When Trent Tebbe decided to get back to his family’s grain-growing roots, he knew that Loudoun, with its booming craft beverage scene, was the perfect spot.
Tebbe is growing rye on 15 leased acres at the historic Morven Park estate near Leesburg. And Scott and Becky Harris, of Purcellville-based Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, have turned Tebbe’s rye into a 100 percent Loudoun-grown whiskey slated to be bottled this fall.
Meanwhile, down the road at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, visitors are enjoying special Oatlands wines created by noted local winemaker Doug Fabbioli. For Loudoun’s history-focused nonprofits, working with distillers and winemakers is a way to tap into the popular craft beverage scene that’s drawing tourists to Loudoun in droves. And for producers, it’s a way to access new markets and forge valuable agricultural partnerships.
“I really wanted to get back into farming,” said Tebbe, a 42-year-old Fairfax-based software engineer, who was raised on a grain farm in Indiana.
Through tech-industry connections with Bruce Forbes, a member of the Morven Park board of trustees, Tebbe was able to lease 15 acres on the 1,000-acre Morven Park property, known for its historic mansion, world-class equestrian facilities and sports fields. Tebbe began growing rye in 2014 and has since produced two certified-organic harvests. He has since expanded his Three Monkeys Farm with additional leases on privately owned land north of Leesburg.
Before launching his rye experiment, Tebbe reached out to the award-winning distillery right in his backyard about a sourcing arrangement. The booming Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, which is moving toward national distribution, sources grains both locally and from growers in other parts of the U.S. to meet demand for its flagship Roundstone Rye.
But, doing a first-ever bottling entirely from Loudoun-grown grain is something special, Catoctin Creek founder and distiller Becky Harris said, and it’s a three-way win for the landowner, the farmer and the distiller.
“You really can’t have the product without any one of the three—it’s like the infamous three-legged stool,” she said.
For Morven Park Executive Director Stephanie Kenyon, the collaboration is an exciting way to take the property back to its agricultural roots.
“If you think about the history of Morven Park, this was an agricultural center, and there were many different types of agricultural crops that were grown here. … It really is a part of our history here,” Kenyon said.
Morven Park was the home of Westmoreland Davis, who served as Virginia’s governor during World War I. Davis made Morven Park into an agricultural showpiece, growing and harvesting corn, alfalfa, barley, orchard grass and sorghum, among other crops. He also operated one of the largest turkey breeding enterprises in the country.
Morven Park, now operated by the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation, has purchased a barrel of the soon-to-be-bottled, Loudoun-grown whiskey and will give the bottles as gifts rather than selling them, Kenyon said. But, the Morven Park whiskey will likely be available in limited quantities in the Catoctin Creek tasting room. As his operation expands, Tebbe hopes Loudouners will be able to buy locally grown whiskey on a wider scale.
“The future of this is if we see that response from the community, we can develop a product that’s grown right here and you can see each step that it went through on its way to the bottle and then go to your local ABC store and purchase that,” Tebbe said.
Over at Oatlands
Just a few miles south of Morven Park, the staff and directors at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens are tapping into the Loudoun wine craze to bring new visitors to the property, known for its 1804 mansion and stunning gardens. Last year, Oatlands launched two wines under its own label in collaboration with Fabbioli, an award-winning winemaker and owner of Fabbioli Cellars north of Leesburg.
Fabbioli blended a white vidal blanc and a red chambourcin bottled under the Oatlands label, selecting two varietals with a special place in Virginia’s winemaking history.
“I call them Virginia classics,” Fabbioli said.
Visitors can enjoy a glass of Oatlands wine on site and buy bottles at the property’s gift shop to take home. Couples can also buy Oatlands wines to pour at receptions at the popular wedding venue.
For now, Fabbioli uses grapes grown in nearby Loudoun vineyards for the Oatlands wines.
The Oatlands board of directors is in the early stages of exploring the idea of viticultural partnerships with area winemakers, said Oatlands Development Director Matt Kraycinovich, perhaps even growing wine grapes on the property.
Oatlands’ partnership with Hamilton-based Wegmeyer Farms, which leases land for pick-your-own strawberries and pumpkins on the property, is a model, Kraycinovich said.
“Our strategic partnerships with Fabbioli Cellars and Wegmeyer Farms reflect our commitment to telling the important story of the agricultural heritage at Oatlands,” Oatlands Executive Director Bonnie LePard said. “With the sale of Oatlands wine, strawberries and pumpkins, we’ve returned to our roots. On top of that, we’re attracting new visitors and gaining new customers, proving that when local agribusinesses partner with a local historic site, we each can grow and succeed.”
These kinds of collaborations are key for Loudoun’s continuing development as a tourism destination and craft beverage hub, said Fabbioli, who embraces the kinds of innovative partnerships that benefit businesses, nonprofits and consumers.
“It’s having fun, doing business, working with cool people. Some of it may be nonprofit, some of it may be for-profit. But the whole idea is that it isn’t about money,” Fabbioli said. “It’s about working together it’s about doing some good product, and at the end of the day you’ve built yourself another friend and partner.”
Doug Fabbioli hosts a wine tasting featuring the Oatlands blends along with other Fabbioli wines and herbs grown by Oatlands head gardener Mark Schroeter on Sunday, July 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 in advance, and space is limited. For more information, contact Matt Kraycinovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.