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Getting into the spirit at Old House Vineyards

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 Winery expands with opening of distillery  

If you are looking for a unique gift for dad on Father’s Day, consider taking him out to Old House Vineyards for the launch of its new distillery. But first, stop by the winery and sample the wines then wrap up your visit with a brick oven pizza on the patio while listening to live music.

Of course lake fishing could also be on the agenda. They’ll even supply the worms.

Old House Vineyards and its new libation factory is synonymous with fun. On Sunday, June 21, after three years of hard work and an investment of over a quarter million dollars, the Kearney family will open its distillery for tastings and sales.

Pat and Allyson Kearney are the power couple behind the social lubricant adventure land. They also apparently never sleep given what they’ve created at Old House since opening in 2002. Wine production increased to 3,000 cases this year and some fifty weddings and numerous other events are held on the estate annually.

FullSizeRenderFortunately, the heavy workload at the vineyard will now be shared by Ryan Kearney, the couple’s 24-year-old son and newly minted crafted distiller. The University of Virginia graduate spent a year working for an IT firm in Washington, D.C. before being lured home by dad with an offer he couldn’t resist; creating distilled spirits.

“I can’t really complain much about what I do. I have a pretty awesome job. It definitely beats working in D.C.” said Ryan Kearney.

Indeed. An awesome job that makes not only the young man happy but the soon-to-be fans of Old House spirits as well.

Using the template that created their previous successes, the Kearneys will launch the distillery with two different bottlings and expand over time. A vodka produced from the winery’s Vidal Blanc grapes and a silver rum distilled from sugar cane and molasses will be available for tasting and sale on opening day.

In the near future, a specialty product made from Blue Agave nectar will grace the tasting notes. The libation is similar to a Tequila.

Starting a distillery from scratch requires money, education and patience; jumping in without due diligence courts a quick stumble. All of the products at Old House have to be tested on small ten gallon stills before moving to full production.

FullSizeRender (3)The equipment itself is pricey. The distillery has one 150 gallon copper Olympic pot still from South Africa costing $60,000. Three additional column stills cost $15,000 each. Quality spirits are not made on the cheap.

Additional equipment will be purchased as production increases. Future liquors will include grain- based whiskey and gin using rye, barley and wheat grown by Culpeper farmers.

To prepare for the new venture Pat and Ryan Kearney took a distilling course in Seattle. Then Ryan Kearney hit the books hard to perfect his skills. He also sought help from current Virginia distillers.

When Old House secured its permit to distill, it became the 21st distillery in the state. “All of the state’s distilleries are very open to sharing information. It’s one of the great things about craft distilling in Virginia,” Ryan Kearney said.

Licensing by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control added a another dimension to the endeavor; strict laws govern the production of distilled beverages.

An added attraction to the new stand-alone distillery is a World War II museum. Pat Kearney’s primary job is president of Kearney and Associates, a firm specializing in the design and construction of museum exhibits for government and private organizations.

“Dad has 30 years experience in museum design and World War II speaks to him a lot. Our neighbors are also veterans of the war,” Ryan Kearney said.

The museum provides a unique backdrop to the tasting room and reinforces the contributions the “Greatest Generation” made to the Nation.

“There’s nothing better than working with your family,” Ryan Kearney said. “It’s a neat experience. Hopefully, the distillery will bring more people to Old House and to Culpeper. We are excited about the next couple of years.”

The Kearney’s have two other children; Brittany, 26, is a registered nurse and Liam, 19, attends college and works at the winery during the summer months. “I could see him coming back after school,” said Ryan Kearney.

Old House Vineyards is located at 18351 Corkys Lane, Culpeper. It is opened six days a week year round; closed on Tuesdays. For additional information on hours and special events visit:

FullSizeRender (2)

Published in the June 18, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Old House Vineyards welcomes experienced vintner

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It’s been said that experience trumps knowledge. But when a person possesses both, success typically follows.

Old House Vineyards

Old House Vineyards

This summer, Andy Reagan joined Old House Vineyards as its full-time winemaker. And if past is prologue, look for the 14 year-old winery to further advance its reputation for quality wines.

Reagan’s 20 years of winemaking includes stints at both Old Dominion and out-of- state wineries. In the process, he has amassed a closet full of medals; over 300 alone during his seven years with Jefferson Vineyards in Charlottesville.

“Finding wine talent today is hard,” said Pat Kearney, owner of Old House. “When we heard Andy was available, he was what we were looking for.”

Kearney explains he had been using winemaker interns from France for years, assisted by a consultant, and was pleased with where they had taken his wines. “I had a connection with the French. My consultant was invaluable to our success.

“But when the opportunity to bring a dedicated, full-time winemaker on board, I made the decision to hire Andy.”

Reagan began his career working for his sister at an upstate New York winery as a teenager and subsequently made wine at several wineries, including one producing 30,000 cases a year. A typical Virginia winery produces 2,000 to 5,000 cases annually.

But Kearney’s goal is not about churning out mass-produced wines. His wants to slowly grow his small production of high-end bottlings. “Often guests say they have enjoyed every wine in our tasting line up, not just one or two. I want to further that reputation.”

In the beginning

Andy Reagan

Andy Reagan

Reagan recalls his first year in the business was 1992 as a 17-year-old high school student working during his summer break. “I had a blast and wanted to keep doing it,” said Reagan.

One invaluable job experience unfolded while working at a large out-of-state winery. “They were making so many wines I had to fully learn the chemistry side of winemaking. I super honed my lab skills while working there,” he said.

Most wine lovers are not aware that producing wine is working with a living product. Unwanted organisms can create havoc during the process. Knowing how to quickly identify problems and make necessary corrections is integral to being a successful vintner.

Over time, the Norfolk native sought employment farther afield than Virginia to grow his experience. “But every time I tried to move out of Virginia I started to quickly miss the state and the people who work here. There is a certain type of special person who lives in Virginia,” states Reagan.

Asked if there is a secret to making award winning wines, Reagan said, “Paying attention to detail makes clean, balanced wines. But producing good fruit in the vineyard and using quality equipment is important.

“When I was interviewing for this job I was impressed with the quality and amount of French oak barrels Pat had. Oak ageing plays an important role in quality wine and costly barrels are critical to its success.”

So will more gold medals be raining down on Old House Vineyards in the future? “We’ll see,” says Reagan, “That’s up to the consumer. I hope so.”

Pat Kearney and his wife Allyson make up the Kearney perpetual motion machine. Proof is in their next venture to be launched early next year. A distillery is sited next the winery and will produce brandy, grappa, vodka, gin and whiskey among other libations.

“We are just an adult Disneyland out here,” said Allyson laughing.

Old House still

Old House still

John’s Pick of the month   

Old House Vineyards 



The Bacchanalia were Roman festivals celebrating Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. And as one pours a glass of Old House Bacchanalia and takes in its dark ruby color and rich aromas, celebration is an appropriate thought. The wine is an eclectic blend of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Tannat and is a perfect match for any beef entrée on a crisp fall evening.   

Published in the October 23, 2014 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Old House Vineyards aging well

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Winery attractions keep mounting after decade in business  

What do you call two Type A personalities? Pat and Allyson Kearney.IMG_8166

The owners of the first and closest winery to Culpeper are a perpetual motion machine. Consider what they’ve achieved in ten years:

  • Purchased a seventy-five acre abandoned alfalfa farm and fully restored a 1800’s era farmhouse into a tasting room. 
  • Planted twenty-one acres of wine grapes around a bucolic lake. 
  • Built a 4,000 square foot lakeside pavilion. 
  • Built a personal residence on a small rise overlooking the vineyards. 
  • Installed a 40-person lakeside flagstone patio with fireplace. 
  • Ramped up production to over 33,000 bottles of wine annually. 

But wait, there’s more. Another flagstone patio has just been completed behind the farm house with a covered tasting bar featuring a built-in waterfall and a brick pizza oven. “I’ve waited ten years for my patio and Pat did a wonderful job with the assistance of local landscaper Dave Marciniak, owner of Revolutionary Gardens.

Allyson Kearney

Allyson Kearney

“On October 6, we officially start serving brick oven pizza when guest Chef Luigi from Luigi’s Italian Restaurant fires up our new oven,” says Allyson Kearney.

Pizza Oven

Pizza Oven

The patio will see duty deep into the fall because heaters will keep wine lovers cozy when the chilly air arrives. Wine, pizza and a comfy patio will likely see weekend visitorship increase above the 300 tasters typically hosted on busy weekends.

All of this activity has been achieved while Pat Kearney operated Kearney & Associates on the property. His firm specializes in creating display cases, artifact mounts and dioramas for museums nationwide.

So how do they top their achievements to date?

Grapes into Grappa
Tapping into the resurgence in hand-crafted liquors, Pat Kearney will open his own on-site distillery next June. Using fruit from his vineyard he will produce brandy, vodka, gin, grappa and French-style liquors. “Everyone is excited about the distillery. I hope they don’t forget about me and the tasting room after it opens,” says Allyson Kearney.

Fat chance. The winery-distillery complex will offer myriad social lubricants appealing to an even wider audience.

“We are just an adult Disneyland out here,” says Allyson Kearney laughing. And the owners are having as much fun as their guests. The proof? The last three months of this year have been the busiest since Old House Vineyards opened in June 2003. With each new amenity, word spreads and business grows.

Love Locks

Love Locks

One example is the twenty weddings they host annually. The lakeside pavilion and patio is a perfect location for a bride and groom seeking a romantic spot to exchange vows. The actual nuptials are performed on an island located in the middle of the lake. Details are everything in the wedding business and one small feature is the “love lock” gifted to each bride and groom.

“We present an engraved lock to each couple and they permanently lock it to a chain on the lakeside pier and throw the key into the water as a symbol of their commitment. Ed’s Awards in Culpeper engraves the locks.

