Almost 400 years ago, the first colonial legislative assembly, the House of Burgesses, passed what was known as Acte 12, requiring that all households in Virginia plant ten vines of European Vitis Vinifera grapes, or be punished for not doing so.
Such decrees were committed to the history books long ago, yet this marked the beginning of efforts, which, other than a 17-year hiatus during the Prohibition Era, have continued unabated to this day, to cultivate and develop grapevines in Virginia. Those efforts were met with continued failure thanks to a harsh climate, difficult growing conditions and the dreaded phylloxera pest, rendering European varietals unsuitable for successful wine production on America’s east coast.
With failure, however, came gradual progress. During the 1800’s for example, a hardy Virginia grape was discovered by one Doctor Norton, which bears his name to this day, and which produced a quality wine, winning awards both domestically and on the international stage.
Despite the fact that Virginia produces less than 1% of all wine made in the USA – California not surprisingly claiming the lion's share – the Commonwealth is able to boast in excess of 260 boutique wineries, and has the fifth largest winery population in the nation, resulting in the production of over 1.6 million gallons of wine in 2016.
This growth in the number of wineries and vineyards may suggest that establishing a vineyard is a fairly simple proposition; the fact is that it is anything but and absolutely not for the faint of heart.
So, what is the business of wine?
Boxwood Estate Winery
Siblings Rachel and Sean Martin run Middleburg’s family owned Boxwood Winery, set on the glorious former horse farm of General Billy Mitchell, father of the United States Air Force. Rachel Executive Vice President, worked to establish the Middleburg AVA, or American Viticultural Area, in 2012, a wine producing region designated by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), part of the United States Treasury, a process which took no less than six years to accomplish.
Her brother Sean, is Vice President of Boxwood, and together with their mother Rita Cooke and stepfather John Kent Cooke, they acquired the property in 2001 with the sole purpose of establishing a high-quality vineyard and winery.
Engaging the services of renowned viticulturist, Lucy Morton, they planted an initial eight acres of Vinis Vinifera in 2004 resulting in their first vintage in 2006. Since that initial planting, the estate has grown to 26 acres under vine today, bottling around 5,000 cases annually.
Boxwood’s unique, modernist tasting room and winery was designed by Washington D.C. architect, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, and to round out the mission of developing great wines to complement this special venue in which to showcase them to a discerning public, the family hired Stéphane Derenoncourt, an established Bordeaux winemaker, as consultant.
Additionally, Boxwood established tasting rooms some time ago in Reston Town Center and, latterly, the National Harbor, where its customers sample wines from all over the world in an atmosphere and style reminiscent of Boxwood itself.
So, what did it all take to get here? Colossal amounts of energy and vision, supported by significant initial and ongoing capital investment together with faith in experts in their chosen fields to get it right when it came to growing the best grapes in the best locations.
The Martins assert that it takes at least a decade of commitment to go from initial planting to first profits, and to start recouping their initial investment. Having just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, that may answer why there were smiles all round at Boxwood this summer! They are vested in their community, with Sean sitting on Middleburg’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and the winery regularly playing its part in support of various town events.
RdV Vineyards and Winery
RdV, in the bucolic hills near Delaplane, is the dream realization of its owner and founder, Rutger De Vink. De Vink, a retired Recon Marine sought out the perfect 100 acres he wanted, finding a fifth generation Angus cattle farm with ideal terroir and orientation, and went to work on the owners, to convince them that they should allow him to buy it. His persistence paid off and, 16 years later, one of Virginia’s finest vineyard winery properties produces high quality wines in limited amounts, and in an environment which exudes the impression of serious financial investment.
RdV produces two wines, both Bordeaux style red blends, priced at $125 and $75 a bottle respectively, with tastings at $50 per person. At around 2,200 cases bottled each year, RdV clearly sees its market as the very upper end.
Estate Director, Master Sommelier and graduate of the Culinary School of America, Jarad Slipp, joined RdV in 2014 following illustrious careers at some of the worlds great restaurants. Slipp is serious about wine, and explains that RdV, from an investment standpoint, is not looking at a profit plan measured in years, but to create a legacy measured in generations. De Vink did not go into this with plans to package up a top tier business into a saleable asset. He sees himself as a steward who will pass on something unique, much like a Patek Philippe or an old master.
De Vink’s investment is not counted simply in dollars and cents. After the Marines, he did his time as an apprentice under respected Linden Vineyards founder, Jim Law, so that when the time came to launch RdV, he would undestand first hand the process from start to finish.
Only one French cooper supplies RdV with its oak barrels, and in order to ensure that the best possible blending is achieved, each year, one of France’s most respected enologists visits the winery to blend from various barrels in ratios which will produce the ideal sought after balance.
The barrel cave at RdV is an underground complex created by blasting into solid granite. That granite which surrounds the cave ensures that temperatures remain constantly low all year round. Like Boxwood, RdV also has its own bottling equipment, a machine which is used three days a year, but considered a necessity in a place where only the best will do.
Greenhill Winery and Vineyards
In 2012, aeronautical communications entrepreneur, David Greenhill, who had been scouring the Virginia countryside for years to locate the perfect winery to acquire, contacted respected, third generation French master wine maker and viticulturist, Sébastien Marquet, after stumbling upon a small family owned vineyard and winery in Middleburg which he was convinced was ‘the one’.
Greenhill negotiated its purchase and, aided by Marquet’s expertise, immediately set about turning his vision into reality. Isabelle Truchon, Marquet’s partner and renowned equine artist was engaged to develop a Greenhill brand from the ground up, and to re-design the interior of the member’s clubhouse, an important revolutionary era stone manor which had been, until then, the previous owner’s home. Now, as the newly branded Greenhill Winery and Vineyards, they began the design and build of a custom two-story tasting room, to take the place of the smaller, existing one which they re-purposed into a farm store, and a dedicated winery with unique barrel room, all of which opened this past January. New French oak barrels were ordered, as well as the finest European wine making equipment and stainless-steel tanks.
Distinctive creamy white Charolais cattle, a breed which originates from Marquet’s native Burgundy in France, roam the fields near the vineyards. They not only provide a rustic background for tasting room guests but also excellent meat for sale at the farm store.
The original ten-acre vineyard was supplemented by the planting of nine more acres under vine, while a 12-acre vineyard called Naked Valley, located between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, was acquired in order to grow additional grape varietals and add new flavors from this different terroir.
Initially, Marquet, who as well as being the wine maker/viticulturist is also the Chief Commercial Officer at Greenhill, purchased grapes from other vineyards in order to supplement existing availability to be able to blend sufficient wine for the fast-growing demand at the new property. The intervening years have seen healthy increases in harvest, allowing Marquet to bottle some 7,000 cases of wine varieties and blends including Chardonnay, a dry Riesling, Viognier, Seyval and Vidal Blancs, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec.
According to Marquet, acquiring an existing operation provided some advantages over a green field site, in that there was a degree of infrastructure in place. However, Greenhill has committed significant capital and resources in this extreme makeover, with the goal of becoming profitable during the next few years. They have focused on carving out their own identity as a premium wine making business, and customer centric facility which has been further aided by David’s commitment to local polo both as player and patron, with the result that Greenhill wine is synonymous with polo both at Banbury Cross and Great Meadow.
At Greenhill, as with other quality properties, customers can enjoy fine cheeses and charcuterie with a warm baguette to perfectly complement their favorite vintages. Add to that some local, live music on a Friday evening overlooking the scenic, distant Bull Run and Blue Mountain ranges and one can see why so many people frequent these serene spots.
A clear picture emerges from this sampling of dedicated Virginia wine entrepreneurs, all of whom have invested not only significant sums of money, but more importantly long term personal commitments to see their businesses thrive, and become fixtures in Northern Virginia. Local government support has been a crucial element to their successes, as has been a healthy culture of camaraderie between wineries to help develop clusters and wine trails, further encouraging wine aficionados to explore these delightful destinations.
Moreover, each business runs its own version of a wine club, where members commit to purchasing a specific number of bottles each year. In return, these VIP’s are the first to sip the latest vintages at members only release parties, as well as enjoying other benefits specific to each winery, such as dedicated member areas, complimentary tastings and wine themed evenings. These clubs build a loyal and solid customer base plus a guaranteed revenue stream every few months when it is time for members to pick up their wines.
In 2015, 8,300 people were directly employed in the Virginia wine business and $180 million of tax revenue being attributed to it based on over $1 billion in revenues.
Gorgeous swathes of land are kept from over development by these clusters of delightful properties, in addition to providing destination seekers with beautiful places to visit to enjoy the fruits of the labors of countless passionate hard-working people. The cumulative effect is to generate significant economic bounty to rural areas, not simply as revenue for tasting rooms, but also business for local restaurants and stores, helping to maintain rural communities throughout the Commonwealth.
The business of wine is a complex one, nevertheless it shows no signs of discouraging new comers to this capital-intensive business, nor slowing down the expansion of existing operations.
