Tour Wessex Hundred with the Help of Our Guide
Turn into the pastoral entrance of the Wessex Hundred farm that leads to the Williamsburg Winery and you’re prompted to slow down before you spot the first speed limit sign. There’s more to savor here than just the wine. Follow along as we take you on a tour that starts with a lingering drive past the crape myrtles — a brilliant fuchsia-red when in bloom.
Look past them to the right for your first glimpse of vineyards — these are Petit Verdot, Traminette and Cabernet Franc, part of 52 acres of grape-growing vines that comprise Wessex Hundred, one of dozens of farms Patrick Duffeler and his wife, Peggy, visited in 1982 with an ambitious plan to establish a winery on one of them.
The Williamsburg Winery opened in 1985, one of only a handful of wineries in the Commonwealth at the time. The first release of wines was the Governor’s White, released in February 1987.
The 200 acres of forestry to the left include oaks and pines — many of them courtesy of Duffeler, who planted more than 60,000 trees over the last four decades.
Naming the farm Wessex Hundred was both a nod to Peggy’s Anglo-Saxon heritage as she was American and to Patrick of Saxon origin given his birthplace in Belgium. The use of “Hundred” dates to the Colonial era and describes parcels of land sufficient to support 100 families regardless of actual acreage. Peggy Duffeler died in 2004; today Patrick and his wife, Francoise, live on the farm.
The first turn will tempt any weary traveler. A right at the stone pillars a half mile past the entrance leads to Wedmore Place, the hotel that invites guests to discover a new part of Europe with every stay. Each of the 28 rooms reflects a theme reinforced with appropriate antiques, arts and furnishings. The hotel that opened in 2007 derives its name from a ninth century peace agreement between King Alfred of Wessex and the Danes. Likewise, you’ll find peace in this unique hotel reminiscent of a European inn.
One-eighth of a mile past the Wedmore turnoff is the heart of the Williamsburg Winery, a picturesque village surrounded by green space. Park your car and put on your walking shoes! Step into the Gabriel Archer Tavern, the winery’s French-inspired eatery, for a farm-to-fork dining experience. No one is in a rush to leave here because it’s so pleasant to stay. The view from a window seat or patio chair is of the vineyards in varying stages of growth depending on the month. When temperatures allow, it’s splendid to sit outdoors underneath the tavern’s wisteria canopy.
The tavern was built on the site of a former tractor shed and named for the co-captain of the Godspeed, one of three boats that landed in Jamestown in 1607. Archer so loved the land here that he wanted it to be home of the first settlement — a wish John Smith overruled.
The nearby 1619 Pavilion is another inviting space to enjoy wine by the glass, bottle or flight, and snacks from the Gabriel Archer Tavern. Even on a chilly day, personal portable heaters offer enough warmth for relaxing. A firepit downstairs is part of a spacious terrace. The upstairs portion of the Pavilion is open to guests 21 and older, who will find ample comfortable seating on the 2,600 square-foot deck that overlooks the Albariño and the Petit Verdot vineyards. Sink into one of the rockers and stay a while.
In 1619, the first house of Burgesses, the inaugural English representative of government in North America, required colonists to grow grapes and make wine under The Act 12 of 1619 — another story behind a name at the Williamsburg Winery.
No visit would be complete without a stroll through the winery’s two indoor event spaces, Wessex Hall, completed in 1999, and Westbury Hall, built in 1991 and completely renovated in 2016.
Wessex Hall is the largest event venue at the winery with a pair of open-hearth fireplaces at opposite ends of the main floor that is 96 feet in length and 48 feet wide. These aren’t ordinary fireplaces. Duffeler discovered them in destroyed 18th-century houses in the Bordeaux area of France and had a mason salvage them and ship them to Williamsburg via a container. Fireboxes from Denmark were integrated into both. High ceilings of two lengths and solid pine beams are part of the understated elegance that makes this space ideal for a celebratory gathering or wedding reception.
A basement level houses several barrel cellars, the Reserve Cellar and a research laboratory and microbiology room.
Smaller Westbury Hall connects to Westbury Hall by a bridge to the south and walkway to the north. Father and bride have frequently made the stroll down the sweeping oak staircase, pausing at the landing showcasing the shield of Westbury, a perfect backdrop for snapshots.
Westbury Hall offers a unique cellar-level experience and gives guests a peek behind the scenes.
Don’t leave without stopping by the Duck Pond. Once surrounded by overgrowth, it was expanded in 2001 with the creation of the raised lawn south of Wessex Hall. On a seasonable day, the Duck Pond is perfect for a picnic, a spot to relax or propose!
As marvelous of a retreat it is for visitors, the pond, that is as deep as 8 feet in some places is home to flocks of ducks and other waterfowl. They live carelessly here.
In essence, Wessex Hundred is a winery in the woods — majestic trees surround the farm with 300 acres in conservation. The south ravine of the farm flows into an extraordinary cypress grove and marshland while the north ravine features numerous centennial Copper Beech trees. One white oak some 300 years old has been named the Tree of Life. In 1989, Duffeler worked with the Virginia Department of Forestry to expand the surface of the woods by planting 37 acres of Lobolly pines, now well over 35 feet tall. Long Leaf pines stand next to the 1619 Pavilion. Trees were planted annually throughout the ’90s to ensure the farm was surrounded by green space. Make sure you take time to breathe in the fresh air that will re-engage all of your senses.
Before leaving the Williamsburg Winery, drop by the Retail Shop to bring home something to remind you of your visit. You’ll drive away from Wessex Hundred understanding that the Williamsburg Winery isn’t just somewhere to enjoy wine.
It’s a place to enjoy life.