Q&A With Local Vineyard Owners: Celebrating Wine Month Safely

Written by Kaitlin Hill 

Virginia Wine Month is in sight. Local vineyard owners share how they are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and what guests can anticipate this October. 

Nate Walsh co-owns Walsh Family Vineyards with his wife, Sarah. Walsh Family Vineyards is located in Purcellville and is part of the Snickers Gap Wine Cluster, which also includes Bluemont Vineyard and Bogati Winery. The winery opened in 2014.

As the owner of Linden Vineyards in Linden, Virginia, Jim Law bought the farm in 1983 and planted his first vineyard in 1985. He is considered a pioneer of Virginia Wine. Linden is part of the Fauquier County Wine Trail, which also includes Three Fox Vineyards and Naked Mountain Winery. 

Lisa Petty co-owns Cana Vineyards with her husband, Bryce, and friends Tom and Michelle Grant. Located just outside of Middleburg’s Main Street, they are part of the Mosby Wine Cluster, which also includes Chrysalis Vineyards and Greenhill Winery and Vineyards. They opened in 2018. 

For those who haven’t had the chance to visit yet, how would you describe your winery or vineyard?

Walsh: For people interested in visiting the tasting room, we offer a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. We take the wine very seriously, but we want the tasting room to be inviting and fun and relaxing.  

Law: We are very quiet and very wine focused. And “quiet” is probably the most important word. We are restrictive on the number of people who can come, and we are by reservation only … We don’t do events. It’s just about coming and tasting, and because of that, the focus is totally on the wine. 

Petty: We are a casual, family-owned winery and welcome children and pets. We have a unique setting just outside downtown Middleburg with a gorgeous view of the Bull Run and Blue Ridge mountains. Within the first year of taking on ownership of Cana, we built a modern-rustic outdoor timber-frame pavilion named the Sunset Pavilion. It’s the perfect space for tastings, lounging, and private events, and can be used year-round. We also have a lot of green space for guests to spread out around our 43-acre property and encourage picnics.

Nate Walsh, photo courtesy of Walsh Family Wines.

Is there anything unique about your approach to winemaking or the wines you offer?

Walsh: Walsh Family Wine is a farming operation. We farm 50 acres of wine grapes at a number of different sites in Loudoun County. Our goal is to produce vineyard-designated wines … that hopefully over time will help express the individual vineyard sites themselves. So, our farming and also our winemaking are focused on that goal.  

Law: We grow all our own grapes and we make all of our own wine. We are very small and very focused … Our loyal customers know us for what we call our single vineyard bottlings. We have three different vineyards, and each has its own personality. We bottle them separately, in the case of the Chardonnays and the reds. It can be same year, same wine making technique, but different vineyard sites, and people love to
compare the difference.

Petty: Melanie, our winemaker, has been with us since 2015. In 2017, she was the first Virginia winemaker to be named Woman Winemaker of the Year at the Women’s International Wine Competition. Melanie strives to produce acid-driven wines with elegance and finesse. She is a dedicated rosé lover who’s on a mission to show the world the beauty of an intentional and focused rosé. Melanie’s 2019 rosé of merlot and a 2019 rosé of cabernet sauvignon both won gold medals at the Drink Pink Vino International Rosé Wine Competition this year. We are lucky to have such a talented winemaker.

Linden Vineyards. Photo by Carol Rogers.

Has COVID-19 impacted your business? What precautions are you taking to keep your guests and employees safe?

Walsh: Currently, we are open by reservation only. This allows us to limit the total number of people on our property in order to keep everyone safe and comfortable. We are following all of the current guidelines for sanitation and social distancing, and we will continue to adjust to what is needed in order for everyone to stay safe and healthy. We are taking everyone’s health very seriously. 

Law: Production-wise, no. We are still doing exactly the same thing we always do in the vineyard. But, the biggest change is we have limited the [number] of visitors we’ve had, limited them even more. My first concern is the safety of both staff and customers. So that’s why we’re now by reservation only. And, most of the reservations are a maximum of two people. We have everybody totally separated, and nothing inside; it’s all outside. 

Petty: When the pandemic hit, we had to do a 180 on our business operations. During the initial stages of the pandemic, while our tasting room was closed, we offered home deliveries, curbside pickup, and shipping. We also conducted a handful of virtual tastings and partnered with Old Ox, Dee Owens of RE/MAX Gateway, and musician Nathaniel Davis to bring mobile block parties to local neighborhoods. Since we have opened back up, we have been following all CDC, state, and local guidelines very strictly to keep our guests and employees safe. We have social distancing rules at the bars, all seating is spaced more than 6 feet apart, restroom occupancy is limited, and guests are required to wear masks when they are not seated at their table. Our wine is being served out of disposable glasses and serve ware and all of our lite fare food offerings are pre-packaged to limit touch-points. Our staff is also monitored for any COVID-19 symptoms prior to starting their shifts and they are required to do self-temperature checks.

What would you say to a customer who is unsure if visiting is safe?

Walsh: Give us a call — we’d be happy to explain the precautions we are taking, and what your experience will be like, to see if it is something you are comfortable with.

Law: We take the state mandates and go a lot further than that. I want to make sure they are safe here and that they keep coming back. I want them to know that they can trust us … On our website, we have a whole page 

devoted to exactly what we do to keep people safe. 

Petty: Making the decision to visit any public place during this time is a personal one, and if you feel safer at home, we are continuing our no-contact curbside pickup and shipping discounts. For those who are looking to get some fresh air and sunshine and socialize while being mindful of the current circumstances, we want them to know that we are taking all reasonable precautions to keep our guests and staff safe. Common touch-points, bars, and seating are regularly sanitized. Cana took the “Loudoun Is Ready Pledge” and is dedicated to providing a safe and fun atmosphere for all.

Left: Jim Law, photo by Kaitlin Hill. Right: Lisa Petty, photo by Kaitlin Hill.

What can customers anticipate for Virginia Wine Month in October?

Walsh: We host a tasting series called DRINKWELL Virtual Tastings on Fridays at 5 p.m. on Facebook Live. These tastings feature wines and winemakers from around the world, and for Virginia Wine Month, we’re looking forward to chatting with some of our colleagues in Virginia and trying their wines on the DRINKWELL series.  

Law: The one nice thing about October, especially in early October, is we’re very busy with the harvest and the crush. And that is something people can observe. They can’t actually be on the floor, but we have decks where you can watch what’s going on.

Petty: We are still working out the details for Virginia Wine Month, but we are looking forward to celebrating with our friends and Cana family throughout the month. Our 2nd Annual Harvest Party is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 17 from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. We will need to make some changes due to the current situation, but plan for food and craft vendors, s’mores by the fire pits, amazing wine, and maybe even a beer option. We are also planning to hold a wine dinner with Market Salamander on Saturday, Oct. 24. Of course, we can’t let October go by without doing something fun for Halloween, so keep an eye on our social media channels to see what we have in store. ML

This article was first published in the September 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.