Winery at Bull Run opening in Centreville

June 6, 2012

The wine country of southwestern Fairfax County is continuing to expand.

The county’s second winery, the Winery at Bull Run in Centreville, will open its doors to the public this weekend, joining Clifton’s Paradise Springs Winery in bringing the Virginia wine industry closer to home to those who live in the District and the inner suburbs.

Given the location adjacent to the Manassas National Battlefield Park, winery President Jon Hickox said it was important to him to incorporate and pay tribute to local history.

In addition to making local history a design theme for his winery, Hickox, who spent much of his childhood in the Burke area, said he wants to educate people about Virginia’s winemaking history and re-create the feel of agricultural life in 1800s Fairfax County.

“Virginia’s place in wine history is very little known or understood,” he said.

Virginia’s winemaking history dates to the Jamestown settlement, according to the Virginia Wine Web site. By the early 19th century, a strong winemaking industry had developed in the state, but it was disrupted by the Civil War and further stamped out during Prohibition.

The industry slowly began coming back about 30 years ago and has been growing at a rapid pace in recent years, with the number of wineries in the state doubling between 2005 and today, to about 200.

As he further develops his winery, Hickox hopes to incorporate living history demonstrations, both about winemaking and the Civil War era.

“Teaching history while drinking wine, I think that makes for a pretty cool experience,” Hickox said.

The winery’s outdoor deck incorporates what is left of the stone foundation and chimney of the house that once sat on the property, known as Hillwood. The house burned down in the 1980s.

When Hickox, who also owns Colonial Remodeling, purchased the 21-acre property on Lee Highway in 2008, it had been neglected for years, as the previous owner was hoping to get it rezoned for heavy commercial use. The former farm property housed the ruins of the Hillwood house and some dilapidated outbuildings.

“Everything had been overgrown and abandoned for essentially almost 30 years,” Hickox said. “I had to do a lot of clearing and a lot of cleaning up.”

Getting the property and the soil back in shape also took some work. It now is planted with Norton grapes, the type that grows best in Virginia. It was cultivated in Richmond in the mid 1800s and is well-suited to the mid-Atlantic climate.

Fairfax County Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said he is excited to have a winery in his district but a bit skeptical about the prospect of growing wine grapes here.

“With the soil that we have around here, thinking that we’re going to get a great crop of grapes, I hope it’s not just wishful thinking,” he said.

Hickox is more optimistic. He also owns farmland in Culpeper and said that, as his vines mature, he hopes eventually to be able to grow all of his own grapes, “which is an ambitious goal. Most wineries don’t work that way,” he said. Most wineries use a combination of grapes they grow locally and those they purchase from elsewhere.

Despite his newfound enthusiasm for the Virginia wine industry, Hickox purchased the property for $900,000 as an investment without really knowing what he was going to do with it. Opening a winery was one consideration, but, at the time, there were no wineries in Fairfax and he wasn’t up for being a trailblazer.

Around that same time, Kirk Wiles was trying to open Paradise Springs.

“He was willing to hit it head on, I was a little more conservative. . . . I wasn’t prepared for that fight,” Hickox said. “He went through that battle, and I give him credit.”

Paradise Springs initially experienced some pushback from its residential neighbors in Clifton, who were concerned about droves of winery visitors traversing the narrow, winding roads there.

The Winery at Bull Run has the opposite situation: no residential neighbors to speak of and an entrance on a main highway, which presents its own challenges, Frey said. The entrance is at the start of the deceleration lane for one of the battlefield parking areas, and also is near the entrance for a rock quarry.

But as a strong supporter of historic preservation, Frey said, there also are definite benefits to the community in that regard. “Keeping it open and in agriculture is, I think, certainly compatible with the battlefield,” he said.

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