“The love locks have become very popular and we invite any couple who wants to bring a lock and toss a key to do so. There’s no charge. There are so many locks on that chain now,” says Allyson Kearney.

When asked how she would describe the dream setting she and her husband have created Allyson Kearney says, “It’s a little piece of heaven right here in Culpeper.” 

For information on hours of operation and special events visit 



Old House Vineyards 

Wicked Bottom Chambourcin IMG_8196


In the yesteryears, a field located near the winery was notorious for its horse racing, cock fighting and gambling, earning the moniker “Wicked Bottom”. Today, it’s the name of one of the winery’s most popular red wines. Made from Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid grape, the wine casts a deep garnet hue in the glass and displays rich, fruit-forward cherry and smokey notes on the palate with a soft, lingering finish. Drink now and till 2017.

Virginia and other fine wines are available in Culpeper at the Crofburn Market, Culpeper Cheese Company, Tyme in Culpeper, and Vinosity. 


Published in the October 3, 2013 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Old House Vineyards Earns Prestigious Agricultural Award

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Old House Vineyards, Culpeper County’s first vineyard and winery, has received the Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Agribusiness of the Year Award.

The Chamber’s selection committee reviewed dozens of deserving candidates and chose Old House for its significant contributions to agriculture, tourism, and local business development.

“My wife Allyson and I are honored to be recognized for what we have built here at Old House,” says Pat Kearney, vineyard owner. “It’s been a lot of hard work. It’s gratifying to know we are contributing to the growth of the county’s business community.”

The Kearneys purchased their seventy-five acre abandoned alfalfa farm, located three miles east of Culpeper, in 1998. Their dream was to build a small winery and enjoy a more rural lifestyle with their family of three children. They lived in Fairfax County at the time of the purchase and subsequently moved to the Culpeper property.

After restoring an 1800s era farmhouse, they moved in and simultaneously used the residence as a home and tasting room. “Needless to say it was bit hectic in the early days. Raising a family in a place of business had its challenges,” says Pat smiling. Today, the family resides in a beautiful home on a small rise on the back of the property, within sight of their tasting room.

Old House Vineyards exemplifies how an entrepreneurial spirit can blossom into a valued asset for the owners, countless visitors and local businesses. The multiplier effect on the local economy has been dramatic in the fourteen years since the winery was founded.

Pat Kearney was operating a successful millwork firm in Springfield, Virginia when he purchased the farm. Today, Kearney & Associates, Inc. is located adjacent to the vineyard. The firm specializes in creating display cases, artifact mounts, dioramas and assorted graphics for museums nationwide.

“I enjoy my primary business. It lets me express my creative side. Allyson runs the winery operations on a day-to-day basis. It’s a heavy workload for the both of us but we love our life here in Culpeper,” says Kearney.

And the love shows. Over the years, the hard working couple has built an impressive property that attracts thousands of wine lovers from across the state and Nation.

After completing restoration of the original farmhouse, a four thousand square foot pavilion was built nestled next to a bucolic lake surrounded by vineyards. On a summer day the property is graced with picnicking couples and families, creating a scene out of a romantic movie.

The vineyard consists of twenty-one acres of grapes including Vidal Blanc, Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Tannat. The fruit produces about 36,000 bottles of wine a year and has won numerous awards. Currently, their winemaker is a young Frenchman named Thibaut Debourg who holds degrees in enology and viticulture, the scientific study of winemaking and grape cultivation.

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Their successful wine operation has spawned a hospitality business that has seen dramatic growth over the years. Old House has already has booked twenty wedding parties in 2012 in addition to other corporate and family events that lease the screened-in lakeside pavilion.

“One of the wonderful benefits of our success is sharing it with other local businesses,” says Allyson. “We are always referring our guests and wedding parties to local B&Bs, restaurants, caterers, florists and other shops in Culpeper County. We’ve become good friends with so many of our fellow business owners,” she says.

Fred Furtado, a county resident who has enjoyed wine tasting with his wife Betsy at Old House, says, “I love the beauty and serenity of the place. The Kearneys and their staff are hospitable folks who make you feel at home. We always enjoy relaxing in such a peaceful setting.”

Reflecting on the success of Old House Vineyards, one is tempted to think of a pebble tossed into their serene lake and rippling outward in all directions. Culpeper County is, indeed, fortunate to have a business that is green, sustainable and generating economic success throughout the county.

The Culpeper Chamber of Commerce honored Old House Vineyards on March 2 with a ceremony held at the winery.

Published in the February 23, 2012 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Historic Sharp Rock Vineyards

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Farming the land for over two centuries 

In 1794, a tax protest erupted in Pennsylvania that became known at the Whiskey Rebellion. It’s also the year that a pioneer family established Sharp Rock farm in western Rappahannock County.

Perhaps it’s fitting the farm’s original founder and its current owner have a link to the production of each era’s popular libation; whiskey then wine today.

Sharp RockSharp Rock farm received its moniker from a well-known landmark that jutted out of the Hughes River that flows past the property. Decades ago the huge boulder was leveled off and a bridge built over it. Nonetheless, the original name of the property has prevailed for 221 years.

Jimm and Kathy East are the current proprietors of the farm, boutique winery and bed and breakfast. Unlike the farmers of the past, today the cash crop is wine grapes, a fruit seldom grown in Virginia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Easts purchased the property in 2004 having worked for the previous owner for a year. “I really did not have any training other than helping Dave a little. I never hired a consultant,” Jimm East said.

David and Marilyn Armor founded the winery in 1998 but work commitments led them to sell the property to the Easts. Jimm East worked for more than two decades in the outdoor recreation industry and was seeking to transition to a job requiring less travel. Sharp Rock fulfilled his needs.

It also met the needs of the wine drinking public who soon found the nascent winemaker producing clean, flavorful wines.

Jimm East

Jimm East

Today, East still maintains contact with outdoor enthusiasts but it comes in the form of chatting with visitors to his tasting room. Sharp Rock lies in the long shadows of Old Rag Mountain, one of the most popular hiking destinations in the mid-Atlantic region.

“On Saturday and Sunday afternoons we get a number of hikers” returning from an adventurous hike up Old Rag. Over 100,000 hikers summit the iconic mountain each year.

Small is beautiful
Sharp Rock Vineyards is emblematic of a small winery and lodging establishment. It is situated on 25 beautiful, rolling acres with the Blue Ridge Mountains serving as backdrop. Wine production tops out at around 700 cases annually; a fraction compared with many Old Dominion wineries.

But while production is small the lineup of wines offers considerable depth. East produces about a dozen wines each year from eight varietals grown on the farm. The eight-acre vineyard is home to three white and five red grape varieties.

East’s creative winemaking is showcased in the unique blends he crafts. Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are often melded together to create bright, crisp white wines.

Experience has taught the winemaker that red blends offer greater flavor options rather than bottling 100 percent varietals. It enables guests to experience new aromas and flavors “that isn’t the same old thing.”

The winery and tasting room reinforces the historic nature of the farm. It is housed in a 1860s era barn. The winery is located on the ground floor. Guests ascend a narrow set of stairs leading to the former loft to sample and buy wines. The atmosphere is simultaneously down-home and artisanal.Sharp Rock II

Visit and stay
If it sounds like a day spent at the winery would be time well-invested, you would have numerous like-minded folks in your camp. The ambiance of Sharp Rock is geared to reducing stress for overworked city denizens and locals alike. Proof? Both B&B cottages are booked solid on the weekends.

Each cottage comes with its historical bona fides. The “Cottage” was the original dwelling on the farm and dates to 1794. The “Carriage House” was built in 1850. Both buildings are nestled near the Hughes River.

East describes a typical guest experience. “Recently we had a couple spend a weekend at the Cottage. He fly fished in the Hughes while she read nearby. Later they did a wine tasting and received a bottle of wine as part of their stay. The next day they hiked Old Rag.”

Sounds suspiciously like a prescription from your doctor to unwind and relax, eh?

Sharp Rock Vineyards is opened Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information on wines, lodging and events visit http://sharprockvineyards.


                                              John’s pick of the month 

Sharp Rock Vineyards

Circa 1794


This red Bordeaux wine pays tribute to the founding of Sharp Rock farm over two centuries ago. It is a blend of the five classic Bordeaux grapes and casts a deep garnet color in the glass.

The aromatic wine telegraphs mouth filling flavors of cocoa and blackberry framed by a subtle touch of cigar box and earth nuances. It is vinified in a style that is approachable now or capable of sleeping for a few years to further enhance its rich, black fruit flavors.


Published in the July 30, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Molon Lave Vineyards: handcrafting wine jewels

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Louizos Papadopoulos began designing custom jewelry in Greece when he was 12 years old. By age 17, he joined a large design firm in Athens and continues to “work on the bench” today.

IMG_1093 (1)He also handcrafts wine at his Opal winery. Creating beauty from jewels and grapes is his passion. But it doesn’t stop there. Visitors to Molon Lave Vineyards also experience the landscaped beauty of his winery. Papadopoulos is an artist and the world his palette.

If his life’s work appears to come naturally, there’s good reason. His father, Louis Papadopoulos, owner of Mediterranean Cellars in Warrenton, is a fourth generation jeweler and has been making wine since 1961.

Jewelry design and winemaking are part of his son’s DNA. “Winemaking is kind of inherited to us. In Greece everyone would make wine for the house,” Louizos Papadopoulos explains.

Father and son moved permanently to the United States in 1984 and built a successful jewelry design business in Northern Virginia. In 1989, the family purchased the property in Warrenton and planted their first vines.

But jewelry design and winemaking are time consuming and his father decided to retire in 2000 to devote full-time to building and operating Mediterranean Cellars. The winery opened in 2004.

A year prior to its launch, the Molon Lave property was purchased for the purpose of providing additional grape supply for his father’s winery. The original hobby had become a serious business and the decision was made to open a second winery.

