by Jodi Macfarlan, photos by Andrea Hubbell
Roman author Pliny the Elder once wrote, “in vino veritas,” meaning, “in wine there is truth.” Ol’ Pliny may have simply been commenting on the effects a couple glasses of vino can have, but at Veritas Vineyard and Winery, the credo bears much weight—carrying the Hodson family through harvest after harvest.
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Afton, Va., Veritas is a 210-acre farm with 32 under vine. The “truth” that’s adhered to is quality, which starts with the grapes and ends in the bottle. But Veritas is also a true labor of family love; it’s owned and operated by Andrew and Patricia Hodson, and daughters Emily Pelton and Chloe Frey serve as winemaker extraordinaire and tasting room manager, respectively.
It’s a set-up they came by serendipitously, as the pieces—or family members, in this case—sort of fell into place over the years. “We can’t really figure it out,” says Patricia, reflecting on what brought the family together in the business. “It was not something we had monitored—it’s just where we’ve ended up.”
Their secret to avoiding the “Clash of the Titans”—a phrase any family-run business can relate to—is that everyone keeps to his or her domain, says Patricia. She personally tends the vines, Andrew and Emily finesse the wines, and Chloe keeps things running in house with warm hospitality.
“Like any good marriage, we all have to bring our independence to the table,” says Andrew.
Andrew and Patricia first moved to the United States from the U.K. in 1974, when Andrew started his residency in neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. Fleeing the hectic nature of city life on weekends, the couple would “escape from Philly to the Blue Ridge in a camper van with a ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ sticker on the back,” remembers Patricia. They, too, fell in love with the area—so much so that when they again escaped to the Blue Ridge more than 20 years later, they decided not to leave.
“We came to the area to celebrate our wedding anniversary,” explains Andrew, “and we were lucky enough to find this little farm property with just the right orientation. It seemed the stars were aligned, and we thought ‘That’s it!’”
The couple bought the farm that weekend—a “sudden” decision that they say had been fermenting for quite a while. They planted their first vines in 1998, produced their first vintage in 2001, and opened for business in 2002. “But none of us had any sales experience,” laughs Patricia. “We planted vines, made our first wines and then thought, but how do we sell it?”
They joke about the mistakes they made at the beginning— like the time they showed up for their first wine festival sans credit card machine. Somehow, they ended up leaving with $3,000 in their pockets—the first money they’d made in four years.
“What we call experience is really making mistakes,” says Andrew. “It’s how you deal with those mistakes that makes the answer.”
By 2004, they’d already outgrown their first cellar. And today, a luxurious, lodge-esque tasting room sits atop that ever-expanding cellar. With plush leather couches, rustic beamed ceilings and an open fire in the colder months, they’ve created an inviting atmosphere where guests can leisurely enjoy the wine.
The key to their quick success? The verity in the glass. “I let the grapes speak for themselves,” says Emily, who learned the art of vinification in step with her father. “I want my wines to match the harvest, to take what comes in and stay true to the vintage.”
Her Viognier, made from Virginia’s signature grape, is a characteristic example. It’s elegant and distinctive, with an apricot nose, notes of orange blossom and a fresh acidity—all the result of “letting its varietal distinctions stand alone,” says Emily, so the wine can truly “be itself.”
It’s a wine that’s won her numerous awards, including gold in the 2010 National Women’s Wine Competition. In 2007, she won the Judges’ Choice Award at the same competition for Veritas’ Kenmar—an ice wine with undeniable rose aroma and honeyed tropical fruit flavor.
But rather than reveling in their achievements, Emily and Andrew humbly confess that they feel they are really only beginning.
“We’ve only had 10 chances to make wine—that’s not a lot of chances!” says Andrew.
“We’re still newbies,” adds Emily. “Winemakers learn it one year at a time.”
With each harvest, each bottle, Veritas sees a fresh chance to start over, and to do it better. It’s a philosophy that recalls yet another Pliny-ism: “From the end spring new beginnings.”
Veritas Vineyard & Winery
151 Veritas Lane
Afton, VA 22920
GPS Address: 145 Saddleback Farm
Jody Broadwater Macfarlan is a freelance journalist in Charlottesville, Va. A lover of all thing foodie, she has a particular affinity for shrimp and grits.