Once upon a time, there was a farm in Williamsburg, Virginia
For a number of years, I have shared with friends and guests the story of how we acquired this farm.
At the time, I was International President of Fragrances Selective. Peggy felt that we were ready for a new life, for a project that we considered our own and that would provide a home for our two boys who were then 10 and 8.
We looked at 52 farms in Virginia and decided to purchase the one we could not afford.
Wessex Hundred, as we decided to name it, was a 300-acre farm overlooking College Creek and the James River. It was bought in ’83. Peggy, the boys, the au pair, the dogs and I all moved in during the Summer of that year. That portion of the story was detailed in earlier blogs.
To help finance the project, I kept my job as a business mercenary for another four years, flying back to Williamsburg late on Friday nights and leaving at 5:00 AM on Monday mornings, that is if I were not travelling overseas.
Before taking the first steps of planting the vineyards, we contacted Virginia Tech and Lucy Morton, a special viticultural consultant who had completed her studies in France and translated a book on ampelography.
From my early days, our mother had passed on the wisdom of environmental protection. She loved nature and would relish our annual outing to look at cherry trees blooming in the Spring. Somehow, her respect for nature stayed with me.
While working in Burgundy in the late 70’s, I had developed a lot of interest in grapevine growing. The first planting on Wessex Hundred took place in ’85 which Peggy coordinated all by herself while I was pursuing trying to expand the savings we needed for the project.
In ’87, we leased a couple of other vineyards and had our first grape harvest. The first Governor’s White wine was bottled in January ’88 and sold in February. It received the Best of Virginia Gold Award at the Norfolk Yacht Club. As we were building the winery, we also concentrated on the creation of our own “Black Forest”. Phase I was the planting of 37 acres with the assistance of the Virginia Dept. of Forestry.
Our total surface of woods was expanded to the current 75 acres including the deep ravines that feature some beautiful cypresses which, I was told, are probably several hundred years old.
Plantings took place between ’89 and ’95; I cannot help myself, we are still planting trees every year. Over 50,000 trees have been planted on this farm since we purchased it. Peggy had communicated to me an understanding of the life of the soil.
We determined our policy that we would never exceed more than 20% of the farm in grapes which leaves over 150 acres (that we refer to as “the flats”) for a produce garden and, eventually, animals.
Over these last 25 years, it has been one of my missions to take care of the woods, select the healthier trees, cut the various parasite plants (of which there are many in Virginia: poison ivy, poison oak, VA creeper, wild grapevines, honeysuckle, etc.) The planting of loblollies on the 37 acres now provides a canopy some 45’ tall. It is absolutely quiet and it brings me to peace with myself.
When I work in the woods, I am still removing the legacy of the time when the farm was rented out. Over the years, we have removed three automobiles from the ravines, pulling them out with a long chain and the backhoe. We are still finding old beer bottles, barbed wire, and rusted metal posts. However, in the flats, the soil has benefitted from 25 years of being fallow, mowed down each year to rebuild the top soil.
Water percolates and riverlets are now active in the deep ravines which had been dry when we purchased the farm.
There is so much to do. It is a passion. It is lovely to breathe fresh air in the woods.
To all, “Enjoy Life”.
Patrick G. Duffeler
Founder & Chairman
P.S.: For those interested in trees, I recommend reading the book of Peter Wohlleben, “The Hidden Life of Trees”. Mr. Wohlleben is a Waldmeister in the Eiffel region of Germany which has some fabulous forests.