Molon Lave opened its tasting room in 2009 and has replicated the family’s jewelry success in Virginia wine production. The 50 acre winery currently produces 4,000 cases a year with a production goal of 8,000 cases.

Currently there are 12 acres under vine with an additional six acres to be added this year. More than 10 varietals are planted including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

IMG_1096“Our motto and philosophy is to combine European style winemaking with grapes grown in Virginia. We are doing it in a way you can taste the fruit itself without having to guess real hard what you are drinking. We don’t standardize the wines the way they do on the West Coast.

“We try to enhance the existing fruit using Old World winemaking,” said Papadopoulos. 

For some Old Dominion wineries building a business that will eventually be run by the owners’ children is a primary goal. Molon Lave embraces the strategy.

Papadopoulos’ three daughters play active roles in the business. Katherine is the tasting room manager, Evy the office manager and Leah studies at George Mason University while assisting at both wineries.

Louisos“They are the third generation of our active winemaking family,” Papadopoulos said.

His wife, Alex, focuses on entertaining jewelry business customers who visit the winery; a considerable clientele since the firm has been in operation for 31 years.

The enjoyment of wine is enhanced by a graceful setting and Molon Lave delivers on the concept. The winery’s tasting room is framed by a 2,500 square foot patio and walkway that leads to an 8,300 square foot pavilion located on a knoll overlooking the winery, vineyards and a two and a half acre pond.IMG_1098

To sip wine and gaze upon the peaceful Virginia countryside defines relaxation; a goal most guests have in mind when arriving on the property.

The name of the winery reflects both the owners’ culture and life philosophy. Molon Lave is an ancient Greek phrase meaning “Come and get them”.

It was the response uttered by King Leonidas to a demand from an overwhelming large Persian army for his small Greek force to lay down their arms during the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

The defiant military response embodies the dignity and pride of the Papadopoulos family.

It also sounds like a gracious offer to their guests to taste the wines and then “come and get them”. An offer responded to daily.

Molon Lave is opened seven days a week from 11 to 6 p.m. Visit them at for additional information on their wines and special events.


John’ Pick of the month IMG_1103

Molon Lave Vineyards 

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon 


This award winning 100 percent cabernet sauvignon was aged for 14 months in French and American oak. The wine displays the depth of a well-crafted cab showcasing red and black fruit a silky mouth feel and a smooth dry finish.

The wine is also Kosher for Passover meaning it was kept free from contact with grain, bread and dough during production and aging.


Published May 14, 2015 in the Culpeper Times.

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Family-centered Morais Vineyards and Winery

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Morais Vineyards (3)Joe Morais, owner of Morais Vineyards and Winery in Bealeton, loves to ask the question “What’s the smallest room in the house?” Hmmm…let’s think.

“It’s the dining room,” he quickly replies. The dining room? Yep. And why? Because it’s not used that often. Morais (more ice) thinks that’s a shame. “The master bedroom is the largest room” but it’s used for sleeping.

He goes on to share his life philosophy driving the simple question. Family is everything. He has three daughters, six grandchildren and a large extended family.

“The dining room is where we talk with the family,” said Morais. So many families eat out today and often “you’ll see the kids playing with their iPhones or other devices. Are they talking with their parents? No. My dining room seats 40 people and provides space for our family to share their lives.”

Most of us could not afford a 40-person dining room but it’s emblematic of his belief the family is the center of life. His home is in Lake Manassas and was built with family in mind. His winery fosters the same atmosphere.

Morais and his five brothers are successful businessmen. He arrived in the United States 47 years ago and today his construction and concrete companies employ 400 people. Hard working and focused defines the man.

But work was also stressful so he opened his winery in 2011 to help slow down and enjoy life more. Nonetheless, even the grand opening was an earth shattering event—literally. It was August 23, 2011; the day the famous 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Virginia.

“It was the first meeting of a local business association at the winery. They were meeting in our hall,” said Morais. While it was a “jolt” for the attendees all went well and the winery did not sustain damage. It’s been peaceful sailing ever since.

Dream winery
Morais Vineyards (1)As one drives up the curving lane to the winery and crests a small rise a dramatic building appears. It is the tasting room and event hall embodied in a replica castle from Portugal where his middle daughter was married. They commissioned an architect to eliminate the middle floor from the original castle; otherwise, it looks like a piece of history direct from the Old Country.

Morais owned the 178 acre site for 30 years before building the winery. During that period his children rarely visited the property. Today, the family frequently enjoys what he calls the “farm”.

“People will call me and I tell them I am with the other family”, he said. Taken aback, they say they didn’t realize he had two families. “Yes, I have a family at the farm too. When they see my car coming, they run up to the fence so I can feed them. I have goats, sheep, chickens, dogs and more and they have free run” in the woods and pastures of the fenced property.

Just as he enjoys the farm winery with both of his “families”, he encourages visitors to do the same. He wants families to come out, enjoy the Virginia countryside, bring picnic baskets, sip his wines and spend a day on the farm.

“They can bring all the food they want. I will even help them eat it too!” said Morais laughing.

FullSizeRender (3)The winery also hosts some 30 weddings a year. ”I call this my dream place. But people come here to satisfy their dreams too.”

The wines
The winery has 14 acres under vine. The vineyard includes Albarino, Muscatel, Vidal Blanc, Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a few additional plantings. Annual production is 2,700 cases, or 32,000 bottles.

All of the wines are grown, produced and bottled on the estate. Morais is not seeking to increase production but to focus on quality not quantity.

To that end, he brought a young winemaker from Portugal, Vitor Guimarãis, to man his cellar.  Guimarãis is a fourth generation winemaker and holds a Masters Degree in Viticulture and Enology from Lisbon’s Superior Institute of Agronomy, one of Europe’s leading colleges in the field. Many of his wines are award winners.

Joe Morais has an enduring message he shares with everyone. “Get away from the phones; get out to the Virginia countryside—not just to Morais Vineyards. America is beautiful; enjoy the views.

“Our lives pass on. We all should leave something behind before we go. Leave behind the good deeds not just the good times. That’s our point of view,” said Morais.

Sound advice. And no better place to start than by spending an afternoon at Morais Vineyards and Winery.

The winery is opened Saturdays and Sundays 12 noon to 6 p.m. year round. For more information on its wines and events visit

John’ Pick of the Month 

Morais Vineyards and Winery

Red Select


A multiple medal winner blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Aged for two years in French oak barrels, the wine is fruit forward displaying cherry and raspberry notes on the palate and framed by a smooth mouthfeel. Pair with any beef entrée.


Published in the April 9, 2015 edition of the Culpeper Times.

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Wine Blogging in the Old Dominion

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Growing Number of Commentators Mirror Growth of Industry

Little more than a decade ago, if you wanted an opinion about a bottle of wine you needed to consult a handful of nationally known publications or your local wine merchant.  No longer.

Today, wine evaluation has become the domain of anyone with a blog and a desire to share their thoughts on the latest winery visited or wine consumed. Most blogs are interactive so visitors can comment on the author’s views.

But what exactly is a blog?  It’s a blend of the words web & log and is essentially an online journal maintained by anyone with an interest in…anything.  Given the inclination of folks to share their opinions, bloggers have exploded on the scene.  In 2011, an estimated 156 million blogs were in existence worldwide.  Today, there are over a thousand wine bloggers on the internet posting observations and reviews.

Given all this devotion to vinous products, one might assume wine lovers are hanging on every word bloggers write.  Think again.

While there’s not a lot of research behind who is and who is not relying on wine blog advice, a British web site, Wine Intelligence, created a bit of controversy this past February by positing that its market research showed, “Bloggers are one of the least trusted sources of wine recommendations.” The report stated only 1 in 5 regular wine drinkers in the UK trusted what independent bloggers had to say about wine compared with 50% who trusted the advice of a wine merchant.  In the United States, 80% of wine drinkers said they place their confidence in merchant recommendations.

Moreover, the online magazine Palate Press opines wine bloggers are failing to reach a meaningful size audience.  It states the top 100 wine blogs in the Nation enjoy aggregate traffic of 865,000 unique visits a month, or about 30,000 hits a day.  Sounds like a lot, yes?  But consider that there are 40 million wine drinkers in the U.S. and at that level of activity even the most popular bloggers are reaching less than half a percent of their audience.

Having said that, some two-thirds of U.S. regular wine drinkers surveyed do seek information about wine online.  Apparently, while individuals know the internet can be a valued source for gathering wine information, the conviction that bloggers can steer them in the right direction is low.  Time might overcome some of this reticence as trust grows in the hardest working bloggers who are providing the most cogent and useful reviews.

Old Dominion Blogs
Here in Virginia, there are over twenty blogs devoted to critiquing Old Dominion wine.  The growth of the phenomenon parallels the surge in wineries statewide, which now totals almost 200.  Most of the blogs are journals in the truest sense since they share experiences about winery visits and wines.  Typically such sites describe how the writers were treated by tasting room staff and their perception of the wines poured.

This is where Virginia bloggers provide significant value added. Their observations are not solely about wine but about the entire wine experience and are often accompanied with photos or videos.  These oenophiles regularly navigate the highways and back roads of the Commonwealth evaluating everything wine related so the horde of weekend wine warriors can maximize their precious free time.

The merit of Virginia blogs may well be enhanced in the aggregate.  If a wine lover is planning a day of winery hopping, a quick review of multiple web sites should paint a relatively accurate portrait of both the atmosphere and wines at any given establishment. By tracking the number of positive impressions, quality wineries can be identified and the information used as a handy itinerary planner.