The latest data from winesandvines.com shows Virginia as number six in the nation in terms of the number of wineries, 270 as at August 2017, and number nine in the nation in terms of the number of cases of wine produced - 900,000.
The cases total still hovers below 1%, with California bottling the lion's share at a whopping 87%! An amazing statistic in itself.
Loudoun County, Virginia, accounts for 44 wineries, a number which is gradually increasing in part due to the county's close proximity to the nation's capital, Washington D.C., as well as good terroir, passionate independent investors and strong local winemaking skills.
One factor which accompanies a growing number of wineries is the presence of more for sale as owners retire, or their circumstances change and they decide to re-locate, scenarios we have seen first hand in Loudoun County. We are witnessing new entrants into wine making and the cultivation of vines which brings fresh vision and a constantly evolving diversity of blends and tasting room styles, all of which helps to maintain and increase interest for visitors. It's definitely lively in Loudoun when it comes to wine...
Navigating through “La Route des Grands Crus”, is like nothing I have ever seen before and never does it cease to amaze me. Bright and luscious are the green myriad of countless vineyard blocks against the clear cerulean blue sky. At a closer look, while frolicking through the blocks, I admire the intricate leaf shapes of the coveted Pinot Noir. I notice the soil, rocky, and silty, and I pick up the little stone, and feel its roughness, and bring it to my nose so I can smell its “minerality” before slipping it into my pocket. The trunks of the vine, with their paper-delicate layers of bark pieces, as if pasted on, flaying almost in the wind, are the same tones that make up most of my work; grays, charcoal, umber, cream — feels like home.
Georgia O’Keeffe once said,
“Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time…”
Her words resonate in me like never before. The importance of observation, and awareness not only in art, but in my life. I am old enough to look back and to be nostalgic about how I lived in a non-digital world. It was slower, perhaps more meaningful, and real. In today’s fast paced one, I feel bombarded by information, social media posts, or the pressure of keeping up with the “pack” in what seems to be a global pastime of branding oneself, or posting about ones life, and family. It’s exhausting.
When in France, it’s different. Burgundy is perfect for being present. Its rural, beautiful, and the food and wine is gastronomically yummy. The people are salt of the earth; they are real, without pretense or airs—refreshing. Sébastien and I go to Burgundy, every other year with clients and friends and we see the land Sébastien calls home from a native’s perspective. We visit incredible cellars, boutique wineries, old chateaux, notable museums, 12th century structures and relics, including Christiane and Jacques’s (Sebastien’s parents) incredible chapel, which is attached to their home in the Hamlet of Les Celliers.
We exercise “joie de vivre” like the locals, and taste great wine. Through it all, I draw and sketch what I see, and perceive. The visual images keep me from forgetting memorable moments, and they always spark a feeling of nostalgia when I review them months and years later. And occasionally, I’ll take the time to touch the little stone, feel its roughness, and bring it to my nose so I can smell its “minerality” as I leaf through the pages of my sketchbook…alas, I am in Burgundy again.
Isabelle Truchon, this post's author, is a Realtor with Hunt Country Sotheby's International Realty and a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) who, together with her husband and noted Virginia winemaker, Sébastien Marquet, take wine enthusiasts from Virginia to France on a regular basis to explore and discover the great wine-making regions.
In addition to the two vineyard and winery properties we have for sale (see Notaviva Winery and our "landmark Loudoun winery"), two further properties came to the market with fellow brokers recently, namely North Gate and Dry Mill, the former in Purcellville and the latter in Leesburg.
With a healthy range of wine oriented businesses currently on offer in this fertile and accessible county, now may be an excellent time to seriously consider investing in a local industry where what you put into the ground is rewarded with the oldest and most revered of drinks, drawing aficionados (and therefore customers) from near and far.
In summary, wine properties available in Loudoun are:
Let us know if you would like more information on any of these wonderful properties.
We were pleased to have been quoted in an interesting article today in the preeminent local Loudoun newspaper, Loudoun Now which can be reached HERE. The article centers on vineyard and winery sales activity in Loudoun County, Virginia, and the type of buyer for these properties.
The State of Virginia now boasts in excess of 250 winery/vineyards, with its wines continually improving and some already being excellent. Tasting rooms and wine club memberships have become big business, as well as a great attraction for those wanting a fun and oenologically educational day out in a different part of the state. But what kind of tasting experience do you get for your money, and what's the cost? The answer is, they're all quite different.
On a recent trip to the excellent wine country around Charlottesville, I visited a few well known label wineries but was disappointed at the commercial atmosphere, and the speed at which we were hurried through our tastings. Prices were in the $7 range for three whites and three reds.
In northern Virginia however, at Greenhill Winery & Vineyards just east of Middleburg, tastings cost more at $14 however the experience is, well just that, an experience. It begins with a pour of Blancs de Blancs, a 100% Chardonnay sparkling white followed by either three more whites and two reds or two additional whites and three reds. Tastings are seated and there is no rush. Delightful food plates of charcuterie and cheeses with warm baguettes are available to complement the wines.
Then there is RDV Vineyards in Delaplane, a wonderful property with just two wines on offer and a tasting fee of $50 per person which does include a charcuterie board.
So it's really horses for courses - do you want a quick try out of the wines and maybe a glass or bottle after, or chillax with slower paced yet attentive samplings accompanied by appetizers and scintillating conversation? Notably, Greenhill and RDV are 21 and over only properties focusing on a specific market and clientele, whereas many others allow children and infants which will further contribute to decision making.
What are your thoughts on the matter?
In considering a move into what may be a lifelong goal of owning and operating a vineyard and/or winery, the choices are, essentially, either acquiring a going concern or starting from scratch.
When the right existing business proves to be elusive, finding a lot with ideal 'terroir' - that environmental combination of soil, geology, climate and topographical character - may bring numerous benefits to a buyer with long term and solid aspirations in the local wine industry.
Searching out and finding the dream locale is in itself rewarding, added to which the future wine property will not inherit any prior negatives but indeed could and should bring with it the subtle anticipation of fresh new things to come.
Clearly, acquiring a great parcel on which to plant and build allows the investor to make his or her stamp on the new venture, whether that be just the vineyard size and varietal of grape or also the design and scope of the future winery and tasting room.
Take the 31.4 acres of delightful Loudoun County land which is currently on offer by a private owner on Lincoln Road near the town of Purcellville. At $549,000, the buyer will be the proud owner of a lovely south-east facing slope with a healthy proportion of the parcel already cleared and ready for vineyard and winery preparation. Access for future winery goers venturing out from Washington DC or points west will find this property easy to get to, and not at the far reaches of a cluster, but in fact right at the center of the Middleburg AVA (American Viticultural Area) which was approved by the US TTB in April 2012 - see map.
Let us know if you would like a tour of this wonderful parcel of land in the heart of Loudoun County, and we will gladly set it up.
Rockwood Manor in the delightful town of Hamilton, Virginia, lies in the heart of Loudoun County's wine country. The property comprises a restored 1854 Quaker house on 147 acres of pristine equestrian land with a historic bank barn, ice house and pool.
Rockwood would make a wonderful vineyard and winery with event hosting. Some hops are already grown on site and little if any clearing would be required to plant an initial vineyard. The property recently came up for sale through Hunt Country Sotheby's International Realty, priced at $2.99M.
Hamilton is a ten minute drive from the county seat of Leesburg, and well positioned for winery goers trecking out from Washington and the surrounding area.
Contact Windy Harris for more details here or call Windy on (703) 443-1757.
Our delightful winery and vineyard listing, Notaviva, located in serene Western Loudoun County, is now priced very competitively at $1,995,000. The tasting room which is also a home was built in 2008 and featured on HGTV's Dream Home series. It is a stunning timber frame property, with the tasting room on the main level, seating also on the upper mezzanine and living area on the lower level. Contact Janeen Marconi or Peter Leonard-Morgan for more details and to schedule a visit.
Hunt Country Sotheby’s International Realty, located in the historic Loudoun County capital of Leesburg, is focusing on an important segment of real estate, wineries and vineyards, an area which has seen significant growth over the past 30 years.
With two lovely properties currently for sale, Notaviva in the serene countryside of Western Loudoun and another landmark winery and vineyard on 359 acres just a few miles to the east of Notaviva, HCSIR sees this as an important new opportunity during the coming years.
With more than 45 dedicated wineries and vineyards in Loudoun County alone, this represents nearly 20% of the 250 in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
To tackle this burgeoning sector of the business, HCSIR has recently affiliated with Isabelle Truchon and Peter Leonard-Morgan, Isabelle originally hailing from Canada and Peter from England.
Isabelle is a CSW or Certified Specialist of Wine as well as a renowned artist with a love of equine art. Peter spent his formative years in the Ferrari and Lamborghini sales business in London and Italy followed by 20 years selling Gulfstream jets before embarking as a Realtor.
Hunt Country SIR
We are Hunt Country Sotheby’s International Realty, a Northern Virginia based residential real estate broker located in the historic capital of Loudoun County, Leesburg