Paradise Springs Winery opens in Fairfax after zoning battle

After a long legal struggle, Paradise Springs Winery in the Fairfax County town of Clifton opens for business.
A map of Paradise Springs Winery, Fairfax County, Virginia
By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

With its grapes lightly dusted with snow and the wine cellar wrapped in a red bow, Fairfax's first and only modern winery opened last week after a contentious legal struggle that involved the county, the state alcohol board and Virginia's increasingly powerful wine industry.

Paradise Springs Winery, tucked inside a 37-acre forest in Clifton, a small horse community in a corner of southern Fairfax, has come into existence after an odd mix of legal maneuvering and political drama.

Owners Jane Kincheloe Wiles and her son Kirk, 27, wanted to pay off $750,000 in inheritance taxes on their historic farm and initially considered selling the land to a residential developer. But investors and winemakers encouraged the family to build the county's first vineyard on a piece of property that was part of a 1716 land grant from Lord Fairfax. The Wileses can trace their ancestry in the region back several centuries.

"I really didn't want to break the chain," Jane Wiles said. "I just wanted to really give new life to this place."

The Wileses said they envisioned a small but high-end winery that would add a new flavor to Clifton's Norman Rockwell-like charm. But more than a year ago, Fairfax County zoning officials denied their request to build the vineyard, arguing that the plan amounted to an industrial use because grapes would be trucked in.

Kevin McNamara, 26, who runs the Main Street Pub in Clifton, said the plan enticed area business leaders who saw the winery as an opportunity to reinvigorate a town of 200 that hasn't changed much since the early 1900s.

"It has to help land values," McNamara said. "And it's certainly better than more new housing."

But not everyone was thrilled with the prospect of carloads of wine drinkers cruising Clifton's narrow roads. The Occoquan Watershed Coalition worried that weddings and events at the converted house and barn on Yates Ford Road would hurt the environment, and county officials feared the winery would prompt other commercial ventures to flood the rural hamlet, bringing traffic and noise.

Unhappy neighbors fought the winery's plans, delaying its construction for more than a year before Virginia's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board upheld in early December a ruling that the owners were performing genuine agriculture. Fairfax County officials are monitoring similar disputes in Albemarle and Fauquier counties but do not expect to intercede further, said Deputy County Attorney R. Scott Wynn.

"We don't have the authority we need to restrict the kinds of events," Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D) said. "But we did agree that the winery would provide something new for Fairfax County."

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that limits the ability of local governments to regulate farm wineries except for safety risks and noise levels.

Without a county ordinance to impose zoning restrictions, Fairfax officials have been forced to accept an informal agreement with the Wileses that the property would not become a large operation. For some neighbors, the deal was akin to sour grapes.

"A gentleman's agreement works when people act like a gentleman," said Pam Barnett, president of the Noble Estates Homes Association, which has opposed the winery's plans. "The fact of the matter is that there needs to be an ordinance to deal with farm wineries in the county."

Paradise Springs's victory is a sign of how Virginia wineries have increased in both number and political stature over the past two decades. Today, Virginia has 157 wineries, and the state ranks eighth in the country in wine production.

At Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony, four Fairfax County supervisors were in attendance, along with dozens of winemakers and county officials.

"All we need is one winery to put us on the map as Virginia's go-to place for quality wine," said Barry H. Biggar, president and chief executive of Visit Fairfax, the county's tourism arm. "It's a great achievement, whichever way you look at it."

Paradise Springs Winery will officially open for business Saturday.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company