One of the first things that catches your eye when you walk onto the patio of Meriwether Springs Vineyard & Brewery is the teepee. It’s made of gray canvas, about seven feet tall, and it’s flanked by a play castle and an assortment of balls, hula hoops, and Frisbees. Beyond this is a footbridge crafted from one huge, arching tree, spanning a dry creek bed and leading to the ruins of the original Lewis family springhouse. String lights illuminate the area. This kind of childhood paradise is not a common sight at Charlottesville-area vineyards, but owners Ed and Regina Pierce have deliberately chosen to include elements like these just for the delight of the vineyard’s smallest patrons. Within a sphere that sometimes feels stuffy or elite, the Pierces have opened a venue that has something for everyone.
Regina, whose mother is Austrian, spent some of her childhood in Europe, and fondly remembers afternoons at vineyards and bier gardens with family of all ages. Now that she and Ed are grandparents, she says, it is even more important to them that all feel welcome at their vineyard/brewery.
While the Pierces have included fun elements for kids, they are serious about making great- quality wine and beer. To do so requires expertise, and theirs came with many hours of trial and error. As career educators, Ed and Regina Pierce are used to instructing others, but as brand new vintners, they became the pupils.
The Pierces bought the 40-acre parcel of land in 2011 because it abutted their property and they wanted to keep it from being developed. But in order to afford the mortgage, they needed the land to generate a profit, so they decided to plant a vineyard and use the post-and-beam barn that had been built on the land 16 years ago as an event venue. With the advice of numerous consultants, the Pierces planted grapes in 2012, knowing it would take three or more years to grow a crop worthy of wine-making. At first, the going was rough.
“The first year we planted, half the vineyard died,” Ed Pierce says. “We had a really late April frost where it got in the single digits. We replanted, and the second year, we lost a third of it in an almost identical scenario.”
All of the experts they consulted stressed the importance of “learning the vineyard” so that they would be able to knowledgeably evaluate the input of future vineyard managers. So rather than outsourcing the care of their vineyard, Ed and Regina rolled up their sleeves and, with the help of their adult children and some local high school students, worked the land themselves.
“It’s really labor-intensive, so that added years to our lives,” Ed laughs. “If there was a mistake to be made, we made it, which is really how you learn. But now it’s in good shape. We had a good harvest last year and should have a decent one this year.”
Meriwether Springs serves six different wines, all from their own vineyards and made via “custom crush” by the King family. The current local favorites are the petit verdot and the vidal blanc.
In late 2017, Ed and Regina made the decision to add a brewpub to their business.
“We would open the winery and couples would come in and sometimes one would want wine and the other would want beer,” Ed says. “We thought, ‘Why not offer both?’”
They constructed a 10-barrel brew house and a bar and hired John Bryce, an internationally recognized brew master, to oversee the brewing. He is currently producing six different original beers. The soft opening of the brewery was in August, orchestrated by Jesse Pappas, the new director of operations.
In addition to all of that, Meriwether Springs is also an Airbnb rental. A spacious home that sleeps 14, it has been popular for UVA alumni events, family reunions, and bachelorette parties. It is the only establishment like it—combination winery, brewery, and guest house—in the state.
And Ed and Regina aren’t done expanding their offerings. In October, they will start serving wood-fired pizza made to order on the premises. As an unconventional twist, they are retrofitting an old Alaskan fire-fighting bus for food preparation, and constructing a wood- burning oven on a trailer. Stay tuned.