Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyards opened in June on a 40-acre parcel off Plank Road that is part of the Bundoran Farm preservation development. The site, which has stunning views to the west over the fields where the Albemarle County Fair was held until this year, is owned by Dean and Lynn Andrews. He has a background in hotels and restaurants and Lynn also owns Easton Events, a Charlottesville event organizing company with a strong reputation in the wedding business and other high-end events.
The vineyard, designed with wedding location needs in mind, is getting its legs under it quickly. Few dates for weddings are open in next year’s schedule. Its other emphasis is on offering fresh, gourmet food to enjoy their wines with. “We love the food as much as the wines,” Dean Andrews said.
“We’re going through first-year travails, but it’s not been bad,” said Andrews. “We probably have 40 to 50 regulars now for lunch. That’s our thrust—to come up with more reasons to come here mid-week for lunch. Our biggest point of differentiation [from other area wineries] is building on the connection between food and wines. We have our own kitchen garden and our cuisine and menu are seasonal. We’ll dry the trimmings from the vines this fall and use them to smoke cheeses and meats. We make our own flat breads with toppings, like pizzas.” The expansive, well-appointed kitchen includes a wood-burning oven.
Andrews has lived in Charlottesville for 12 years. He was formerly chief operating officer for Orient Express Hotels. He bought Keswick Hall from Lord Richard Ashley and so got acquainted with the area.
“What happened was my portfolio included a vineyard in Tuscany,” Andrews explained. “I had done wine importing. I knew the wine business at that end. I spent a lot of time in wineries. For a small scale producer, it’s really hard.”
Pippin Hill’s wines—about 16 types are offered—are being made “custom crush” through Michael Shap’s Virginia Wineworks facility near Keene. “We want to offer a wide range because what we do on the event side warrants it,” said Andrews.
“Last year we put together a farm cooperative that combines 24 acres of vineyards,” he said. Six acres of that are at Pippin Hill, which Andrews tends to himself with a helper. He wants to add three acres of vines.
“Local wineries are very supportive of each other,” Andrews said. “Everybody realizes the mutuality of it and promotes the wine trail.”
He approves of Donald Trump’s arrival in the local wine industry. “I believe it will be positive for the Virginia wine business and the Monticello Wine Trail. He is perceived as a disciplined investor. His choosing to be here is a confirmation of our emerging wine industry.
“Eight out of the ten richest counties in America are within a two-hour drive of Charlottesville,” Andrews noted. “If tourism grows …”
Pippin Hill expects to produce a total of 3,000 cases next year. In 2011, it is looking at 2,200 cases, Andrews predicted. The ultimate goal is 5,000 cases per year, he said. Andrews said he thinks Pippin Hill’s Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc are its best wines so far.
The vineyard is starting a wine club this month with either three, six or 12 bottles shipped quarterly to club members, who also get discounts on cases and other perks. It is also developing an online ordering site.
“If you look at the East Coast, agriculturally speaking,” explained Andrews, “There is only a narrow band, which comes down into Virginia, where it make sense to be in the vineyard business. Some German-style wines do well in the Finger Lakes [in New York]. Virginia is building a reputation for better quality wines. ‘Terroir’ is a term coined by the Benedictines in the Middle Ages that refers to the juxtaposition of climate, soil and winds in a location. We looked at 20 parcels. This one had 18 inches of topsoil, the water quality is good, and the winds are favorable for resisting frost.
“I knew the footprint and scale I wanted for the buildings,” he said. He had Virginia vernacular farm architecture from around the 1840s in mind for the general appearance. The buildings were constructed in under eight months by Geobars, a Vermont company that uses post and beam construction with diagonal framing.
Andrews called the vineyard’s large banquet hall, which seats up to 250, the “granary.”
“It’s a rustic agrarian style but it’s comfortable for weddings at any level of formality.
“Lynn brought in the flow planning, the aesthetics and the bridal loft,” Andrews said. The bridal loft is a large room with full-length mirrors and a balcony overlooking the granary room where a bride and her entourage can get ready for the ceremony.
Pippin Hill has hosted 10 weddings since it opened and is nearly booked for the season (April to November) next year. It has a very wide porch for sheltering a reception and an adjoining grassy area where a tent can be set up. For a Saturday night, the venue fee is $7,500. “The place becomes yours. The chef (Amalia Scatena, classically trained in Italy) is yours. We’re prewired for sound and bands. We provide all the things you need but flowers. It’s a comprehensive package.”
The vineyard is also available for private events and dinners.
“We’re having fun. It’s hard work and we’ve learned a lot. I was working out of New York, not seeing Lynn much, and I wanted to do something in Charlottesville. When I ran the business plan numbers they actually worked. So it made sense.”
Andrews said he might open a similar winery in the Middleburg area and that another event venue (not a vineyard) also makes sense in Charleston, South Carolina.
“It’s a varied business. It’s about grapes, wines, farming, restaurants and marketing. We are a year ahead in the business plan.”
Tastings cost $5 per person ($8 per person for private group tastings), and the vineyard is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.