will not be robust.

He also notes an economic pattern based on long experience. “As things get hot, people get interested in doing projects and I get work in Northern Virginia, Winchester, Culpeper, Luray, Stephens City and all those places. When it contracts, I’m back to working jobs in Prince William and Fauquier.”

Today, he sees an expansion outward again and thinks more of his work will come from a widening geographic area.

Business acumen
“Carson learns the hard way. I don’t learn from books. OK, I do learn from books but I don’t take it home from books,” said Carson laughing.

Freely translated that means learn and absorb from multiple sources then execute based on both mind and heart. “As a business owner the hardest thing to do is be a business owner,” observes Carson.

He emphasizes that owners often get into a business they love, enjoy or one that inspires them. But the art of actually running a business is focused more on a global perspective and letting qualified employees perform the actual work.

The sooner one realizes employees can run the day-to-day operations “the better off you are. Running the business is your number one responsibility.”

It’s not easy to balance the two sides. Carson delegates but admits it’s hard to do. Letting others perform can result in possible mistakes or more often tasks getting done but perhaps not quite the way the boss would do it.

“But the result is the same. If you micromanage, you are not looking at the long term goals of the company. That’s why most businesses fail,” said Carson.

The most influential business book Carson read is The E Myth by Michael Gerber (an updated edition is titled The E Myth Revisted). The title refers to entrepreneurs who often are great idea people but poor business owners. Its theme is leaders need to free themselves from daily work tasks and focus on the long-term success of the companies they are piloting.

Easier said than done. “It’s hard, especially when it’s your business. You are passionate about it. You live it every minute of the day but you can’t work 90 hours a week,” said Carson.

From here to where
Looking back on 18 years as a business owner Carson characterizes his mind set today as “We are not done. We’ve achieved some great success then the recession sort of stripped it away. We are now rebuilding. It’s coming together.”

He humorously states his middle name is Perseverance and a biblical quote reflects his take on the recent past. “…but we glory in tribulations also; knowing tribulation worketh patience.” (Romans 5:3).

Moreover, he stresses customer service is paramount in today’s business environment, a concept seemingly lost on many firms. As the economy picks up steam he states, “We are getting more chances to exemplify customer service.”

“We have been successful because we got things done faster, better and smarter than many firms.

“We have very professional, qualified, capable, and experienced people. The work is coming back and we are able to put that talent to work for our clients. And that’s a good thing,” said Carson.

Published in the Winter 2015 edition of The Business Journal.


Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Orange Virginia inn pampers guests with a deft touch

Willow GroveA unique Piedmont inn is attracting a growing clientele seeking a gracious lifestyle getaway.

And it’s obvious to many guests that reduced stress and declining blood pressures are collateral benefits that take effect shortly after checking in.

Could doctors soon be writing prescriptions for a two night day stay for their overworked patients? Let’s hope so.

If it all sounds a bit magical, perhaps it is.

The force behind The Inn at Willow Grove is the Scibal family. David and Charlene purchased the home in 2009. It was originally built in 1778 by Joseph Clark. Their son Matt is general manager.

The inn is a classic two-over-one Federal-style home and was in need of extensive repair when purchased. Following a multi-million dollar renovation it opened in 2010 as an upscale resort.

The 38 acre property showcases the manor house with four rooms and 10 separate cottages. Every room is beautifully appointed. The goal of the layout is to achieve a communal village effect. While the dwellings are clustered, a sense of privacy prevails as one walks the grounds.

To round out the entertainment offerings, two structures are devoted to weddings, fundraisers and musical events. One building is for small groups and the second is a rebuilt historic barn that seats 150.

Willow Grove has partnered with Comcast to produce a series of Xfinity concerts. Each intimate show focuses on music, food and wine discussions followed by a live show. Larger performances will be held this spring and fall.

Inn at Willow GroveDining at the inn’s restaurant is the highlight of a visit, but one doesn’t need to stay overnight to enjoy the unique experience. The restaurant is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday.

The restaurant, called Vintage, seats 65 guests and features contemporary American cuisine with a twist. “We try to do something different; a bit more whimsical and fun with our food rather than a normal eatery,” said Matt Scibal.

For lighter fare, the inn has a pub featuring local craft brews from award-winning Virginia microbreweries.

Last June, a new culinary team focused on creating a farm-to-table menu. “We try to produce dinners using products from local farms,” said Scibal. The menu changes four times a year.

Of particular interest to wine lovers is the impressive wine selection. The list features 120 different bottlings. Matt Scibal is the wine buyer. “I am the fortunate one who gets to taste a lot of wine. And like our food program, we’ve tried to draw from the wonderful Virginia wine region.”

Quality Old Dominion producers such as Linden, King Family, Barboursville, Jefferson Vineyards, Early Mountain and more are featured.

The list also includes wines from around the world but many of the offerings are California centric. Again, quality producers prevail such as Duckhorn, Cakebread, Caymus, Trefethen, Silver Oak and Opus One. A few 96 and 100 point wines are also represented.

The wine list received the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

So what’s been the public’s reaction to the establishment? For starters, the web site Tripadvisor lists 227 “excellent” ratings out of a total of 245; and an additional 13 folks rated it “very good”.

To support those opinions, Culpeper County residents Betsy Walker and her husband Fred experienced the Inn’s magic. She came way with this observation, “It’s the place to go if you want the entire package. Good food, luxury accommodations and wonderful service…even your own butler.”

Inn philosophy
The Scibal family has traveled extensively. “We’ve always stayed in very nice accommodations. But we were often a little put off with the service. We don’t believe you have to be very wealthy to have a five star experience; it doesn’t have to be stuffy.

“We want our service to be genuine, considerate and comfortable. We feel we can pull that off and still have a five star experience. We are cutting edge. We like to meld the old and the new and create something interesting,” said Scibal.

And as sons might often be heard to say, “My mother is the creative genius behind the whole property.”

Thanks Mom.

For information on lodging, dining and more visit:

John’ Pick of the monthOpus One
2010 Opus One
96 points


OK, few of us have the courage…or wallet to order a wine this expensive. But it’s emblematic of the depth of the wine list at Willow Grove. And if you were staying at the beautiful inn and enjoying quality food and service, might temptation overcome you? The wine is fairly priced for a restaurant selection; Total Wine sells it for $235.

Let’s listen in on what world famous wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. had to say about the selection: “A glorious perfume of sweet charcoal, truffle, black currants and spice box soars from the glass of the saturated purple-colored 2010 Opus One. The gorgeous aromatics are followed by a beautifully knit, full-bodied red blend displaying lots of spicy black currant fruit, medium to full body, velvety tannins, and not a hard edge to be found. The texture, length and richness are all impressive.”

Inn at Willow Grove

Published in the February 12, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES