Story by Bill Kent
Photos by Michael Butcher
We’ve all seen it, somewhere in our lives: that house on the hill.
Jon Hickox first saw Longfield Manor when he was a teenager. It stood on a rise along what he and his friends called the “cut-through” connecting Evergreen Mills Road with Route 50.
He would look at the house on his way to carpentry jobs or farm work. As one of eight children born to a Navy captain, he worked for everything, up to and including a business degree at George Mason, his first jobs as a contractor, and then, a residential and commercial developer.
He would see that same house during hunting season, when, after a long day in the woods, he would gift his kill to families who lived along the road. He was intrigued to know that the farm itself dates back to the 1700s and that much of the land had once belonged to Hunt Country legend Randolph “Randy” Rouse, former Master of the Fairfax Hunt.
“Every time I saw that house, I imagined that whoever lived there was happy in some way. Don’t get me wrong —I had a great childhood growing up in Burke Centre in Fairfax. I’ve seen plenty of great places to live. I’ve even built some. But this house was special.”
Twenty-five years later Hickox bought the house and the surrounding 35 acres. “I had put a bug in the ear of the developers that we should essentially get rid of the golf course community concept and put in a winery, kind of like farm-to-table but grape-to-glass. After I closed on the deal I drove out again [and] stood right where I was when I first saw the house. [I] said to myself, ‘I have to turn this into something amazing.’”
It’s been nearly a year since Hickox opened Old Farm Winery at Hartland. It is his fourth Virginia vineyard, second winery, and the first in Loudoun County and, perhaps, in the entire state, to not merely grow grapes, but act as an event center and community focal point for the Hartland community, an 800-acre Aldie luxury residential development.
For Hickox and his staff of eight, it has been a year of successes, lessons, and “moments so special that, for me at least, there’s so much more in being part of a community.” He continues, “It isn’t enough to put a good wine in a bottle and sell it at a fair price. I don’t see us as making wine. I see us making happiness.”
As he did when building houses, Hickox has done every job at Old Farm Winery from planting the vines, to working the tasting room, to restoring the farm’s main house.
His favorite job? “The crush. That’s spending twelve hours to harvest grapes, crush them all, send the juice to tanks, then cleaning everything up. It is extremely intense. To work with a team and to endure the great physical non-stop efforts all working towards a common goal in such a setting is an amazing experience. It’s like running a marathon but nobody can finish alone.”
All that crushing happens at The Winery at Bull Run, Hickox’s first foray into wine making. Currently celebrating its tenth year, Bull Run was born when the 2008 recession doomed another developer’s Centreville residential project. Hickox bought the land and decided that the region may not need more houses as much as a more attractive use of the countryside.
“I like wine but I don’t have a complex palate. What I enjoy is getting out into the open areas with my family and experiencing the history, the scenery, the flavor, and character of a place. You can do that with wine. It was enough to get me interested.”
He planted grapes, sited the tasting room to take advantage of the landscape, hired an expert winemaker, and promoted the winery to both nearby Washington, D.C. residents and Hunt Country locals.
He wasn’t sure if the winery was going to succeed until one day when he visited it anonymously on a summer weekend. “I saw that one woman was sitting by herself and seemed very sad. I asked very discreetly of the tasting room staff if there was anything we could do. They had heard she was going through a difficult breakup, so we left well enough alone. An hour later, I saw her talking to someone and her mood had changed a little.”
A month later Hickox heard that the two he saw chatting had become engaged at the winery. A week after that she came right up to Hickox and asked him if he owned the winery. “I said I did, was there anything wrong? She said nothing was wrong — in fact, so many good things had happened to her here, she wanted to ask me if she could have her wedding here. Of course, I said ‘yes.’ That was one of our first, and, as far as I’m concerned, best weddings at Bull Run.”
And it was proof for Hickox that wineries are more than just places to make, taste, and buy wine. “We have the opportunity to become part of people’s lives. Those people are a community, whether they’re from out of state or the next town over. From then on, I knew that putting a winery into a community could be a great thing.”
He admits the challenge of opening a vineyard during the pandemic “…was scary at times. I had to reassure my bankers that the pandemic restrictions would end and that people would one day want to go into an enclosed building and eat and drink. We had supply chain problems for what we needed to build the tasting room and restore the farmhouse. At one point the price of lumber went up 280 percent.”
Throughout his renovations, Hickox was careful to keep the simple, modest lines of the farmhouse. Inside, the rooms are slowly being renovated into meeting rooms and office spaces with a bridal suite taking up much of the second floor.
Hickox wanted to be a good neighbor to those coming into the Hartland development so he planted his vines to give open views to the nearby homeowners, and put some distance between them and the areas of the winery where festivities occur. Two older structures dating back to the 1700s will be converted into wine making and storage areas. A “family-friendly” area is located on a rise above the tasting area.
His wife suggested that he offer a Hunt Country-themed wine. Created by Bull Run Winery winemaker Ashton Lough (with a tip of the hat to Randy Rouse), the mildly sweet white “Tally Ho” has been this year’s best seller. “Our Tally-Ho, a white Virginia blend with Vidal Blanc, Traminette, and Seyval Blanc has been our flagship white. [It’s] named after a foxhunting term and our very rich foxhunting history in Loudoun County,” CJ Evans, the tasting room manager at Old Farm, explains. The winery also offers a hard cider — an unusual touch that reflects the regional roots.
“Then it was all about putting our place on the map. Ours isn’t like the wineries on major roads. People have to know where we are and want to find us.”
He sought a balance between themed nights for the neighbors and weekend events that would draw visitors from further away. Movie nights, trivia nights and wine pairings with cookies and barbecue gave way to weekend gatherings for Jeep owners, and six charitable fundraisers for causes ranging from breast cancer research to environmental preservation. “We reached out locally to find out what our community wanted to support and offered our facilities as a way of supporting them.” Evans adds, “We had a Lū’au-themed event with a pig roast, and fun and games for all. It was the first time …where I saw the promise in the space we are fortunate to have here.”
On Valentine’s Day, the winery offered a special contest for military personnel and first responders: a drawing in which the winner got a free wedding at the winery.
And it was at that August wedding of Army officer Nicholas Andrew Greene and Jordyn Emma Buckingham, that Hickox felt that Old Farm Winery was going to be a success.
“I walked around and, believe me, I was as nervous as a bride’s father. This was the most important moment in this couple’s life and everything had to go right.”
Did it? “Yes, it did, for them. For me, I walked around and I was surrounded by people who were having a good time. Even the ones that cry at weddings — it was all good. We made some happiness that day.” ML
This article first appeared in the October 2022 issue.