Hunt Country Tour: A Ticket to Adventure

Story by Michelle Baker
Photos by Joanne Maisano

The Hunt Country Tour ticket is much more than a ticket to visit equestrian centers. It is a two-day admission ticket to another way of life, a pass to a lecture, a ticket to a movie, a time to meet and greet with entrepreneurs, plus a VIP Pass to meet world renowned equestrians. The $35 Stable Tour Admission ticket is a weekend adventure.

(Above: Gum Tree Farm Designs owner Franny Kansteiner with Rosie in her on-site store.)

Today’s version of life on a farm is very different than 50 years ago. The 60th anniversary of the Hunt Country Stable Tour gave visitors a behind-the-scenes look at equestrian Virginia and a peek at the grandeur of some of the finest equestrian facilities in the world. Organized by three-time Chair Katherine “Kat” Gemmer, the event was held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 25 and 26, featuring autograph sessions, demonstrations, exhibitions, book signings and concerts and 150 volunteers per day.

(Above: Long Line demo of Roy Rogers at Orange Hill.)

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of farm owners and managers, the Stable Tour offers a remarkable opportunity to appreciate all of God’s creation and the interdependence of the land, animals, and people,” said Trinity Episcopal Reverend Edward O. Miller, Jr. “Observing this delicate balance provides both the refreshing day and implicit reminder that caring for the earth and for one another is imperative now and for the future.”

At Church: A Good Place to Start

On Saturday, those who stopped in Upperville at Trinity Episcopal Church to pick up their tickets were able to greet the Piedmont Foxhounds in the Bishop’s Garden and have a photo opt with some of the hounds and meet the Masters. It was also the place to enjoy some Rockland’s barbecue and visit the Lemonade Stand, manned by the church youth. On Sunday, visitors and parishioners enjoyed the Trinity Episcopal Church Cathedral brass quartet.

On the Farm

While the sheep shearer talked to visitors and worked, Gum Tree Farm Designs owner Franny Kansteiner packed the clippings both days and answered questions. The hands-on owner grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and was happy to share her story with the curious crowd who asked everything from “does it hurt the sheep to get sheared” to what does “farm to fashion” mean.

(Above: Sheep of Gum Tree.)

“We thought, between the vegetable garden and the sheep, we would raise everything here and I was spinning and knitting and that is how we ended up getting into it,” said Kansteiner who bought three sheep and now owns hundreds. Today, she raises merino wool sheep on her farm, creates beautiful handmade items, and promotes the “farm to fashion” movement. Her business continues to expand with a new men’s line of vests, shirts and soon lined slippers.

Early tour birds who dropped by newly refurbished Middleburg Training Center in Middleburg watched thoroughbred horses being trained on the race track. The tour ticket included an opportunity to meet world-renowned equestrians at state of the art indoor arenas, like Chestnut Run Farm in The Plains where Alexandra Arabak entertained visitors. At Poplar Grange Farm in Marshall, Lindsay Kelley, a competitive international three-day event Rider, FEI winner and avid foxhunter with the Piedmont Foxhounds and Orange County Hunt performed dressage.

(Above: Poplar Grange.)

At Salamander Resort & Spa Equestrian Center in Middleburg, AQHA expert Mike Jennings introduced spectators to the Western style of riding. And at Saint Bride’s Farm in Upperville, the staff introduced a new addition to their stable. Sunday was the place to be when the Saint Bride’s farm team presented brand new foal Oceana and his mom Tua efele. Saint Bride’s Farm specializes in breeding, training and showing off world-class show jumpers.

(Above: Gum Tree Stable.)

Visitors to Oak Spring Garden Foundation Upperville, part of the Paul and Bunny Mellon estate, could view a movie about the gardens, see the work being done on site and tour the brooder barns. Peter Crane, a renowned botanical researcher and evolutionary plant scientist, and his wife, Eleanor, were onsite.

(Above: Tack Room at Chestnut Run Stable.)

“We are very fortunate. Sir Peter Crane and Lady Eleanor Crane have been here both days,” said Buckey Slater. The perfect way to end the two-day adventure was at Banbury Cross Polo in Middleburg for free Sunday afternoon polo. Hunt Country Tour Ambassador Betsy Crenshaw said some 800 tickets were sold over the two days. The church netted $53,000, which was on par with last year’s receipts.

(Above: Chestnut Run.)

It’s almost like being on a two-day outdoor classroom experience, Crenshaw said. “When you go to the barn to see different styles and different techniques, you are learning. I’m always interested in how people are doing things. You pick up pointers. And if you’re going to learn about the industry, you want to learn from the people who are doing it right.”

(Above L to R : Inside Saint Bride’s Stable and Orange Hill)

The organizers of the tour remembered one such gentleman, accomplished horseman S. Bruce Smart, who for decades welcomed Trinity Church Stable tour guests to their historic 530-acre horse farm, Trappe Hill. This year Trappe Hill was not on the stable tour, but the owner was remembered with a tribute in the program.

(Above: Future race horse from Chilly Bleak farm.)

This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.

Fine Wine & Spirits At the Winery at Bull Run

Story by Kaitlin Hill | Photos by Callie Broaddus

Just thirty minutes from Middleburg and under an hour from D.C., The Winery at Bull Run is well worth a trip from any distance for exquisite wine in a unique setting. The gorgeous wrap-around views by day and inviting string lights by night make the winery a choice spot for weddings and celebrations. And the civil war artifacts that cover the walls, collected and curated by owner Jon Hickox, are a history buff’s dream.