So Why Blog?
In probing Virginia blogging, a few common observations emerge as to why people blog. For most authors—but not all—their work is an enjoyable hobby and a way to share their wine experiences.  There is also a bit of vanity press involved; it’s undeniably fun to be “published” without an editor’s approval.  Often the blogs are initially created to organize and document wine travels or simply as an outlet for creativity.  Most bloggers do not consider themselves wine professionals but passionate and knowledgeable amateurs.  If any income is derived from the work, it is modest and simply covers expenses; bloggers have full time jobs that pay the bills.

The free information scribes generate can come with a price tag.  In the beginning, the gratification of attracting readers and exploring new subjects is stimulating.  But as traffic grows, a blogger soon realizes if the site begins to gather cobwebs it will not gather readers.  Our culture demands fresh and new everything.  Todd Godbout, who writes at Wine Compass, summarizes it nicely when he says, “If you do not post; they will not come.  And in addition to the writing, weekends are usually devoted to traveling in search of fresh material.”

Frank Morgan, writing at Drink What you Like, says, “Since this is purely a hobby for me, I feel no pressure to post new entries or make money.”  Morgan, who works for an aerospace firm and travels 100,000 miles a year, uses a lot of his flight time to write.  Notwithstanding his disclaimer of feeling little pressure, his site recently reflected eleven substantive entries over a two month period.   A fair dollop of devotion is needed to hold down a full-time job and produce interest worthy blogs.

Most nationally known wine blogs typically publish at least three times a week and review thousands of wine a year.  Loyal followers develop a “feed me” mentality that demands new content in exchange for readership, often at only modest remuneration for the wordsmiths.  Morgan explains, however, “When I retire, I may consider a career in the wine industry.  So in that sense, my hobby could ultimately reap a financial reward.”

Paul Armstrong at Virginia Wine Time reinforces that he and his partner Warren Richard, “… feel no pressure to write our blog even though we are posting two or three times a week. It is still fun for us. We do not write professionally so passion drives our keyboard. We have, however, scaled back a bit on winery visits because of the rising cost of gasoline.”

The married authors of Swirl, Sip, Snark, bill their blog as “The Best and Worst of Virginia Wine”, and keep readers updated on the state’s expanding industry sans rose-colored glasses.  Since their observations can range from laudatory to critical they travel incognito and post their observations at a demanding pace of five times a week. “It’s an emotionally rewarding pastime but definitely a commitment.  We find the interaction with our readers incredibly reinforcing and feel we’re building a virtual community.  But to keep the dialogue going we must keep initiating the conversation.  And if gas climbs much higher we’ll be forced to ease up.  This is a hobby.  The return on investment is supposed to be fun not expensive,” says one of the masked critics.

But for some it’s not just a hobby.  Rick Collier and Nancy Bauer have created a unique web site called Virginia Wine in My Pocket.  It’s both a blog and an “app”, or software application, and is the only iPhone and iPod Touch travel guide for everything wine in Virginia.  The guide includes information on wineries, wine trails, B&Bs, dining, and GPS mapping.

As a modest money making endeavor, it comes with a commitment of some 25 hours a week just for their Virginia wine application. Crank in another 25 hours for other travel related apps they’ve created, and the couple clearly feels the pressure.  Like many bloggers, Rick laments, “When a week goes by without a post, we get embarrassed and start to feel like slackers; especially in view of how prolific some Virginia bloggers are.”

But there are compensations.  “It’s a lot of work keeping our wine app current.  But traveling around Virginia wine country is better than writing the great American novel.  It’s provided us a reason to explore the beauty of our state and get connected in a real way with the life cycle of a bottle of wine,” explains Nancy.

The blogger strikes again

This writer blogs at Hagarty-on-Wine and views it as a retirement hobby.  After writing about wine for local newspapers, a friend suggested the articles be archived on a blog and offered to build the site at no cost.  One possible downside for writers is the time spent in front of the computer researching and writing.  Blogging can become a benign addiction that some spouses find a bit annoying.  Around this household when the question is posed, “Are you back on the computer again?” it’s the signal to sign off and spend time in real-world conversation.

One of the common refrains heard by many bloggers is that anyone considering writing on wine needs to commit themselves to studying the topic.  Writing only on Virginia offers the benefit of focusing on a subject near at hand; not an insignificant advantage considering that on any given day there are over 55,000 national and international wine selections for sale in the United States.  Centering one’s attention on a single state takes a lot of work off a blogger’s radar screen.

As with any movement, like-minded individuals form groups.  This July 22, in Charlottesville, hundreds of wine bloggers from around North America will descend on Thomas Jefferson’s home town for a three-day symposium.  The event will focus on the intersection of wine with the world of blogging and social media.  The fact Charlottesville was selected as the location for this major conference reflects the growing respect Virginia wine is garnering nationally.  Individuals interested in learning more about the conference can visit Wine Bloggers Conference.

And if you’d like to take a peek at the Nation’s most popular blogs, visit Top 100 Wine Blogs. But caveat emptor.  If writing a blog is addictive, reading them can become an obsession.




Here are Virginia’s current wine blogs; “current” being a relative term since new entrants seemingly appear monthly.

Beltway Bacchus

Cellar Blog

Charlottesville Uncorked

Drink What You Like

Kristy Wine Vine

My Vine Spot

Hagarty On Wine

Swirl, Sip, Snark

Richard Leahy’s Wine Report

Running Wine Girl’s Blog

Virginia Wine Dogs Blog

Virginia Wine Girl

Virginia Wine In My Pocket

Virginia Wine Notebook

Virginia Wine Snob

Virginia Wine Time

Virginia Wine Trips

Virginia Wine TV

Vin In Virginia

Vineyard Visuals

Wine About Virginia

Wine Compass Blog

Published in the Summer 2011 edition of The Piedmont Virginian.

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Whiskey Rebellion Redux

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Moon shining brightly on legal & illegal distilling 

In 2005, there were some 70 craft distilleries in the United States. Today, over 700 are in operation and a few years hence it’s projected over 1,000 of the watering holes will grace the Nation’s landscape.

Craft distilleries generally produce less than 10,000 bottles annually; often much less. By comparison, bourbon producer Jim Beam churns out 90 million bottles a year. The $70 billion distilled spirits industry is dominated by the major producers. Small distilleries generate less than 1 percent of sales.

Home pot still

Home pot still

On the amateur side, some industry observers believe there are over 50,000 home nano-distillers who are operating without a license; not a risk-free endeavor for scoring a few bottles of liquor considering the severe penalties for firing up an unregistered still.

Here in Virginia, there are 21 holders of distilling licenses; many of them producing less than 5,000 gallons annually. The most recent entrant is Old House Vineyards and Distillery in Culpeper; sales began in June 2015.

So what’s driving the resurgence in booze?

The demand for hand-crafted, artisanal beverages and the creative urge to produce such libations, coupled with the reduction of licensing fees to operate smaller distilleries.

The cost of obtaining a legal license in Virginia is modest; $450 for producing less than 5,000 gallons annually. But it takes serious money to buy the stills and other related equipment; putting a $200,000 dent in the checkbook is not uncommon.

The days of moonshining in mountain hideaways may be fading just as urban hobbyists and professional distillers are gaining traction in the world of upscale social lubricants.

Fauquier County
Over two dozen wineries and one brewery are currently operating in Fauquier County but no distillery has yet opened its doors. Knowledgeable sources think it won’t be long before the county will be able to boast a trifecta of libation production; beer, wine and whiskey.

If the prediction comes to pass, look for the product to be hand-crafted and of superior quality. Our current alcohol alchemists have a reputation for excellence; creating highly rated “water of life” would likely be no exception.FullSizeRender (3)

As for the traditional moonshine trade in Virginia, in 1941, the ABC Division of Enforcement seized an all-time high of 1,771 illegal stills.

In 2011, a collaborative four-day air and ground operation between the ABC and Virginia State Police resulted in the discovery and destruction of just 25 inactive but operational stills in Franklin, Pittsylvania and Carroll counties. Clearly, things have settled down since the heyday of the professional moonshiners.

While few county amateurs are ready to crow about their home operation, it’s certain to be happening based on similar activity around the country.

Home nano-distillers are able to fly under the radar because selling their product is not in their “business plan”. Home distillers often eschew the moonshiner tag, largely considering it an insult. Their only goal is to enjoy crafting a beverage in extremely limited qualities, often as few as 3 or 4 bottles at a time.

As one home distiller of wine explained, “I purchased a small stove top distiller in Portugal 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve distilled wine into brandy more than 50 times and aged it in a 5 liter oak cask. As it’s consumed, I distill a new batch. And truthfully, while my brandy is good I can buy higher quality stuff. The fun is in the doing.” 

It’s the law
A misconception held by many is that producing distilled spirits at home is legal; just don’t try to sell the hooch. And while backyard distillation of a bottle of alcohol seems innocent enough, both federal law and the Virginia ABC takes a decidedly different view. In response to an inquiry to the ABC, their response read:

Producing ANY amount of a distilled spirit (even a single bottle for one’s own consumption) is a Class 6 felony with a penalty of 1-5 years imprisonment or jail up to 12 months and up to a $2500 fine, either or both. Simply possessing a still or distilling apparatus without a license from the ABC is a Class 1 misdemeanor, if convicted.

Wannabe moonshiners beware.

Published in the Fall 2015 edition of inFauquier  magazine.

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Winemaker Reagan back in the cellar

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Experienced vintner returns to making magic with fermented grapes

Andy Reagan, multiple gold medal winner, is again crafting Virginia wines since his departure from Jefferson Vineyards in December 2012.

Reagan chose two avenues for his reappearance on the Old Dominion winemaking scene. First, he joined forces with Mike Shapiro, a budding venture capitalist, to produce a new line of wines. He’s also been given the keys to the cellar of a small but respected Virginia winery.

During his hiatus, Reagan collaborated with Mike Shapiro to create Roundabout Cellars. Given the entry level costs of a million dollars or more to start a winery, the two entrepreneurs took a “round about” way of producing quality wine at an affordable price without cashing in their 401(k)s.

