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.’”