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Back on the Farm: Central Virginia’s Agricultural Interests

Central Virginia agritourism is flourishing in more ways than one.

By Rebecca Treon on October 19, 2022

Photo of the fields at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.
Barboursville Vineyards

Central Virginia is a region where business and the economy are still tied to the land as it has been for centuries. Yet, not only do local farms give lucky residents easy access to fresh, organic ingredients that are healthy for them and beneficial to the environment, but agritourism is thriving across the region.

Bonus: Craft beer and distilleries, as well as wineries, are popping up everywhere and can be explored via various trails like the Monticello Wine Trail or the Fermentation Farm Trail, located in Louisa County.

Within one of the top-wine producing states, Central Virginia is proud of its community of brewers, winemakers, distillers and restaurant owners. They add a one-of-a-kind flavor to the region, and its history draws visitors in droves. And it’s not just a local secret anymore — tourism is booming in the area, making an incredible comeback after the pandemic.

Exterior shot of the grounds at Virginia Distillery Co. in Central Virginia.
Courtesy of Virginia Distillery Co.

On the Grow

“Central Virginia is one of the most historic places in America, and when I opened my restaurant, I wanted to figure out what is at the heart of Virginia’s cuisine,” says Craig Hartman, owner of The BBQ Exchange. “Historically, they had barbecue — some of the oldest pits date from the 1700s, so this has been a part of our culture, something extremely ‘Virginia’ that comes along with the agriculture here.” 

Hartman is slated to open a distillery in the coming year and co-owns Champion Ice House, a fried chicken and beer joint, with Hunter Smith, the local brewer behind Champion Brewing Company. Smith, whose parents, Elizabeth and Tony, are winemakers (as is his sister, who owns the historic Monticello Wine Company), also owns Brasserie Saison, Passiflora and Wool Factory in the area.

Women enjoying a wine tasting at Cunningham Creek Winery in Central Virginia.
Cunningham Creek Winery

There are several breweries across several counties in the region, like Bald Top Brewing in Madison County, Blue Mountain Brewery in Nelson County, Cooling Pond Brewery and Southern Revere Cellars in Louisa County. In addition, distilleries and cideries have their own trail for people to explore, which includes the Virginia Distillery and Bold Rock Hard Cider & Distillery (both in Nelson County), plus Pott er’s Craft Cider in Albemarle County. Some have a little of everything, like Old House Vineyards in Culpeper County.

Wineries are plentiful in the area too. In Nelson County, people can visit Aft on Mountain Winery; in Orange County, Barboursville Vineyards; in Madison County, Early Mountain Vineyards; and in Fluvanna County, Cunningham Creek Winery and Hardware Hills Winery.

“We have 30-plus wineries at this point in Central Virginia, and it’s considered a premium growing and wine production region — many are award-winning wines, and you could easily do a five-day visit and see all the wineries,” says Elizabeth Smith, owner of Afton Mountain Vineyards.

Horses and jockeys racing in Central Virginia.
Courtesy King Family Vineyards

Cultivating Destinations

While many rural areas have stagnated or struggled to keep their agriculture industry afloat, Central Virginia has homed in on creating destinations out of these agribusinesses, adding cabins where people can stay overnight; trails where visitors can explore area beer, spirits, wine and cider; farms where people can have a pick-your-own experience; or just have a day on the farm visiting animals and taking home some fresh farm products. The thriving agritourism scene in Central Virginia improves the area’s quality of life for all residents.

“What used to be predominantly agrarian places have expanded to add value, add products and add service to their mix, which makes it much more sustainable,” says Maureen Kelley, director of Visit Nelson County. “It’s been successful, and it’s introduced visitors and residents to the authenticity that Central Virginia offers. People appreciate seeing the owner of a place on the property working and having their hands truly a part of what we’re doing here.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Central Virginia area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Central Virginia

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