“I always had a passion for wine and when I learned Andy was looking for opportunities, I thought it was a way to try a new approach to selling wine,” said Shapiro. The wines are only available online since there is no brick and mortar winery.

It’s reality wine retailed from a virtual tasting room.

Reagan, well connected in the industry, arranged for the purchase of finished wines from a few top Virginia wineries. He then utilized cellar space at an established winery and employed his blending skills to create five different cuveés.

Lest one thinks blending is a minor part of winemaking, Google Michel Rolland and learn how the French “Flying Winemaker” gained international fame by consulting to wineries worldwide. He achieved much of his success by employing his educated palate to taste and then blend wines of exceptional character.

Both Rolland and Reagan believe blending embodies the old chestnut that “the sum is greater than the individual parts”.

To confirm the quality of Reagan’s wines, the 2013 Governor’s Cup awarded three silvers to his first vintage and the Virginia Wine Of The Month Club snatched up 150 cases for its December 2013 selection.

Oenophiles interested in tasting the product of a talented winemaker need only visit and keystroke their way to a purchase.

Cellar redux
With over twenty years experience as a winemaker—yes, he started in his teens—Reagan was soon off on another project. After working on his Roundabout Cellars brand, he found himself creating wines at a conventional winery.

Old House Vineyards in Culpeper is where Reagan is now nurturing some ten different varietals. The winery is sited on an old alfalfa farm and draws wine tasters to its bucolic setting graced by a small lake, pavilion and wood burning pizza oven situated on a large stone patio.

The winery’s newest claim will be wines crafted by a top vintner with his best years ahead of him.

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Print advertising in the digital age

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The Spring 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal highlighted the role of print advertising in today’s business environment. It’s conclusion was that print—as opposed to conventional wisdom—is alive and well. The following are three pieces I contributed to the magazine.  

Dr. Lawrence J. Finkel Dermatology

In 2002, Dr. Lawrence J. Finkel opened his medical practice in Warrenton. Since then, he has seen almost 45,000 patients. To paraphrase the moniker of the late recording artist James Brown, the doctor is the hardest working man in dermatology.

His office is located at 360 Church St. and “sees patients from infants to the elderly”, providing medical, surgical, pediatric and cosmetic services.

“The best advertising, far and away, is word of mouth. It’s very gratifying when people come in who were referred by neighbors and friends,” says Finkel. “As a result, we continue to grow. Some days we see 15 to 20 new patients. That’s good for growth.”

IMG_6484An adjunct to word of mouth advertising is the collateral benefits of providing a good office experience. His phone service, reception room, attentive nurses, and prompt check outs all factor into satisfied patients who return again and again.

Indeed, the hallmark of an office visit is the friendly greeting from the reception desk followed by “the doctor will see you shortly.” Long waits don’t happen on Finkel’s watch.

Central to the practice’s growth is that he accepts most insurance plans. There is a shortage of dermatologists who do. Except for the 20 percent of his practice that is cosmetic services—which is cash based—the business primarily involves insurance billing.

Notwithstanding the success of providing a professional experience in building a medical practice, paid advertising plays a role. “It’s important to advertise. We are listed on all the insurance carrier websites that we are affiliated with. Many of our patients come here because they go to their carrier’s website and see I am someone who takes their insurance,” explains Finkel.

Print advertising focuses on magazines and newspapers. “We advertise in ten to twelve publications, including homeowner newsletters. We also place ads in one time event publications such as concert and football programs. Print is the most expensive form of advertising we do and I say no to lots of print ad requests.”

When print is chosen, one criteria considered is the shelf life of the publication. If a magazine is published on a monthly or quarterly basis, it increases the amount of time it may sit on coffee tables or in reception rooms multiplying the number of impressions the ad scores over time.

A particularly useful application of print advertising is when the practice purchases a new piece of medical equipment. “We need to market any new devices since patients do not know about them,” states Finkel.

Yellow Page placements are used to draw older patients who may not have access to the internet. Conversely, online search engine optimization is continually updated with key words to stimulate business from younger patients who live in the digital world. “We get twenty-five percent of our new patients from website searches.”

Social media is limited to Facebook and is primarily directed toward building the cosmetic side of the business, called MedSpa 360. Electronic ads include a once a month email newsletter highlighting cosmetic specials. Conventional direct mail rounds out the media budget but is used on a limited basis.

One future possibility for internet advertising is the use of smartphone promotions. Finkel knows today’s teenagers rely on devices to manage their lives and sees that placing pop-up and banner advertising on them could reap dividends.  “They’re on their phones all day,” he correctly observes.

One final form of no cost advertising is the fact that the doctor lives in the Warrenton area. “Because I live and work in the community, it provides a good source of advertising. My kids are in the local school system. People may see me in the grocery store and elsewhere and say, ’Oh, I need to come and see you’. I get patient visits because I don’t live an hour away but am in the community daily.”

The good doctor closes with the observation, “I hope to practice for a long time. At some point I may cut back but have no imminent plans to retire.”

It sounds like the industrious Dr. Finkel may double his patient files over the second decade of his practice. Better make that appointment today.


 Stonewall Golf Club at Lake Manassas

“Advertising is very important to the club,” says Jeanna Hilton, director of sales and marketing, at the Stonewall Golf Club at Lake Manassas.

It’s important because it pays. But it must be targeted to score the type of business the club seeks

At Stonewall, a total of $50,000 a year is spent helping to generate revenues of over a million dollars. The ad budget is down from a high of $75 thousand annually when the club first opened in 2001. Back then, the money was apportioned across the three segments of the business: the golf course, the restaurant, and special events.

Today, the golf business receives only a minimal amount of ad dollars because the reputation for a quality golfing experience has been established and precludes the need to extensively promote it. The number of new and repeat golfers keeps the tee time sheet full.

“We used to do local radio and TV advertising to promote the golf side of the business. We no longer find that necessary,” says Hilton.

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Not so the case with trade shows, weddings and banquets. “We host an annual bridal showcase each year. I charge the thirty participating vendors $300 each to set up a table. That’s money they need to recoup in sales and they expect to see brides at the show.

“And they do, some forty to fifty brides have been at each showcase,” Hilton says. As a result, the vendors know their investment pays off and they return each year.

“Fifty percent of our overall ad budget goes into print; specifically local magazine and newspapers. $6 thousand of that amount is dedicated to the bridal show alone.” The strategy reinforces the fact successful advertising needs be targeted to reap the expected dividends.

Other revenue streams come from the fifty weddings the club hosts annually, private parties, bridal showers and restaurant dinners; both for groups and public dining.

“We also advertise in a local wedding magazine. The editor has a great website and blog so we advertise with her and get the benefit of her website and email blasts.”

Another reason for advertising special events is that many customers who have only been to the restaurant once are often unaware the club hosts group affairs.

The digital world plays an increasing important role at Stonewall. “We have a twenty thousand email database and send out an online newsletter twice a month. It promotes everything the club offers, from golf tournaments to special dining events.

Rounding out the media tool kit is the popular Money Mailer direct mail program. The co-op mailer is a hyper-local approach to direct mail using coupons and individual ad inserts. It is delivered to eighteen thousand homes and has proven its return on investment over the years.

In addition to conventional advertising, the club is a member of both the Prince William and Fauquier Chambers of Commerce. Hilton regularly attends chamber meetings. She also belongs to business networking organizations, including a wedding network group that she created five years ago.

Networking is a lower cost way to build awareness of the Stonewall Club and promote its event schedule. “That’s a huge part of how I do business,” Hilton emphasizes.

In partly describing her role at the club the energetic Hilton says, “I decide what media to use, including social media such as Facebook. I love my job and like interacting with the community.”

The financial performance of the Stonewall Club confirms her success in managing the company’s advertising budget.  __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Moving business forward with reverse mortgages                 

Andreas Keller may be a reverse mortgage specialist, but to bring home the bacon networking is his forte. “The best advertising for me is networking. My experience with print advertising has not been as good,” says Keller.

His observation underscores that a business person needs to know both his product and potential clients before creating a successful media budget. It’s a lesson typically learned through experience.

Reverse mortgages are increasing in popularity with seniors who have equity in their homes and may want—or often need—to supplement their income. Participating homeowners normally defer payment of the loan until they die, sell or move out of the home.

Given the rocky economic landscape many older citizens have been moving across over the last decade, increasing cash flow through their declining years can enhance peace of mind.

Keller works for Southern Trust Mortgage in Warrenton. The firm does not provide advertising dollars to generate reverse mortgage business. Promotional efforts are out-of-pocket expenses of the broker. Finding the best avenue to the settlement table at the least cost is paramount when your own wallet is in play.

But lead generation absent splashy print ads and colorful direct mail means work. “Networking is the number one way I generate business”. He devotes a lot of hours to “giving presentations to senior groups, civic clubs, churches, financial advisors, wealth counselors, realtors, insurance agents, attorneys and more.”

And yes, Keller is an articulate and enthusiastic person so networking perfectly fits his personality.

LandscapeThere is, however, one advertising technique that reaps fruit and doesn’t cost Keller a cent. Since reverse mortgages have gained the attention of major lenders, many use national TV and print advertising. Often people come to him because of an initial interest created by a national campaign.

“I always ask people how they got referred to me, how did they find me. One of the frequent ways is they have read one of my articles or heard my presentation and wanted to learn more.

“But, I also have people say they’ve responded to a national TV or print ad and either got a pressured sales pitch or didn’t like the company’s responses to their questions. So they wanted to talk to me. I don’t use pressure. I am an educator,” says Keller.

That might be dubbed lead generation by “drafting”. But if it places a NASCAR driver in the winner’s circle, it’s a sound strategy for Keller.

The second successful promotional effort is social media, specifically, one called Constant Contact. The marketing website permits users to communicate with current and future customers.

