Wednesday, September 26

From Cows to Grapes: Oakencroft Farm in Charlottesville, VA

The October/November 2012 issue of Garden & Gun magazine includes a profile of Oakencroft Farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Phillip Ponton and Warren McClellan are turning grapes into, well, grape juice. They're using wine varietals to make artisanal juice, breaking new ground in Virginia's relatively short but storied wine culture.

We visited Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery in the summer of 2008, just as Felicia Warburg Rogan, widely considered the First Lady of Virginia Wine, was transitioning out of the business.

In 1976, Felicia Warburg Rogan relocated from New York to Virginia to marry John B. Rogan, a real estate developer and cattle rancher in Charlottesville.  She befriended Lucy Morton, a noted viticulturist, and in 1983 her husband’s Oakencroft Farm became Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery. She planted European varietals, invited her gardener, Deborah Welsh, to be the winemaker, and turned a farm building into a tasting room. This new all-female venture was the first of its kind and only the sixth winery to open in Virginia (today, there are 135). In her twenty-five-year career as president of Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery, Rogan found time to look outside of her own estate to work in support of Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry. She led the charge to establish the Monticello appellation for the area, started the Jeffersonian Grape Growers Society, and was chairwoman of the Virginia Wine Growers Advisory Board for a number of years. Upon her retirement, Rogan promised to continue to support the industry she helped to create.

When the estate was sold in 2008, Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery went back to being called Oakencroft Farm. Today, Ponton and McClellan see a new future for grapes grown in the state. From the Garden & Gun article:

"We feel like we're getting better at this," Ponton says. "It reminds me of the early days of the Virginia wine industry. We have to get out there and let people taste our juice so they know how good it is."

Visit our Wine in the South oral history project for more on wines produced in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia.