Wine & Brine Lounge 3/18: Meet Captain Chris Ludford - The Williamsburg Winery

Wine & Brine Lounge 3/18: Meet Captain Chris Ludford

The Wine & Brine Lounge at the Gabriel Archer Tavern will reopen for the 2017 season on March 18. The inaugural 2017 weekend will feature Pleasure House Oysters from Ludford Brothers Oyster Company in Virginia Beach. Founder Chris Ludford will be on hand shucking Pleasure House Oysters pulled fresh from the Lynnhaven River.

Ludford, who grew up on the waterways in Virginia Beach, is a third-generation waterman. As a kid, he sold minnows caught in local waters and was a crabber before recognizing the potential of local oysters. Named for his three young sons, he founded Ludford Brothers Oyster Co. in 2010 and has since built a reputation as one of the region’s most most passionate and dedicated oysterman. A fireboat captain for the City of Virginia Beach Fire Department by day, oyster farming is a labor of love and legacy for Ludford. Labor being the key word.

The work of oyster farming is physically demanding and requires significant time. Ludford’s day begins before sunrise; he and his mother, Beverly Ludford, meet early at the Virginia Beach Municipal Marina, ahead of low tide. The next four or five hours includes harvesting, sorting, counting and bagging oysters for delivery. Other important tasks like sorting seeds, collecting used shells for reef replenishment, cleaning and repairing oyster equipment, can add several hours to the day.

Adding to the physical demands is Ludford’s traditional approach to oyster farming. Other than the motor on his boat, he uses no other machinery. Everything at Ludford Brothers Oyster Co. is done by hand – sorting, washing, and tumbling the oysters (a process used to break the lips off oyster shells, forcing them to form a deeper cup). If the labor of aquaculture wasn’t enough, other factors like predators such as cownose rays that feed on small, juvenile oysters and algae that can suffocate the oysters in cages present additional challenges. After 18 – 24 months of care, labor, and fending off predators, Ludford’s oysters reach the 3-inches required to be a Pleasure House Oyster and ready for distribution to a select list of the finest restaurants in the Tidewater area.

The elegant, plump and sweet-briny balanced Pleasure House Oysters are popular with discerning ostreophiles looking to experience Lynnhaven River ‘merroir’ – the expression of water salinity (between 27-28 parts per thousand), surrounding marsh grasses and algae.

Conservation and legacy are as important to Ludford as the oysters he works so diligently to cultivate. Ludford is part of a group of oyster farmers dedicated to conserving local waterways and a food source that played such an important role our early history. The Lynnhaven River, the southernmost river in the Chesapeake Bay estuary system and closest to the ocean, served as the breadbasket of early America. Wild oysters growing in the waters of the Lynnhaven were an important food source for early English settlers following the ‘first landing’ at Cape Henry in 1607. They became prized delicacies abroad – highly sought after in Europe and Russia.

Today, oysters are an important part of the ecosystem of local waterways, including the Lynnhaven River. Each oyster filters about 50 gallons of water a day, removing nitrogen, phosphorus, and other organic and inorganic matter from the water resulting in cleaner water for aquatic life. Ludford devotes considerable time to collecting used oyster shells and returning them to the water to help build reefs for future harvests.

The opening weekend of the Wine & Brine Lounge offers oenophiles and ostreophiles a delicious opportunity to explore local merroir and terroir.

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