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Pen Druid Brew­ing mov­ing to El­don Farms

➜ Sper­ryville brew­ery ex­pands into ag en­ter­prise making wine and cider ➜ New tast­ing room will be near the in­ter­sec­tion of routes 522 and 231

- By John McCaslin Rap­pa­han­nock News staff Agriculture · Industries · Sperryville, Virginia · Financial Times · Virginia · Antigua and Barbuda · East Coast · Red Oak · Mount Vernon

El­don Farms and Pen Druid Brew­ing are band­ing to­gether in the spirit of agri­cul­ture.

The pop­u­lar Sper­ryville brew­ery will move this au­tumn from the River District into a newly con­structed 2,900-square-foot ag pro­duc­tion and tast­ing fa­cil­ity on what was pre­vi­ously El­don Farms graz­ing land — and in prior decades an ap­ple or­chard — near the in­ter­sec­tion of routes 522 (Sper­ryville Pike) and 231 (FT Val­ley Road).

The unique part­ner­ship, which doesn’t en­tail any busi­ness merger, was spear­headed by Richie Burke of El­don Farms with the en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port of Jen­nings, Van and Lain Car­ney, three Rap­pa­han­nock broth­ers who launched the craft brew­ery in Au­gust 2015.

“Richie ap­proached us over the sum­mer and asked if we wanted to part­ner with El­don to build a new fa­cil­ity that would al­low us to stay in Sper­ryville,” Van Car­ney says in an in­ter­view. “Cur­rently we’re a com­mer­cial brew­ery and a com­mer­cial win­ery, and we’re go­ing to con­vert into a farm win­ery and a farm brew­ery, which in the state of Vir­ginia al­lows you to have an agri­cul­tural en­ter­prise on a piece of ag land with­out hav­ing to jump through all the zon­ing per­mits that you usu­ally have to do.”

As Burke knows hav­ing pre­vi­ously worn the hat of county build­ing of­fi­cial, un­der agri­cul­ture, hor­ti­cul­ture and as­so­ci­ated uses, farm build­ings or struc­tures are ex­empt from the Vir­ginia Uni­form Statewide Build­ing Code. Con­form­ing con­struc­tion,

as a re­sult, re­quires fewer county and state per­mits and in­spec­tions, or pub­lic hear­ings for that mat­ter.

Other per­mits must still be ob­tained, in­clud­ing VDOT and the health depart­ment.

“It’s one of th­ese things that Vir­ginia does in the spirit of keep­ing things agri­cul­tural,” ex­plains Car­ney. “It gives us the abil­ity to grow ap­ples, grapes, do farm­ing on site. We thought what a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to push into the fu­ture… They’re go­ing to build us a build­ing, and we’ll have a long term lease.”

The Car­neys will waste lit­tle time putting down roots in the con­verted cat­tle pas­ture, which backs up to the tow­er­ing — yet sel­dom seen — “Red Banks” above the Thorn­ton River, hardly a stone’s throw from Sper­ryville.

“In three months we’re plant­ing about 250 ap­ple trees [and] about 400 grapevines,” says Car­ney. “We’ll phase it. We’ll con­tinue plant­ing ap­ple trees, with the goal that all of the cider pro­duced there will be es­tate grown.”

With the per­mit process near­ing com­ple­tion, Burke fore­sees break­ing ground at the site in early April, with a pro­jected open­ing date of Oct. 1, 2020.

“It will be an agri-tourism build­ing — a metal agri­cul­tural build­ing,” Burke de­scribes, fit­ting aes­thet­i­cally with what “was orig­i­nally an or­chard. You can look at the old topo maps, it still shows the or­chard there.”

John Genho, long­time man­ager of the 7,100-acre El­don Farms, says the par­tic­u­lar pas­ture sup­port­ing the new farm­ing op­er­a­tion has seen many uses over the years.

“Some peo­ple may say, ‘Oh, you're chang­ing the use of the field.’ Maybe we are from the last twenty years, but if you look back fifty years ago there was a mill there. There were build­ings there that were taken down. There was an old hog barn we took down. There was a lot go­ing on right there. We may be go­ing back to a more ap­pro­pri­ate use,” he points out.

So what does El­don Farms have to gain from the new part­ner­ship?

“I think it’s com­mu­nity and busi­ness sup­port, that’s part of it,” Genho an­swers. “But if you look at the growth of Sper­ryville over the last ten years — and this land is right out­side Sper­ryville — we’re sit­ting there with our bulls in the pas­ture. So how do you take more ad­van­tage of be­ing that close to Sper­ryville when you just have bulls in the field?

“For us it was im­por­tant to work with some­body who was from here,” he said of the Car­neys. “Lo­cally grown ap­ples — lo­cally grown peo­ple.”