However, this spectacular 225-acre site is also home to a long history and spooky secret that attracts guests from far and wide for the winery’s signature Haunted Wine Tours.
Hickox, a Fairfax County native from a military family, had an intense interest in wartime history from the time he was a boy. He says, “The history imprinting was dad, with his military background, taking me to civil war battlefields. In fact, even my sixth birthday was at Fort Sumter, which seemed normal at the time, instead of going to Chuck E. Cheese.” While other kids navigated ball pits and traded tickets for arcade treasures, Hickox was out with friends or his younger brother, scouring historical sites for civil war artifacts—many of which are now on display at the winery—and learning local lore.
During his formative years, when he wasn’t rummaging for relics, he worked on a friend’s family farm in Chantilly. His experience there helped him develop a deep respect for Virginia’s land, its people and its past. As a senior at George Mason University, he met his wife Kim, with whom he would dedicate time to exploring Virginia’s many wineries. This led to an idea. “I started to get the idea that maybe I could open up a winery closer in…that became kind of a dream of mine,” Hickox explains.

The tours at The Winery at Bull Run are so popular that they quickly sold out for 2018.

The tours at The Winery at Bull Run are so popular that they quickly sold out for 2018.

Though Hickox had never opened—much less owned—a winery before, the skills he acquired while establishing his remodeling company, Colonial Remodeling, his background in agriculture and his expansive knowledge of “Olde Virginia” history gave him the foundation he needed to tackle the project. He recalls, “When I thought about this wine business, I started to look at it just like I do with all my construction projects. What does it take?” He continues, “As I went to wineries, I began to analyze their businesses. I felt like it was something I could break down into components and understand.”
In 2008, he purchased a 21-acre farm just off route 29, nestled near neighboring Manassas National Battlefield Park, which he says, “just happened to be what I thought would be the perfect location for the winery.”

With a plot of land at the epicenter of Virginia’s Civil War history in hand, Hickox would spend the next four years learning the business and building his unique vision of a winery, one that produced outstanding wine and honored and narrated the remarkable story of the surrounding landscape.
In addition to lessons in water supply, grape growing and winemaking, Hickox began the massive undertaking of visually transforming the space, which had long been neglected. In doing so, he uncovered the remains of a wrecked house, and with it, the story of the site’s secret past. He remembers, “There was an old house that was on the property that had burned down thirty years ago. I didn’t know anything about it, but as I cleared the roof that had caved in and the walls that had caved, and gutted out all the dangerous stuff, I began to learn about the house.”

The house, he learned, stood on the Hillwood estate during the First Battle of Bull Run and served as a hospital. Also called the First Manassas, that civil war clash in 1861 happened just feet from Hillwood and resulted in nearly 5,000 casualties and countless injuries, many of which were likely attended to at the hospital. Hickox says, “Given the proximity to the battlefield, I knew something happened here.”
According to Hickox and his staff, the ruins aren’t the only reminder of what may have occurred on or near the winery’s land. Hickox remembers, “I was looking at the video camera because we had a bunch of false alarms and we couldn’t explain them…I am panning from one to the other…and I see something outside on the porch, so I snapped a couple quick pictures.” He continues, “What it appears to be is what we call ‘the gathering.’” Mr. Entwisle, the previous inhabitant of the property, confirmed Hickox’s suspicions. Hickox explains, “He told me a story that when they were kids, the one guy and his sister would fight over who would have to go to the pump house for the well because they always got freaked out by going there, because there were a million ghost stories, stories of presences and weird sounds.” When Hickox asked Entwisle to indicate on a map where this ghostly gathering would occur, he pointed to the exact spot from Hickox’s photograph.

This spooky tale is just one of the stories guests will hear as they are guided by lantern brandishing, period dressed storytellers and Winery at Bull Run staff across the eerily quiet grounds. During the Haunted Wine Tour, spirit seekers are treated to a litany of historically documented and a few more recent onsite ghost experiences, as well as award-winning wines, as they trek around the property in the dark of night. The experience can be spine-tingling, especially as grape vines rustle in the wind and a barely-visible outline approaches from the distance. While it could be an apparition, it is more likely just a winery team member ready to supply the wine. On the tour, customers can calm their nerves with bold reds and delicious whites like a 2017 Delaney, named for the owner’s daughter. It is extremely refreshing with notes of Asian pear and lemon.

The popular tour runs from September through early November but sells out quickly. In fact, the 2018 dates are already booked. To meet with demand, Hickox is considering expanding the time frame. But he also suggests guests go for the Historical Tour and Tasting, which combines a lovely property walk, visits to actual Civil War sites and a full wine tasting along the way.

Jon Hickox, owner of The Winery at Bull Run, parlayed his love of history into the winery's signature Haunted Wine Tours.

Jon Hickox, owner of The Winery at Bull Run, parlayed his love of history into the winery’s signature Haunted Wine Tours.

The winery and its tours are clear expressions of Hickox’s personality and passions and should not be missed. By day, the winery is charming, inviting and extremely fun. Hickox and his staff pull out all the stops in the name of guest experience, serving exceptional wine in a picturesque setting. The ghost tour is undeniably well done, and will undoubtedly have you looking over your shoulder, even if only for another glass of your favorite vintage. Hickox and his team create a uniquely Virginian experience unlike any other that pays tribute to the state’s astonishing history and highlights the staff’s unrivaled hospitality. As for the ghosts that visit after nightfall, my only guess is that they were too reluctant to leave such a special place.


This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue.