Saturday, September 01, 2012

Labor of Love

The Furrow family has made producing award-winning wines a family affair at Hickory Hill Vineyards & Winery

If grape vines could speak, the vibrant green rows at Hickory Hill Vineyards & Winery in Moneta would have many stories to tell.
    They could recall how the operation began in 1992 as five acres planted on land boasting a fascinating history that pre-dates Smith Mountain Lake itself.  They might share how the vineyard later became the 75th commercial winery in Virginia or how the circa-1923 farmhouse was restored into a charming tasting room. They might proudly tell of the many awards Hickory Hill’s wines have earned over the years.
    Mostly, the vines would likely describe the careful cultivation and diligent involvement of owners Roger and Judy Furrow, whose passion for the land and business has been passed on to daughter Wendy Furrow-Scott and her husband, Donald Scott.
Earlier this year, Hickory Hill’s vines reached their 20-year mark and Roger and Judy celebrated 50 years of marriage. Both milestones are rooted in steadfast dedication.

The Early Years
    “When I was in the Air Force, I was once assigned additional duty of inventorying the Officer’s Club,” Roger Furrow said. “As a country boy from Franklin County who grew up in a family that never drank wine, I was fascinated by all the exotic French and Italian wine names in the wine collection. When I told Judy, we decided to start trying a few wines, and we loved it. Soon, we were making homemade wine from everything available.”
    The couple was invited to experiment with a few vines on land in the Hickory Cove area of SML owned by Roger’s father, who helped build the Smith Mountain Dam. The Furrows made trips from their North Carolina home to his parents’ cabin almost every weekend to cultivate the grapes. They also made time to participate in winemaking seminars sponsored by Virginia Tech’s Department of Agriculture.
    “Judy and I started looking for a farm where we could plant a commercial vineyard,” Furrow said. “We bought the old Tobe Scruggs farm that is now Hickory Hill in 1992 and planted the first blocks of grapes that year. We sold our grapes to another winery the first six to seven years, but then I retired from my real job and we opened the winery in 2001.”
    Judy Furrow said they could not have made the operation a success without help from the lake community, particularly when Judy battled cancer in 2005.
    “The Smith Mountain Lake community has been supportive from day one,” she said. “More importantly, the community continues to support us by bringing their guests to visit us and buying our product in the local stores. Also, much of the work here at the vineyard and winery is done by volunteers who help us with festivals, bottling and harvesting the grapes.”

A Family Affair
    Wendy Furrow-Scott and brother Tad were entering adulthood by the time their parents established Hickory Hill. Still, both the SML area and their parents’ winery dream were a large part of their lives.
    “I have so many fond memories of growing up around the lake,” said Furrow-Scott. “[Water] skiing, swimming, fishing, boating. About the time I finished high school, Mom and Dad planted the experimental vineyard on the lake in Hickory Cove on my grandparents’ property. By the time that vineyard started producing, I was in college and not visiting the lake property as much. In some ways, I wish I had grown up on a farm. I guess that is one of the reasons my husband and I chose to leave our [information technology] jobs, move our family here and raise our daughter [8-year-old Tura] on the farm I never had.”
    Furrow-Scott and her husband began living and working at the winery full time about seven years ago. She said what they gave up in income from fast-paced corporate jobs has been far surpassed by the quality of life they enjoy at Hickory Hill.
    “Donald and I do most of the day-to-day work now,” she said. “Donald loves and lives in the vineyard foremost. He is in charge of bottling, and also does all the wholesale selling and stocking of local stores and restaurants. He is in charge of all the festivals, remotes, distributor compliance and required monthly reporting.
    “I do the bookkeeping, website and marketing and I’m in charge of the Sunset Saturdays summer music series, as well as the special private tastings, painting parties, chocolate parings and vertical tastings we do over the year.”
    Furrow-Scott described her dad as “Mr. Fix-It,” overseeing operations and mentoring the younger couple on winery ownership. She said her mom enjoys handling merchandise display in the gift shop and at events. Each family member contributes strengths when it comes to the bottling process.
    “When we are getting wines ready to bottle, we will all sit down and taste the wines,” said Furrow-Scott. “Mom has the best nose and I am a pretty close second. Dad and Tad have great palates, and Donald has developed a very good palate.”

Lake Ambassadors
    The family members agreed that meeting interesting people from all over the world in the tasting room is a perk of winery ownership. However, overcoming cultural differences has been difficult at times.
    “One of the hardest things I’ve had to do while working in our tasting room was to explain to a couple from Denmark, who spoke and understood very little English, that I could not serve their three teenage children a taste of wine because the law did not allow me to serve people under 21 years of age,” Judy recalled.
    There have also been many funny stories through the years – like the time Roger chased a loose water drum rolling down a hill into the lake. Sharing a bit of their personal lives, knowledge of wine and fondness for the lake area with guests is a part of everyday life at Hickory Hill.
    “I would like to think we provide people who visit with the opportunity to better understand wine, how it is made, how wine can add to the enjoyment of a meal,” said Judy Furrow. “I would like to think that the people leave SML having had an enjoyable experience and will make them not only want to return to our winery, but to the community as well. If this is done, then we have contributed to the economics and good will of all of us who live here at Smith Mountain Lake.”

Want to Go?
Hickory Hill Vineyards & Winery
Address: 1722 Hickory Cove Lane, Moneta
Phone: 540.296.1393
Website: smlwine.com
Hours: Winery hours vary throughout the year so it’s best to call or check the website in advance. The tasting room is open Thursday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November (closed Thanksgiving Day.) Reservations are requested for groups of 10 or more. Tours of the vineyard and winery are also available.

Events: Visit smlwine.com for details on events at Hickory Hill, including the popular Sunset Saturdays summertime music series. The winery also offers a free picnic area and is available for weddings. Hickory Hill participates in numerous area wine festivals each year, including the SML Wine Festival (Sept. 29-30).

Wines Offered: Chardonnay, Vidal Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mist (blend of Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay), Country Red (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot), Redbud (blend of Merlot, Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc), Sunset (blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc) and Sweet Red Sail (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc).

Where to Buy: Hickory Hill wines can be purchased at the winery or numerous local outlets, including Kroger at Westlake, The Lake House Beanery, Laker Beverage and Tobacco, Lake Mart & Deli, Diamond Hill General Store, Shoprite and White House Store.