“There is no earthly way that we would be making wine right now without Virginia Wineworks,” said Steve Madey, owner of Hague Winery. This sentiment was echoed amongst the six other wineries also debuting their labels at the 1st Annual Virginia Wineworks Festival held June 27-28. A veritable coming-out party for these debs using the state’s first custom crush service, the festival publicly realized more than a decade of dreams and hard work for Madey who bought the site of his winery in 2000 and planted his first grapes in 2005. Retired from the Navy, Madey held a position with the U.S. Senate and used his access to the Library of Congress to research Virginia’s AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) before settling on an eleventh-generation peach farm with a property dating back to 1835. With the help of vineyard consultant Lucie Morton, the first five acres grew well and sold to three different wineries after the harvest of 2007. In September 2008, Madey brought his grapes to Virginia Wineworks, where co-owners Michael Shaps and Philip Stafford blended them, illustrating Madey’s tenet to live by—find people who know more than you.
Jim Turpin and his wife, Susan Prokop, found their “encore career” with their Democracy Vineyards in Nelson County.
Reputable winemakers, Shaps and Stafford are helping these fledgling wineries get their start. Like proud parents backstage at their kids’ school play, Shaps and Stafford raced around helping their clients with everything from name tags to the temperature of their whites. “They are all my children, and I want to see them succeed,” said Shaps. A common model in Europe and on the West Coast of America, custom crush facilities allow an aspirational winemaker to dip his toe into the water without taking the costly plunge of investing in his own equipment. The festival’s attendance, estimated at 350, surpassed Shaps’ and Stafford’s expectations, who hope to double production and to hold two festivals next year.
Decked out in red, white and blue to commemorate the theme and inaugural offerings of Democracy Vineyards, were husband and wife co-founders, Susan Prokop and Jim Turpin. Their common backgrounds as political operatives (they met at a 1995 Clinton White House Christmas party) and their passion for wine and vineyard-touring led the couple to a parcel of land in Nelson County that eventually revealed a link to Turpin’s apple-growing ancestors. Feeling like fate had taken hold of what they call their “encore career,” Prokop and Turpin worked with Charlottesville’s Small Business Development Center to buy the parcel of land and plant their first vines in April 2009. To jump-start production while their vines took hold, Prokop and Turpin bought some unbottled juice from other vineyards to blend into various wines at Virginia Wineworks under their Democracy Vineyards label. It was clear from their smiles and playful way with one another that Prokop and Turpin enjoyed telling their story as much as I enjoyed hearing it, so it was no surprise when they ended their tale with, “We think wine should be enjoyable.”
Other labels featured at the festival were Native Son, Las Manos, Montdomaine, Well Hung, and Bradford Reed. A democracy fulfilling its ideal, Virginia Wineworks is a group of very different people working together towards a common goal. Hear hear to that.
Four ways to drink local:
Democracy Vineyards Declaration Reserve 2008, $15
Hague Winery Rosé 2008, $14
Bradford Reed Merlot 2006, $16.99
Well Hung Vineyard Cabernet Franc, $18.99