Va. Grape Grower Honored for Loyalty, Leadership

1/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Rocky Womack Virginia Correspondent

CHATHAM, Va. — The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation recently named a Pittsylvania County farmer the recipient of its Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau Award.

Joe Williams was recognized for his dedication to the federation and to other farmers in the state, says VFBF President Wayne Pryor.

Williams, a former VFBF board member, has been a Farm Bureau member since 1971, and a Pittsylvania County Farm Bureau board member and past president.

Sounding a bit humble, Williams is not sure he is worthy of the state agency’s recognition.

“It was a surprise,” he said. “I consider it to be quite an honor.”

For years, Williams was a Virginia state trooper and a longtime tobacco farmer. In about 2005, he and his family converted a once active tobacco farm into a young grape vineyard, starting out planting three acres of the grape variety Traminette.

His son, Jesse, said they wanted to raise a different crop, one that wasn’t quite so time-consuming and labor intensive as tobacco.

Besides Williams and his son, other family members involved include Williams’ wife, Brenda; his daughter, Renee, and her husband, Billy Reaves; and his youngest daughter, Mary, and her husband, Chris Smith.

Once the grape vines semi-matured by the second year, they sold eight tons of fresh grapes to the Floyd, Va., winery Chateau Morrisette and the Chatham, Va., winery Tomahawk Mill Winery.

In the second year, they planted two more acres, and in the third year they planted another two acres.

Eventually, the Williams family began raising additional acres and other varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin and Viognier. A few years later, when the vines fully matured, they established their own winery, The Homeplace Vineyard, and began producing their own wine labels. The winery opened in September 2010.

Williams built the winery building out of two old tobacco barns. He wanted to remodel them so he could honor his tobacco heritage and make visitors as comfortable and relaxed as possible while they drank a glass of wine or sat in the comfy winery sitting room.

Today, the Williams family produces 12 different kinds of wines, quite an achievement for a farmer who knew more about tobacco than grapes.

The wines include Viognier, Traminette, Old Green Tractor, Sweet V, Cabin Sunset, Rickin’ Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Old Red Tractor, ShamRaz and Sweet Red Combine.

In the future, Williams said, he hopes the winery business expands.

“We’re not looking at bottling any different wines,” he said. “I’m talking about distribution and trying to get in some other locations.”

Last year, he said, The Homeplace Vineyard bottled 1,000 cases of wine.

Williams said he believes they can push that number to 5,000 cases. He wants to market more wine to restaurants, high-end stores and gift shops. That should come easily if his existing and new customers keep tasting it.

“I consider we have a pretty good wine,” Williams said. “People tell us it’s good, and they come back.”

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