Even on a Cold Day, Viticulturist Lisa O’Conner Feels the Warmth at Wessex Hundred
Lisa O’Conner will tell you she chooses to forgo manicures and makeup as Viticulturist at the Williamsburg Winery.
Neither works for her in the elements that range from pouring rain, falling snow on a cold morning and 102 degrees on a July afternoon. No matter what’s going on outside,, she can’t imagine being anywhere else except among 60 acres of vineyards at the Wessex Hundred Farm.
Her passion for the outdoors is only rivaled by what she feels for Williamsburg Winery owner Patrick Duffeler and his wife, Francoise.
“My first day here I met Patrick. He shook my hand and told me, ‘This business is not just a business. It’s a family and everybody here is family.’ ”
Those weren’t empty words. This is Lisa’s second stint at the winery. When she left, she was drawn back because of the Duffelers and the kinship she feels for winemaker Matthew Meyer.
“Matthew is one of the main reasons why I stay,” she says.
Her crew is another, and of course, the Duffelers.
“They treat every one of my guys like family,” she says.
Viticulture is not work that appeals to many women.
“It’s not a perfect weather job,” Lisa says.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. Unexpected temperature drops and inclement weather make for long days in the vineyards. Lisa often works on her knees. Gloves are a nuisance when she ties the vines to maximize grape production so she uses her bare hands. Her nails aren’t pretty.
“You don’t show them off at a Sunday barbecue,” she says.
Yet she’d trade none of it.
She grew up in West Virginia, where her family owned a vineyard. She knew viticulture wasn’t glamourous work, and admittedly, didn’t plan on making it a career. The warmth she felt from the Duffelers changed her perspective along with the long days and sometimes longer nights she spends ensuring maximum yield and flavor from every grape vine.
“This place is special to me,” she says. “I feel very privileged to work some place where every day I see eagles, hawks, deer, every animal they have in Virginia. They treat me like family here. I couldn’t have another job.”
Lisa rarely spends time indoors when she goes home. She’d rather be in her gazebo, a good read in hand and her two rescue puppies, Tank and Gunnie, nearby. A glass of wine makes it better; she prefers Adagio for the reds and Albariño among the whites.
“I only drink wine from the Williamsburg Winery,” she says. “When you’re working with the best, why would you drink anything else?”