“Whenever I do a presentation or make contact with a potential client, I ask them if I can add them to my email address list. It’s not spam. I get their permission. Then every four to six weeks, I send out information and updates on reverse mortgages. I’m getting a lot of good comments from the use of Constant Contact. It costs $35 a month,” Keller says.

As a further on to social media, Keller employs a panoply of sites including, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and Goggle Plus. “They all generate leads.”

And finally, print ads are not totally ignored. “I spend about $5,000 a year on magazine advertising, including the Guide to Retirement Living Source Book. I submit articles for publication in the magazines. It’s not the ads alone generating business. It’s the ads along with my articles,” emphasizes Keller.

So how does the hard working mortgage specialist relax? He is a member of the Warrenton hiking club called Boots ‘n Beer. “Our motto is a drinking club with a hiking problem!”

Two to three times a month you can find him leading hikes in the Piedmont region followed by a burger and brew at a local pub. Keller is a reverse mortgage specialist with his boots firmly planted in the mountains.

Boots 'n Beer

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When it’s time to sell the dream

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Winery sales often lengthy and complex

There are 259 wineries in Virginia producing 511,000 cases of wine annually. The industry has achieved dramatic success in both growth and reputation since the first tasting room opened in 1975.

Today, the quality and repute of Old Dominion wine is recognized nationally and around the world. Last year, Steven Spurrier, a renowned international wine authority said, “Virginia is a solid competitor in the global wine industry.” Such high praise is a commonly heard refrain.

And yet, there is an anomaly to the sanguine picture of a robust and healthy wine culture: Few wineries are profitable and most are difficult to sell.

Cabernet Franc Grapes

Cabernet Franc Grapes

Indeed, notwithstanding advances in vineyard plantings and winemaking skills resulting in a commensurate increase in the production of fine wine, it still remains a challenge to actually make money in the business. If a winery isn’t turning a profit, potential buyers can be hard to conjure up.

With many of the state’s winery owners entering their retirement years, it is expected an increase in properties will go up for sale, especially if adult children do not share mom & dad’s dream. But selling even a marginally profitable business is a challenge. Typically, it takes three years or more to find a qualified buyer.

Rick Walden, owner of Virginia Estates, a Charlottesville real estate firm that specializes in selling farms, estates, vineyards and wineries says, “I’m just about the only guy in the state handling winery sales. How many are making money? I’m gonna go for zero.” He bluntly points up the narrow margins earned in a difficult business.

“There are probably thirty wineries for sale in the state but a lot of people do not want it advertised. They think its hurts their business. Last year, I wrote every winery in Virginia asking them if they were interested in selling,” says Walden. “I got twenty-five responses and now have $100 million in winery listings. I expect to sell five wineries in the next few months.”

While that prognostication seemingly runs counter to Walden’s profitability assessment, it does speak to the romance and lifestyle attraction of the business.

Others well placed in the industry, however, would disagree with his assessment and even plain speaking Walden later acknowledges some wineries do turn a small profit. “I had one guy call me and wanted a 20% return on his investment but from what I’ve’ve seen it’s more like one percent.”  Other knowledgeable sources put the figure in the 5% range.

But profitable ventures are in the minority, with most industry observers saying less than fifteen percent of state’s wineries are making money.

When asked about the difficulty of growing wine grapes in Virginia, Walden responds with a quick, “Do you have a few days?”

“First, owners are biting their nails that bud break happens before a late spring frost comes along, like this year (2013), and cuts them off at the knees. Then, the stuff that survives gets beat to death by endless rains, and whatever does survive is ravaged by raccoons, turkeys, bear and deer.Black Bear

“This year all of those animals were hungry because their food got frozen by an early frost so they came in and ate every last thing. The crop last year was hardly anything.”

Indeed, it was a tough 2013 harvest with frost and animal depredation taking its toll. But wineries across the state are making wine and it promises to be a decent vintage.

Walden closes with, “I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but buyers need to be aware of the real situation or sell $100 bottles of high quality wine.” 

Romance, lifestyle & hard work
IMG_5664For anyone visiting a winery, the lure of owning one is understandable. Verdant vineyards framed by mountain or lake views and decks on which to enjoy the serene settings. Such scenes are alluring to buyers who hail from congested urban areas.

In reality, potential buyers must pony up at least a million dollars—at a minimum—and then commit themselves to an inordinate amount of work to grow the fruit and make the wine. Perhaps the most demanding part of the business is hospitality. Weekends are spent greeting customers, pouring wines and extolling the virtuous aromas and flavors in the glass.

When reality clashes with the dream, the property goes up for sale.

Stephane Baldi, owner of Hume Vineyards in Hume, placed his winery on the market early last year after only three years in operation. His wine is produced off-site, a process known in the industry as “custom crush”.

He’s asking $2 million for his large home, a vineyard and a tasting room. It doesn’t include his small inventory or brand name which would need to be negotiated separately. At 44, Baldi is among the younger owners in the industry.

“I grew up in the Loire Valley in France surrounded by vineyards and wineries and I am a huge wine fan. I saw what was happening with Virginia wine and thought it was the right time to make a move and open a winery.

Stephane & Andrea Baldi

Stephane & Andrea Baldi

“But my wife and I still had full time jobs in DC. Then, two years ago, we had a child and the winery is now more of a constraint,” he says. “The challenge of living in Hume is difficult. I run two businesses—one based in DC—and need to drop off our child at daycare every day. It really doesn’t leave us time to do anything. We are still young enough and we’d like to have a life but it seems we spend our entire life in the car.

“This is something we wanted to do at a point in our lives. Now, it’s time to move on.” He admits he has not gotten much interest in the property, saying, “The bottom line is nobody knows how to sell a winery.”

Bob Schenkel, owner of Altillo Vineyards, runs a small operation in southwest Virginia, and is asking $1 million for his winery that opened in 2010 and produces about 700 cases a year. “I’ve invested about $1.4 million but I’m selling it for a million. We have never shown a profit. It’s an inordinate amount of work. I think there is going to be a lot of turnover in the industry. A lot people would like to sell.

“The profit seems to be in events and entertainment. Many of the wineries that seem to make a buck are doing events. There is an ocean of wine out there but down here the quality seems to be a race to the bottom,” he laments.

“South of Charlottesville, the wine is abysmal. It’s sweeter and cheaper. Wineries see that it sells at festivals and they cater to younger folks who simply want to get a buzz and listen to a rock band. I’d like to see a better effort to improve the quality and the reputation of Virginia wine. The state talks a good game but their actions are tearing down the long term reputation.”

Strong words from an owner who has been unable to make it in the industry.

Schenkel goes on to say, “Rick Walden is my agent but most of his buyers are interested in the Charlottesville or Northern Virginia area. I’ve had next to no selling activity. Only one person has looked at my property and it was not a serious inquiry. They knew nothing about winemaking.”

The market
Schenkel’s lack of enthusiasm that he will soon find a buyer is understandable. Mark Malick is a real estate agent in Leesburg that focus’ on winery sales and is co-owner of the winery, Maggie Malick Wine Caves, in Purcellville. His wife Maggie is the winemaker.

“Less than one percent of the population can afford a winery costing a million dollars or more. And what percentage of those people are actually looking for one? It’s a tough sell. Not many of these businesses are profitable.

“I try to talk people out of buying a winery before I talk them into it. I always try to get them to come out and see my winery and let them see everything that’s involved before we proceed. I basically try to pre-qualify them.”

Malick believes the number one factor in selling a winery is the owner’s age. The sellers “realize it’s time to move on, that it’s consuming them in both time and money.”

It’s common knowledge that virtually every new winery will labor for five to seven years before it begins to see a profit. But if committed and hard working owners stay the course, eventually some modest return on investment will likely emerge.

Parade Formation

Parade Formation

The Virginia viticulture extension service states two people can operate a five acre vineyard on a part-time basis. “Technically that’s true,” explains Malick. “But they will have to work every weekend during the growing season.” And that does not include making or selling the wine.

Over time, the emotional glow of plump grapes hanging heavy in a vineyard can begin to fade.

One model that has a better than average chance for failure is a multi-million dollar operation that opens its doors and immediately begins making tens of thousands of cases of wine a year. Finding a home for such exuberant growth is not easy.

Two over-the-top examples of this wine hubris were the Kluge and Sweeley estates. Both ventures envisioned producing vast quantities of wine and selling it quickly.  Both ended in foreclosures, costing the owners tens of millions of dollars.

But even businesses that have grown slowly and produce good quality wine are not ripe for a quick sale. Naked Mountain in Markham was on the market for over a decade. The owners eventually got $3 million—the original asking price—but patience played a role in finding a qualified buyer.

Malick explains successful people start small and grow slowly. “A lot of people bootstrap their winery, doing things as cheaply as possible and buying used equipment. They do all the work themselves in the early years,” he says.

Malick cites Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg as a model for success. Doug Fabbioli is a respected vintner and consultant who built a small, thriving business producing quality wines. His success was the result of his winemaking skills and his understanding of the industry and sound business practices.

“If owners stick with the business and get above 3,000 cases a year, then they will begin to see profitability,” says Malick.

Seasoned professionals
Chris Pearmund and John Delmare have several decades of combined experience in the wine industry. Pearmund owns Pearmund Cellars in Broad Run and Delmare is the proprietor of Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly. Both wineries are profitable.

In trying to understand why a large percentage of the state’s wineries struggle to make money, Delmare’s analysis helps lift the veil of confusion. Start with the basics: 259 wineries statewide producing 511,000 cases.

“I estimate the top five producers together are making 200,000 cases. The next twenty wineries bottle an additional 150,000. That leaves 234 wineries generating some 160,000 cases, or an average of about 700 a year each,” says Delmare.

