By Heidi Baumstark
It’s hard to beat the trio of wine, cheese and bread. But when all three are made right on the same property, that’s the epitome of “local.”
Getting back to roots. That’s what Chrysalis Vineyards at The Ag District in Middleburg is doing. The Ag District is a 412-acre protected district owned by proprietor, Jennifer McCloud who coined the term. It’s comprised of grape vines, a greenhouse to propagate Norton vines to sell to other wineries, cow pastures, milk production operations, a bakehouse and an event center to host weddings and special occasions.
McCloud’s mission is to proudly restore Virginia wines to world renown and celebrate the homecoming of Norton, championing “the real American grape.” And her overall mission extends beyond the grapevines to raising cows for cheeses made in the onsite creamery and harvesting heritage wheat for breads. “It’s all here, in one place,” the Michigan native said. “There’s an awakening, a restoration, a rebirth—and we’re part of it.”
First, the wines. Norton is native to Virginia. It was originally introduced by Dr. Daniel Norton of Richmond; hence its Virginia roots. After experimenting and crossing, he came up with the hybrid in 1822 and it’s known to be a sturdy lot and disease resistant. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Norton’s acclaim rose getting noticed for the first time in history that an indigenous American wine was turning heads on the international stage. One of those stages was at the 1873 Vienna World Exposition in Austria where Norton won a gold medal and was praised as the “best red wine of all nations.” It also received gold medals in Paris. But it died out during the 1920-1933 Prohibition era.
Today, McCloud’s vineyard is about growing Norton; “it’s what makes us different,” she said. “I fell in love with Norton; it spoke to the wild character of America. And I wanted to bring it back.” Some of the Norton wines at Chrysalis include Sarah’s Patio Red, a rose-style, Norton Estate Bottled wine and Borboleta, a port-style wine made from 100 percent Norton grapes. Also in her fields grow tried-and-true European varieties including Albariño, Viognier, Petit Verdot, Tannat and others. There are 70 acres of grapes; 40 of those acres are planted with Norton—which is the world’s largest single planting.
What sparked McCloud’s fascination with Norton wines? In 1989, Dennis Horton opened Horton Vineyards in Orange County, Virginia with a commitment to bring Norton vines back to their Virginia soil. His wines reacquainted Virginia wine lovers with their native grape with its rich, complex fruitiness. In 1995, Horton gave a lecture in Charlottesville that McCloud attended. That lecture inspired McCloud to advocate for the resurgence of this rugged, forgotten grape.
Just three years later in February 1998, she bought her Middleburg property which was then called Chandale Farm. “But the name had to go,” McCloud admitted, “since it was a combination of names from the owner’s children.” Her original Norton vines were planted later that year; they are now in their 22nd leaf. When McCloud first came to Virginia from Florida there were about 40 wineries in the state; now that’s the number of wineries in Loudoun alone. In 2018, the number of wineries and tasting rooms in the Commonwealth ranked fifth in the country with 276.
Now, the cheeses. McCloud’s Locksley Farmstead Cheese Company started in 2006 with American Milking Devons, a heritage breed originally from Devonshire, England. Other breeds graze at The Ag District including Ayrshire, Jersey cows, Brown Swiss, Red and Black Holsteins. Named Locksley—the home of Robin Hood of English folklore—the company produces artisan cheeses fittingly named after Robin Hood characters: Little John, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Nottingham, Prince John, The Monk.
Since 2018, cheeses have been made in the on-site creamery just one floor down from the main tasting room off of Route 50. Visitors can order a cheese plate filled with Gouda and Camembert wedges to pair with wines and take home packaged cheese. The artisan cheeses can also be found melted on top of pizzas with unique pairings of sweet potato puree drizzled with fig glaze, along with more traditional varieties. Chrysalis also sells hot sauce made from their red wine vinegar and fruity Norton jelly from 100 percent Norton grapes.
Now, the breads. Inside the Little River Bakehouse is a fully equipped kitchen with a rotating hearth oven where flatbreads and pizzas are baked. Chris Vincenzi is the head chef who recently came from The Inn at Little Washington, which is the D.C.-area’s first restaurant to earn the three-star Michelin rating last fall. Though there are lots of places offering pizzas, not many are making their own mozzarella to top off their pizzas, or crafting their own wines. McCloud takes pride in being part of this effort to revive the productivity of the land, similar to when George Washington called Loudoun County “the breadbasket of the American Revolution.” McCloud added, “When we can bring it from the field to the plate, this carries the value of the land.”
And about that land. With three Civil War battles that broke out in 1863 up and down Route 50—aptly named John Mosby Highway—the pounding of hoofs and whinnying cavalry would have been heard by anyone living close by. Those three battles in the summer of 1863, Battle of Aldie (June 17), Battle of Middleburg (June 17-19) and Battle of Upperville (June 21), were the prelude to the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, that is known as the turning point of the war in favor of the Union.
The Ag District is directly along Route 50 between the Bull Run Mountains and the Blue Ridge. Some sources say Mosby’s Rangers camped on or near overhanging rock formations that are on McCloud’s property. This is near the original Chrysalis vineyard on Champe Ford Road. According to “Hunting the Gray Ghost, Tour 1: The Mosby Mystique,” a Mosby Motoring Guide published in 2015 by the Mosby Heritage Area Association (MHAA), Stop #3 lists “Mosby’s Hill” about a half mile west of the village of Aldie. It describes this hill as a long, low, barren hill paralleling Route 50. The guide states, “Mosby often watched federal turnpike traffic from this hillside perch, which usually left him perfectly silhouetted against the sun, and thus mysterious and foreboding. Some Union forays simply turned back upon seeing him as it was unclear how many others accompanied him. Mosby, who often scouted alone, was wonderfully adept at his use of psychological warfare and the power of suggestion.”
The current tasting room opened in October 2015, and the original Chrysalis on Champe Ford Road now houses offices and the event center. And the land along this old unpaved road has a history dating to the Revolution. On Route 50 an historical marker titled “A Revolutionary War Hero” states, “Near here stood the home of Sergeant Major John Champe (1752-1798), Continental soldier. Champe faked desertion and enlisted in Benedict Arnold’s [1741-1801] British command for the purpose of capturing the traitor. Failing in his attempt, Champe rejoined the American army. His Meritorious service was attested to by such patriots as General Henry (Light Horse Harry) Lee.”
MHAA board member Dulany Morison of nearby Stoke Farm mentioned an obelisk that designates the location of where Champe’s house once stood in a field that was originally Stoke land. “My great grandfather Colonel Floyd Walter Harris used the stones from the crumbling house (not knowing of John Champe’s fame) to build the single lane bridge over Little River in about 1920, which is still used today,” Morison explained. “When he learned of Champe’s fame, he used the remaining stones to construct the obelisk.”
Considering the land’s history and how McCloud has made it her mission to restore the land to its agricultural roots, visitors can fulfill a yearning to experience the land, or to at least make a connection with it. “I’m able to say when people ask, ‘Where is this from?’ I can point and say, ‘It comes from right over there.’”
The tasting room at Chrysalis Vineyards at The Ag District is located at 39025 John Mosby Highway in Middleburg; call 540-687-8222 or visit www.chrysaliswine.com for information. Locksley Farmstead Cheese Company at The Ag District’s website is www.locksleycheese.com.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.