A Reflection on Forty Years at Wessex Hundred
When Patrick Duffeler drives past the crepe myrtles that line the Wessex Hundred entrance, parks his car and walks any part of the scenic property, he is simply at home. He and his wife, Francoise, live on the farm, where he can walk to the winery and the Gabriel Archer Tavern, greeting customers, many of whom he has known for years. Patrick regularly joins Francoise tending to the details at Wedmore Place, the winery’s onsite hotel, and he is in and out of Wessex and Westbury Halls multiple times a day. His own Black Forest calls him most every weekend.
Forty years ago, none of this was here. Back in the early 1980s, these grounds contained an abandoned farm with two dilapidated houses and a number of downed trees from a recent hurricanes. Vines as thick as a muscular man’s forearm, cypresses with roots sticking out in the brackish water and heaps of trash from junked cars to leftover farming chemicals would have daunted the most ambitious of entrepreneurs.
None of it fazed Patrick, who shared a vision with his then wife, Peggy, whom he lost in 2004. While close friends and family questioned their enthusiasm for opening a winery in southeastern Virginia, Patrick and Peggy went to work creating a European village smack in the middle of Williamsburg.
In reflection, Patrick says, “It turned out better than I imagined.”
Patrick documented the early years of the farm in the winery’s “Inside the Winery” blog and early drawings and photos from that period chronicle its progression.
His memory remains sharp for names and dates, and he likes to draw with pencil to complement the winery’s oral history he knows backward and forward.
Standing just outside the Gabriel Archer Tavern, Patrick returns for a moment to 1982. “I can see the tractors driving through there,” he says, pointing to two oversized Tavern windows and its entrance. The tractor shed with quarters for the winery’s first viticulturist was transformed into a restaurant.
Patrick’s familiarity with every aspect of the winery is unique. Every inch of ground has his footprint. The cover of the most recent annual report shows him beneath a towering tree in the Black Forest, a seemingly endless amount of green space reminiscent of something from Grimm’s fairytales. To anyone else, it would be hard to find the exact tree in that image amid the thousands that are planted close to one another, a seemingly endless canopy. Patrick pulls his golf cart right up to it as if a sign marked its presence.
In the last 40 years, Patrick has been far more than the average founder of a business. He’s an environmentalist committed to conservation and has dedicated more than 200 acres toward that end. He calls himself “a reasonable mason and wood craftsman,” who built the doors to Wessex Hall and Wedmore Place. He is a historian with curiosity, purposeful in his naming of everything related to the winery, starting with the farm. Wessex Hundred is named in part for Peggy’s Angle-Saxon heritage as she was American, and pays homage to Patrick of Saxon, as he was born in Belgium of a family mostly Germanic in heritage. The use of “Hundred” dates back to the Colonial era to describe parcels of land sufficient to support 100 families.
Patrick has been a grounds man, taming many of the vines himself while donned in military fatigues, a helmet and tool belt. He’s been a curator, collecting the antiques, tapestries, art work and period pieces displayed throughout the winery’s buildings. He enjoys the marketing and financial side of the business in addition to every aspect that leads to growing grapes, nurturing them and harvesting them to produce a quality wine.
It’s been four decades of milestones. Patrick and Peggy first laid eyes on this farm in January 1982, one of the 52 estates they evaluated for their ambitious venture. They purchased it in 1983 and opened the winery in 1985. The first harvest was celebrated in 1987 and the first wine, Governor’s White, launched in February 1988. The winery’s Chardonnay achieved the Governor’s Cup in 1989. Westbury Hall was built in 2001 and was renovated in 2016. Larger Wessex Hall dates back to 2000. Wedmore Place was completed by 2007.
Credit Wessex Hundred for putting Virginia wine on the map. Patrick appreciates the recognition, the awards and distinctions the winery has earned. But seeing people enjoy the grounds, whether for a once-in-a-lifetime event, such as a wedding on the lawn or connecting for casual conversation at the 1619 Pavilion, brings that smile. It’s one that lights up his entire face, an unmistakable twinkle in his eyes, when he extends a warm, welcoming hand.
But make no mistake. While Patrick savors what is, he very much has an eye on what could be, what should be, and if you know him, what will be.
“Lots of improvements to make,” he says, preparing for an afternoon meeting that will address many of them.
Indeed, 40 years of Wessex Hundred inspire him for 40 more.