The family has just about lost everything, Kate Marterella said.
Photos: Winery owners fighting for their livelihoods
She and her husband Jerry have appealed their case to the Virginia Supreme Court arguing in part that the retail sale of wine at their farm winery is a permitted agricultural activity and that the board’s rules were selectively enforced.
Across the street — part of that beautiful view they see every day — is another winery, one that opened just a few years before theirs did.
It’s in Bellevue Farms, too. It’s very much like their winery. But unlike theirs, it has never been sued. And it’s open for business.
“It’s like a bad soap opera,” Jerry Marterella said. “But it’s not about us. It impacts the whole industry.”
Virginia’s fast-growing wine industry has nearly tripled in the past decade to more than 200 farm wineries. Jerry Marterella argues that because a judge ruled that their wine-tasting room was not agriculture but commercial activity, defining agriculture very narrowly, it could set a precedent that would affect every farm stand and apple-picking orchard in the state.
It’s a hotly contested issue nationally, several experts said, as the farm economy changes, with biodiesel, windmills, agrotourism and other innovations all forcing the question — when is a farm just a farm, and when is it something else entirely?
To their opponents, this is a simple case of a contract violation. “The Marterellas were told they couldn’t do what they wanted to do,” said David Hamilton, a Bellevue Farms board member speaking just as a neighbor, “and they said, ‘So what?’ ”
‘It’s a jewel’
Bellevue, a neighborhood in Warrenton, about 50 miles west of Washington, has beautiful views at every turn. On a recent afternoon, a black cow was sleeping under a tree, the leaves just starting to turn yellow. A girl rode by on a chestnut mare, setting off on one of the 30-some miles of trails that wind through pine woods, around ponds, through meadows and over hills with views of the Blue Ridge.
“Aptly named, isn’t it?” said Diane Zegel, the board president, who searched the state for three years to find a place to retire with her horses. “It’s a jewel.”
Bellevue Farms was planned more than 30 years ago to be a sort of gentleman-farmers’, equestrian community, with lots of 10 acres or more and private roads maintained by the board. There’s a pool, tennis courts, stable and riding grounds. And there are rules; those were important to Zegel, because that meant her favorite riding trails wouldn’t be turned into a 7-11. She knew that what she was buying would be protected.