“We’re sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­ness, try­ing to work in the com­mu­nity,” echoes Burke.

Change is vis­i­bly afoot at El­don Farms, an un­par­al­leled prop­erty by East Coast stan­dards stretch­ing from Scrab­ble to Sper­ryville to Slate Mills. Last Oc­to­ber, its pris­tine acreage went on the mar­ket for $75 mil­lion.

That said, El­don’s at­tor­ney Art Schiller dis­closed to this news­pa­per last au­tumn that bar­ring an im­me­di­ate sale the prop­erty’s own­ers, the Lane fam­ily, were ex­plor­ing ad­di­tional uses for cer­tain parcels of the land, “some op­por­tu­ni­ties — I don’t want to call them ‘de­vel­op­ment’ — but more in­tense use of very small por­tions of the prop­erty.”

Which helps ex­plain El­don’s firstof-its-kind agree­ment with Pen Druid.

“One hun­dred years ago it was ap­ple trees, there were hardly any cows to be found,” Schiller ob­served of the prop­erty collection. “Be­fore that it was 60 to 80 small strug­gling farms try­ing to grow crops on ter­ri­ble land. [To­day it’s about] find­ing what that sus­tain­able ‘sus­tain­ing’ use is.”

“To­tally thrilled,” Car­ney de­scribed his fam­ily’s re­ac­tion when first ap­proached by El­don with the agri­cul­tural op­por­tu­nity. “I had never as­sumed that some­body would come to us and say we can put up an ag build­ing and you can do all this [farm­ing]. That had never oc­cured to me. They’re go­ing to build us a fa­cil­ity, and we’ll have a long term lease. We were su­per ex­cited when Richie pro­posed the idea, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is per­fect!’”

Not to men­tion that just down­stream from the pas­ture is fa­mil­iar ground to the three broth­ers.

“The view is strik­ing. We can lit­er­ally stand there and look at our old [fam­ily] prop­erty,” Car­ney says. “Ma­son Moun­tain, that was the back side of our farm. There’s so many things for us that are just kind of like serendip­ity.”

“You’ve got great views,” sec­onds Burke. “You can see ev­ery­thing: from Ma­son, Red Oak, all the way around to Thorn­ton Gap. You have al­most com­plete [moun­tain] views in ev­ery di­rec­tion.”

Fo­cus­ing for its five years on wild fer­men­ta­tion, bar­rel fer­ment­ing/ag­ing, and tra­di­tional spon­ta­neous fer­men­ta­tion (read myr­iad beer styles and fla­vors), Car­ney says the new ag set­ting will al­low Pen Druid to ex­pand much deeper into wine and cider — and per­haps ul­ti­mately mead — pro­duc­tion, with all the in­gre­di­ents es­tate grown.

“It will give us am­ple room to grow,” he says, in­clud­ing “with our fes­ti­vals and events that we do.”

“We’re ac­tu­ally closer to the [Sper­ryville] Cor­ner Store in the new site than the old site. So there’s more vis­i­bil­ity — we cur­rently have no vis­i­bil­ity where we are [in the River District],” Car­ney adds.

The new ag build­ing will be built at the far edge of the field close to an ex­ist­ing stand of trees, pur­posely si­t­u­ated so it won’t spoil the view from his­toric Mount Ver­non Inn to the north.

“It’s go­ing to be beau­ti­ful, with its back slope next to the tree line,” says Burke, who in re­cent days has been over­see­ing the re­moval of rusted re­frig­er­a­tors, car tires, even a 1938 Ford truck rolled over the cliffs into the Thorn­ton River.

The brew­ery’s soon-to-be-built drive­way, al­ready ap­proved by VDOT, will be off Route 522 near the in­ter­sec­tion with Route 231. “We’ll have a nice agri-tourism entrance, it will be easy to get in and out,” Burke says.

“That field has been through changes, and changes, and changes, and changes,” con­cludes Genho. “This is just the lat­est it­er­a­tion that I think is a re­ally pos­i­tive thing. It’s a change, but ac­tu­ally we’re chang­ing it to keep it the same.”

“It’s a change, but ac­tu­ally we’re chang­ing it to keep it the same.”

 ?? BY JOHN MCCASLIN ?? Jen­nings, Lain and Van Car­ney, seen here this week sur­vey­ing the fu­ture site of their farm brew­ery and win­ery, are “thrilled” to take their Sper­ryville en­ter­prise in an “es­tate grown” di­rec­tion.
BY JOHN MCCASLIN Jen­nings, Lain and Van Car­ney, seen here this week sur­vey­ing the fu­ture site of their farm brew­ery and win­ery, are “thrilled” to take their Sper­ryville en­ter­prise in an “es­tate grown” di­rec­tion.

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