Conventional wisdom says it takes 3,000 to 5,000 cases to operate in the black. When you consider the financial investment, hard work and time the wine business consumes, those numbers are “frightening for the smaller producers” says Delmare.

If a small owner decides to back away from the business and sell out, he or she is faced with the hard reality of marketing a profitless business.

Last year, Pearmund tried unsuccessfully to sell his winery for $5 million but took it off the market. Today, it is back up for sale at for $4.5 million. Sotheby’s, a luxury real estate firm, is handling the sale. “The winery has been profitable every year it has been opened,” says Pearmund. Nonetheless, no buyer has yet come forward.

When asked how long it typically takes to sell a Virginia winery, Pearmund humorously replies, “It takes three bites to get to the center of a tootsie pop.” So how many bites does it take to get to the center of a cluster of grapes and see a buyer pop out?

Chris Pearmund

Chris Pearmund

Even when a serious prospect does step forward, it doesn’t always go smoothly. A case in point is Pearmund’s sale of the Winery at La Grange in Haymarket to a Chinese corporation.

The sale was valued at $5.6 million but was a rocky real estate deal.

Shortly after the June 2012 transaction, Pearmund said, “My experience at La Grange has been the most difficult of my professional career. I devoted six years to its success and have little to show for it.”

He estimates that today, there are ten wineries for sale. “In Virginia, I would guess 95% or more of the wineries opened since 1980 are still opened, how fantastic! What other business category has that track record?”

But the statistic also points to a pending wave of winery sales as original owners approach their late retirement years and may have lost both the passion and energy to continue.

 John Delmare

John Delmare

John Delmare believes the commonwealth’s industry is maturing beyond something more than a hobby. “As long as we are hobbyists, there are no sale opportunities per se. There is no business rationale for buying a winery,” he states.

He observes that many sold to date have been distress sales, sold for pennies on the dollar, such as Kluge and Sweeley. “It’s hard to point to sales that were true market transactions. Some sales are really real estate sales. The buyer simply wanted the property, not the winery.”

Delmare states his business is profitable but doesn’t believe a buyer would purchase it solely on its financial return. “There is a quantifiable return in buying a winery that is an emotional return on top of a modest financial one that makes such a deal worthwhile.”

He goes on to explain wineries have always been that way regardless of where they are located. He cites California as an example. For years that state’s wineries have had a 5 to 6% return on assets. “That’s a lot of risk for just 6% return. If you take fully loaded costs—not an owner working for free—I’ll take a stab and say maybe ten percent of Virginia wineries are legit businesses.”

In addressing the issue of Virginia wine being expensive, he says, “When someone comes out and buys a $30 bottle of wine you have sold them an experience. They are buying more than the wine. We are selling experiences in our tasting rooms. If we were just taking orders, we would all be in trouble.”

Moving on to the more controversial issue of hosting events, he says he doesn’t share the disdain some people voice over the practice even though he does not pursue that type of trade.

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Wedding at Old House Vineyards

Often weddings, parties, fundraisers and the like are what enable heavily mortgaged wineries to make a profit. Some larger businesses have weddings booked three years in advance, ranging from twenty to over seventy a year. Given the significant capital investments in these wineries, entertainment and hospitality are important revenue streams.

Delmare thinks many of the larger operations think their wineries are worth $8 to $12 million but he doesn’t see buyers out there to command such prices. “We are just starting to scratch the surface on having a market that produces those kinds of sales.

He underscores that aging owners wanting to move on will be especially hard pressed to find takers. “True legitimate buyers are hard to find.”  

Delmare thinks a bank would be skeptical fully financing a potential buyer of his own winery, even though he has not personally had a problem securing capital. A bank may look at the borrower’s capability to service and pay back a loan outside of the actual business itself.

Inventory and equipment loans are not that difficult to get, he states, with banks lending up to 80% of their value. For example, if he were to sell his winery, a borrower might be able to secure an 80% loan based on the underlying value of the land, wine inventory and equipment but may still have to come with a substantial amount of cash, upwards of 50% of the total purchase.

“If a winery is making a five percent return on assets, but the bank interest rate is six percent, you are losing money on your loan,” Delmare explains. “In addition, the higher the loan-to-value goes you get to the point there is not enough cash in the business to support the loan.

“In today’s market, a 6.5% loan is typical. A 75% loan-to-value will result in every penny the business is making going to service the loan. Banks won’t loan that way. Banks look at asset value—collateral that secures the loan. Then they want to know ‘Where is the cash coming from to pay us? If you are making $1 a year, we want your payments to be 75 cents so you have a little cushion if things don’t go well,’ ” says Delmare, explaining how banks think.

He goes on to say, “Any business is similar, and in some ways a winery may be easier to finance because it is so asset driven. We have a lot of real estate, a lot of inventory and a lot of equipment; all things a bank can use to secure their loan.” Rappahannock Cellars

The banking discussion brings into relief that in addition to growing grapes, making wine and entertaining guests, potential buyers should have a custom fitted green eye shade hanging in the winery office. Sharp pencils are as important as sharp palates in this business.

The future
With the current growth rate of wineries, it is projected within five years there could be more than 400 tasting rooms dotting the Virginia landscape. While such proliferation seems questionable given the challenges of opening one, it also speaks to the intense romance and lifestyle involved.

Creating flavorful wines and earning accolades from guests while living in picturesque rural areas is a powerful draw to pursuing a less than viable business. But romance is not a bedmate to logic and numerous winery owners would not trade their chosen endeavor for a conventional business.

More future owners will likely follow their lead. Delmare underscores the increasing challenges ahead. “When I started my winery in the late nineties, it was the sixty-second one in the state. I paid $2,000 an acre for land that today is going for $10,000 to $20,000.

“My business grew twenty to twenty-five percent a year initially. Today, it’s about seven percent. It’s only gotten harder. Everything is more expensive and the barrier to entry is harder.

“There is both a looming grape and labor shortage. All of these things will make entry a little higher. Small operators will be scared out of it so growth will maybe slow in the next five years,” he says.

One path to sustainability for his winery is securing permanent control over his grape supply. To that end, he is working toward purchasing and planting additional vineyard acreage. “I’m not doing it to grow but to secure the future of my winery.”

“Construction costs and getting wine into a bottle are fifty percent higher today than when I started. I hit it at the right time when I got in.”

Perhaps the legendary Dale Carnegie unknowingly summarized the pursuit of the Virginia wine business when he said, “When dealing with people remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic but creatures of emotion.”

And a cadre of emotional winery owners may be in Virginia’s best long term interests.

   Published in the Winter 2014 edition of the Piedmont Business Journal.

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John’s April Pick of the Month

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wine-bottles-4Old House Vineyards

Native French winemaker, Damien Blanchon, has brought his skills to bear in the production of this red blended wine named in honor of Bacchus, and the legendary celebrations held in his honor. A mélange of Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Tannat, the wine opens with raspberry, cedar and spice aromas and follows on the palate with silky cherry and currant flavors. Aged for 18 months in French and American oak. Pair with stuffed pork chops or grilled blue cheese burgers. Drink now through 2012.

Old House Vineyards is located in a beautifully restored 19th century farmhouse at 18351 Corkys Lane, Culpeper.

The winery is open Monday—Thursday, 1-5 PM
Saturday 11-5 PM
Sunday, Noon to 5 PM

Telephone: (540) 423-1032

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Pearmund Farm Store showcases best of the Piedmont

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New year-round farmer’s market steeped in history

Chris Pearmund is known for his stable of wineries and vineyards, but at heart, he’s a farmer. He doesn’t wield a pitchfork or sling bales of hay, his domain springs from the earth by converting vines into wine.

If that doesn’t sound like a conventional farmer, ask him about the weather and growing grapes. That is if you have time to listen to his response. Read: It’s not easy.

Thanks to his active imagination, he now has a store that further reflects his farming bona fides and those of more than a score of other local tillers of the land and artisans. The establishment embodies “down-home”.

On November 8, the Pearmund Farm Store unwrapped its horn of plenty. It began selling various goods such as hams, beef jerky, eggs, peanut butter, honey, jellies, jams, pecans, coffee, candles, soap, cider, kombucha, hot sauces, local art, and more. Twenty-five vendors (and growing) keep the store stocked. Wine from the three Pearmund wineries is also for sale.

Many of the products spring from Fauquier County’s artesian cornucopia, but they might hail from anywhere in the Old Dominion if it’s a quality product.

“We are trying to feature as many local products as possible,” said Megan Hayes, store manager. “There’s a lot of items we carry from Fauquier but also the surrounding counties.”

Indoor and outdoor seating is provided, including a patio and front porch. Since the winery is a grape toss away, conventional wine tastings are not offered. However, guests can order wine by the bottle for enjoyment on-site or off.

During the summer and fall months, fresh fruits and vegetables will be available, adding to what is already a market with depth. “We’ve reached out to local farmers so the store can become a market for their products,” said Pearmund. “During the winter, it will provide a venue for them to sell non-perishable items.”

The five-bedroom, 4,000 square foot farmhouse sits on a low rise just before turning right into Pearmund Cellars winery. In keeping with Virginia’s legendary past, it comes with its own historic story.

The home sits on property that was birthed as a land grant in 1743 to a Colonel Harrison, who served in the Revolutionary War. He built a cabin on the site, and today the 277-year-old dwelling is the base of the farmhouse.

The home had been leased for years, but recently the tenant moved on, offering an opportunity for Pearmund further to accessorize his 30-acre estate with another guest attraction. Fifteen acres of Chardonnay grapevines grow nearby.

Upstairs five rooms can be rented for private parties, ranging in size from two to 12 people. The fee is a $100 gift card that can be used in the store or at the winery, essentially making the rooms rental free.

“A couple can reserve a room shared with others. Or, it can be reserved exclusively for a small private party. We can provide food, and for three hours, you would have a parlor-like setting for family and friends.”

