Dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions

Rappahannock News - - WORK IN PROGRESS -

Agri­tourism evan­ge­lists like the Wake­mans are a rarer breed here in Rap­pa­han­nock. The older de­mo­graph­ics are one rea­son. With age, risk-tak­ing loses its ap­peal. An­other is tied to some­thing more ba­sic in the county’s na­ture: Why raise aware­ness of a place many res­i­dents would rather keep hid­den?

But there are those here bank­ing on busi­nesses built around the al­lure of ru­ral life to those not liv­ing it. Take Al­gis Penki­u­nas. He’s head of Pen­drick Cap­i­tal Part­ners, a fi­nan­cial ser­vices com­pany in Alexan­dria, but since 2010 he’s been buy­ing prop­erty near Old Rag Moun­tain. He says he climbed it for his bach­e­lor party back in the ’90s.

The largest piece of land Penki­u­nas holds is the old Kilby Farm — also known as Mont Medi — off F.T. Val­ley Road. More than 600 acres, it will be used to pro­duce hay and grass-fed beef. But he also bought an ad­join­ing 36-acre par­cel that had once been cov­ered with ap­ple trees. And that’s where Penki­u­nas wants to take his shot at agri­tourism. He’s work­ing with lo­cal farmer and busi­ness­man Al­lan Clark to cre­ate a “pick-yourown” op­er­a­tion featuring ap­ples, peaches nec­tarines and blue­ber­ries. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees, which are eas­ier to pick, should be in pro­duc­tion by fall 2019.

Penki­u­nas sees this kind of or­chard as an at­trac­tion that could pro­vide vis­i­tors with an­other rea­son to spend time here. But he also feels that it aligns closely with what the com­mu­nity val­ues.

“As ur­ban sprawl comes, Rap­pa­han­nock wants to main­tain its agri­cul­ture foot­print,” he said. “That’s great. But to pre­serve it, you’ve got to be able to pro­duce agri­cul­ture and have mar­ket dis­tri­bu­tion for it. We hope we’re do­ing our part to help it be a bit more like it was in its glory days.”

Dave Shiff and Den­nis Kelly, neigh­bors on Hin­son Ford Road in Amissville, are go­ing down an­other track. They’re in the process of rolling out Hin­son Ford Cider & Mead this fall, the only busi­ness in Rap­pa­han­nock pro­duc­ing both bev­er­ages.

They like their tim­ing. While the win­ery busi­ness has ex­ploded in Vir­ginia and craft brew­eries are fol­low­ing suit, places that brew cider and mead — made by fer­ment­ing honey with wa­ter and var­i­ous fruits, spices and hops — are just start­ing to take off. That means less di­rect com­pe­ti­tion. At the same time, con­sumers, par­tic­u­larly younger ones, are more open to try­ing dif­fer­ent, more fla­vor­ful drinks.

But since Hin­son Ford’s pro­duc­tion will be rel­a­tively mod­est over the next few years, it will, at least in the short-term, de­pend a lot on how much traf­fic they get to their tap­room. The own­ers ad­mit they’re ner­vous about the lo­cal tourism mar­ket.

“Yes, we have some trep­i­da­tion,” Kelly said. “One of the ques­tions is how do we com­pose the mo­saic of Rap­pa­han­nock. There are so many dif­fer­ent Rap­pa­han­nock ex­pe­ri­ences. I think we need to use so­cial me­dia to pro­mote other busi­nesses in the county and make con­nec­tions with them. It’s about cre­at­ing a com­mu­nity of busi­nesses that have the same in­ter­ests.”

Shiff hopes the en­ter­prise can serve as an ex­am­ple for oth­ers con­sid­er­ing un­con­ven­tional ven­tures. “If we’re suc­cess­ful,” he said, “at least that could be a step in the right di­rec­tion. Other folks could look at us and say, ‘They’ve been suc­cess­ful. Maybe we can be, too.’”

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