It’s been a tough year for vineyards and wineries statewide, but enhanced interest as of late in agritourism and the great outdoors is reason enough to celebrate the 32nd Annual Virginia Wine Month in October.
Mountain Run Winery in Culpeper County is raising a glass to the industry that in 2015 attracted more than 2.2 million tourists and generated an estimated $1.37 billion in economic impact for the state, according to Virginia Tourism Corporation.
This Saturday from noon to 7 p.m., the expansive grounds of Mountain Winery, located off of U.S. Route 29 off of Mountain Run Lake, will host its 5th Annual Fall Festival & Craft Fair.
“We will use about 25 acres of our property to make sure everyone can safely, socially distance,” said David Foster, who runs the winery with wife, Kayti. “It’s going to be a perfect fall day. All our trees are at peak color right now.”
More than 30 local craft vendors will be offering homemade wares and food and there will be live music all day from James Tamelcoff, a Culpeper Has Talent finalist, and South Canal Street. The Pepper’s Grill food truck will be on site and so will Far Gohn Brewery along with Kona Ice and a brand new local cidery, Son of a Bear, serving up hot apple cider. Mountain Run Winery has a playground for children and plenty of space to spread out.
Reached by phone Thursday morning, Foster was visiting a fellow grower north of Sperryville in search of grapes to purchase. That’s because four frosts in late spring basically decimated crops for many Virginia wineries, he said.
So in addition to ongoing financial struggles due to COVID-19, some vineyards lost everything, Foster said.
“Our total crop yield was under one ton this year,” he said. “We usually have closer to 10 tons (of grapes). It was a massive loss—one of the worst years anyone has ever seen for fruit-bearing crops.”
Asked what the 2020 vintage was like, Foster replied, “There isn’t one. I’m heading up north to buy grapes from one of my partner wineries that actually has some.”
The March-April COVID-19 shutdown halted visitation and resulted in an overflow of inventory at the local winery. Between the frost and pandemic restrictions eventually loosening up, having extra product kind of balanced itself out, he said.
“But if we had three years like this quite a few of us would be out of business. We have our fingers crossed for 2021,” Foster said.
He found some salvation in the fact that wineries and vineyards, by nature, feature big, safe, outdoor spaces where people can spend time with families and friends.
“We’ve been really busy since we’ve been able to reopen. It’s been great helping us get through the bad times,” Foster said, mentioning a 50 percent revenue drop in March and April. Major music events and weddings were cancelled. “But we’ve had a great fall. A lot of people want to get outside and enjoy that perfect fall weather.”
Looking ahead to winter, he added, the future is unknown in terms of any predicted surges in COVID-19 cases and potential restrictions. Mountain Run Winery just purchased five propane heaters in preparation for warming its outdoor areas for visitors. Admission is free to the Fall Fest and $5 for parking.
Home to 312 wineries, Virginia is now the sixth-largest wine region in the U.S., according to a recent news release from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
“Virginia Wine Month is a time to honor the resilience and pioneering spirit that cultivated our world-class wines,” he said in a statement. “Winemakers are no strangers to uncertainty, and the wine industry has demonstrated its ability to adapt and thrive despite the challenges created by the ongoing pandemic this year. This October, I encourage people across the Commonwealth to join me in celebrating the diversity, distinction, and unique character of our wine and the Virginians who make them.”
For information about Virginia wine and wine travel in the state, see VirginiaWine.org or download the Virginia Wine App.
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