With Covid-19 constricting the urge for public gatherings, reserving a room for a small private event allows folks to entertain in a public setting while feeling safe.

“It’s like going to visit grandma’s house in the country. You can bring your food or we can provide it,” said Pearmund.

Another innovative offering is carry out gourmet meals prepared by Warrenton’s Café Torino. Dinners from two to eight can be purchased at the store Thursday through Sunday, starting at $35. It includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert.

The dinners are fully prepared and need only be oven bound to create a dining out event at home. Buy a bottle of wine, and an in-home repast is yours. Working folks take note.

With a fireplace outside and in a country setting, the farm store is a safe, COVID-19 respectful indoor and outdoor getaway that is family-friendly. Parking is available just outside.

“When Covid-19 hit, and everybody was retracting, I went out and planted a 112 Crepe Myrtles on my property because I remembered Audrey Hepburn once saying, ‘To plant a garden is to believe in the future’.

“The farm store is a seed for the future success of agriculture in the Piedmont. It’s our way of saying, ‘Come out and support our local farmers and vendors,’” said Pearmund.

The store is located at 6188 Georgetown Run Road, Broad Run, and is opened seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information on the Pearmund Farm Store, drop by  


Published in a November 2020 edition of the Fauquier Times.

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Shenandoah Summer Escape

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In a time long, long ago—pre-COVID-19—getaways were predicated on finding time to escape. Today, that’s not so much an issue. Here’s a suggested getaway penned in the pre-pandemic era.    

Valley Life Beckons with Beauty, History, Pleasure

Shenandoah. The word falls softly on the ear, possessing a rich aural tone and conveying a sense of peaceful allure. It’s renown comes in identifying the Shenandoah Valley. Native Americans called the region “Daughter of the Stars.”

It’s fitting such a beautiful word bespeaks such a beautiful Valley. Travel the world, and people will knowingly nod at the sound of its name. “Ahh, the Shenandoah Valley. ‘Tis lovely.”

Indeed. And it belongs most closely to the citizens of Virginia. It’s our gift and reward for living in the Old Dominion. Yet how often do we visit this jewel that entrances so many? Not often enough. Summer is the time to deepen the embrace.

The Shenandoah Valley extends southwestward from Harpers Valley, West Virginia, encompassing nine counties in the Commonwealth for 150 miles and terminating at the James River. It is about 25 miles wide and centered by the Shenandoah River.

The main arterial highways are Interstate 81 and U.S. Route 11. The former speeds you through the Valley to destinations elsewhere, the latter gently slows your pace so you can explore more deeply the valley’s culture and history.

The Valley’s human history dates to 9,000 years ago and was later central to the expansion of our Nation from the early 1700s. Known as the breadbasket of the Confederacy during the Civil War, the fertile farmlands of the Shenandoah Valley provided abundant food to Southern soldiers and civilians.

Let’s Get Started
Choices abound on were to engage the Valley for an overnight stay. We are going to start in New Market and drive north to Woodstock, a mere 20 miles.

The cornucopia of things to see and do in this short distance reflects the Valley as a whole.

One could spend weeks exploring the length and breadth of the region.

The first decision is how to reach our starting destination of New Market. Consider avoiding Interstate 81 and rather travel from the eastern and northern parts of the state west through the towns of Warrenton and Luray.

You’ll delight in unmatched scenery and pass through the Shenandoah National Park before arriving at your destination.

From the south, travel U.S. Route 11 north, formerly known as the Valley Pike. The objective is to ease off the pedal and embrace the journey.
Our first stop of the day is the Virginia Museum of the Civil War just west of the town of New Market.

The dramatic-looking museum explores the Battle of New Market fought on May 15, 1864. Students from the Virginia Military Institute, some as young as 15-years- old, fought an intense battle here defeating Union Major General Franz Sigel. The 247 cadets were a pivotal force in the Confederate victory.

Allow at least two hours to view a movie, tour the extensive museum, and walk the grounds. A particularly touching part of the tour is the field of lost shoes. Many of the cadets lost their footwear during the battle in the freshly plowed soil that had turned to mud after heavy rains. Ten cadets were killed in the engagement.

Admission is $10, seniors $9 and youth ages 6-12 $6; wee ones are free.

Next is the Edinburgh Mill Museum, located 15 miles north of New Market as you continue on U.S. Route 11. The museum is the largest in Shenandoah County and is open year-round. It was a large grist mill built in 1848 and one of the few such structures that survived a military action known as “The Burning”.

In July 1864, General Ulysses Grant ordered his Army Chief of Staff Henry Halleck “to eat out Virginia clear and clean…so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.”

For 13 days starting on September 26, 1864, General Philip Sheridan’s Union Army burned or destroyed over 2,000 barns and outbuildings and confiscated thousands of horses, cattle, and sheep. For generations, the Valley’s farmers would not forget nor forgive the destruction.

The mill was saved by a brave young woman who implored Union soldiers to spare it. Today it houses a collection of artifacts commemorating the role of Edinburg during the Civil War. Admission is $2.

By now, thoughts of history will begin to fade as your stomach becomes your docent, murmuring quietly, “Feed me.” Several eateries are awaiting five miles north in Woodstock. Two of particular interest are the Spring House Tavern and the Woodstock Brewhouse.

The tavern has been family-owned for 19 years and voted as having the best restaurant, bartender, steak, and burger in Woodstock. It has an impressive lineup of craft beers and is opened daily.

An alternative to lunch at the tavern is the Woodstock Brewhouse located one block off Main Street at 123 E. Court Street. The building is the former Casey Jones work clothes factory dating to the 1920s. It subsequently saw multiple uses over the decades.

A few years ago, it was updated to capture its storied past while serving as an upscale brewery. Painstaking efforts were made to bring the structure back to its original glory, keeping it as authentic to the original structure as possible.

The owners were devoted homebrewers before deciding to go commercial. Using favorite recipes developed over the years, their creative list of beers is among the best in the Valley.

If you are a Hop Head, consider ordering a pint of the Crow’s Provender IPA. Remember the story? It’s a delicious brew named in memory of the harsh Civil War legacy.

Excellent pub food serves as an accompaniment to the beer. Platters like Burgers—both meat and meatless—bratwurst, fish tacos, jerk chicken, the sexi-mexi pizza, and more grace its menu.

It is opened seven days a week with afternoon hours Monday through Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday through Sunday service from 11:30 a.m. until 11 p.m.

After lunch, enjoy a short but beautiful drive to the banks of the Shenandoah River to sit either inside or out at Muse Vineyards. The winery is located on a former 200-year-old Mennonite farm with an additional 30 acres of vineyards added to the property.

The boutique winery is owned by two overachievers, Robert Muse and Sally Cowal. Muse is an international lawyer and Cowal, a former United States ambassador. The husband and wife team reinforce the point that the Valley attracts successful people from all walks of life who settle in and work side-by-side local residents.

The talent brought to bear at Muse is reflected in its numerous award-winning wines, including a gold medal scored at the 2020 Virginia Governor’s Cup wine competition for its cabernet franc bottling called Thalia.

At the End of the Day
Linger at the winery as long as you want because your next destination is just two miles down the road. The Inn at Narrow Passage is situated on five private acres along the Shenandoah River. For 30 years it provided hospitality and a history that dates to the earliest pioneers of the Valley.

Part of the property includes an original log cabin built in 1740 that offered shelter from Indian attacks for travelers on the Great Wagon Road at a dangerous section known as “narrow passage”. During the Civil War, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson made the cabin his headquarters in the Valley Campaign of 1862.

The Inn offers 12 guestrooms, including the log cottage, which accommodates six guests and has a swimming pool. A full breakfast is served daily between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

With the dinner hour looming, the proprietors of the Inn suggest heading back to the Edinburg Mill. The museum that you may have visited earlier in the day also has a restaurant serving American cuisine using seasonally available local ingredients.

The dining room speaks to the mill’s history, with low, wooden beams and old mill machinery decorating the walls and ceiling.

A shorter drive offers the opportunity to dine at one of the previously suggested lunch spots in Woodstock that you might have missed earlier in the day.

Heading home
After being fortified with a full breakfast the next morning, one could consider a leisurely drive home. But there is so much to see that additional recommendations spring to mind.

If you head north out of Woodstock, you may want to drop by the Filibuster Distillery in Maurertown. It opens at noon Thursday through Sunday, so a tight schedule may preclude a visit.

But if you slept in, consider stopping by the women and minority-owned business to sample their bourbon and rye whiskeys and gin. The company was started near Capitol Hill, thus its whimsical name.

If time permits, perhaps the perfect way to end your getaway is to head north for 32 miles to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester.
The museum is dedicated to preserving and enriching the cultural life and heritage of the Valley.

It includes a house dating to the eighteenth century, six acres of impressive gardens, and a 50,000-square-foot museum featuring numerous exhibitions.

A permanent display of miniature houses and an expansive gallery exploring the history and decorative arts of the Shenandoah Valley is also included in the visit. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children. You will not be disappointed.

As you finally head home, bear in mind your brief excursion to the Shenandoah Valley just lightly brushed the seemingly limitless things to see and do here.

Start planning your return today.

Touring from Home
If family or work commitments preclude an overnight stay in the Shenandoah Valley, here are some ideas for enjoying the Valley hearthside:

Shenandoah National Park. A beautifully filmed video sharing the history and activities within the park. Free.

Touring the Shenandoah Valley Backroads. A compilation of 13 driving tours in the Valley with the focus on historic homes. Armchair visitors will encounter numerous small towns and villages that bring the Valley’s past to life with detailed, fascinating auto tours showcasing the richness of the region’s history. $19.35.

Shenandoah Valley-style Barbeque Chicken. The Valley is legendary for its productive farms. Here’s a recipe that will let you “taste” the best the Valley has to offer.

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