Best Cup Around: Loudoun Unites Best Wine, Beer; Posts Hopeful Tourism Numbers

There’s no better place to have a drink than Loudoun—and there are trophies to prove it.

This year, the highest awards in the state for both winemaking and brewing—the Governor’s Cup and Best in Show at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup—are in the hands of Loudoun crafters.

In February, 868 Estate Vineyards, north of Hillsboro,took home the Governor’s Cup for winemaker Carl DiManno’s 2017 Vidal Blanc Passito. And on Aug. 30, co-owner Bill Haase, head brewer James Sandoval and the rest of the team at Leesburg’s Black Hoof Brewing Company found out they hadwon Best in Show at the Craft Beer Cup for their Muzzle Loader Munich Dunkel.

It is only the second time since the Virginia Craft Beer Cup began in 2012 that both cups have been in the same county. In 2016, James River Brewery and Keswick Vineyards, both in Albemarle County, won their respective cups. And it is also not the first time since then a Loudoun winemaker won the Governor’s Cup.

The next year, in 2017, the Barns at Hamilton Station Vineyards took home the cup for its 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, presaging Loudoun’s primacy in Virginia’s craft beverage scene this year. Loudoun beers and wines also consistently score well in those competitions, which each hand out awards for a variety of styles of beer or wine.

Perhaps appropriately for Loudoun, which is also known for its high-tech industries, both DiManno and Haase put their scientific backgrounds into their craft. DiManno is a former chemical engineer who fell in love with wine while working for an oil company, and has said he embraces the scientific spirit of trial and error in his work. Haase is a water engineer who meticulously filters down Leesburg’s public water to pure H20 before adding minerals back in to match the regions of Germany where Black Hoof’s styles originate.

Both credited Loudoun’s people for the good wine and beer.

“Most people ask, what’s in the soil?” DiManno said. “I don’t know that the soil’s all that remarkable, I think we just brought in a lot of great talent.” He mentioned other great Loudoun winemakers, like Fabbioli Cellars’ Doug Fabbioli. “I think [it’s] getting it right for the location, as far as what we plant, the spacing and the design, and then having really talented winemakers, who know how to work with that fruit.”

“Everybody’s brewing really good beer in Northern Virginia, and we push each other to brew better beer,” Haase said—stepping away briefly from a meeting with Dog Money Brewing owner and brewer Dean Lake. Haase pointed to the Loudoun County Brewers Association, which meets quarterly: “We get to sit down with all the other owners and either collaborate or try to determine what’s best for us as a group, but also we get to try each other’s beers. That camaraderie, it helps us build a bond, but it also develops some really good, clean fun competition.”

While there apparently is no equivalent statewide award for distillers, if there was, Loudoun would likely be a strong contender there, too—Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville claims to have the most awarded spirits in Virginia, with its flagship Roundstone Rye winning gold medals in competitions around the world year after year.

Maybe that’s part of why Loudoun’s tourism and hospitality industry is bouncing back from the summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to numbers collected by Visit Loudoun.

According to Visit Loudoun’s industry monitoring and surveys of businesses, while hospitality businesses are far behind where they were at this time last year, they have seen meteoric growth from the depths of the business shutdowns ordered earlier this year to combat the spread of the virus.

Loudoun finished July with 42 percent of its hotel rooms filled. That was up 67 percent from April’s low of 25-percent occupancy. Demand for accommodations has grown more and more quickly each month as vacationing travelers come to Loudoun again, increasing by 16 percent from April to May, 19 percent into June, and 33 percent into July.

The DC metro area has been one of the hardest hit markets in the country, but Loudoun has done better than the rest of Northern Virginia.

For many of the people coming back in Loudoun, it’s only a drive away. Visit Loudoun President and CEO Beth Erickson said at a time when people want to feel safe and might be hesitant to hop on a plane, that’s good news.

“When we look at that demand and the growth, we always want to know where it’s coming from, and at this point it is most certainly the leisure visitors and travelers,” Erickson said. “…People are going out for road trips. Visit Loudoun has been heavily promoting Loudoun County as a road trip destination to those that can easily arrive here by car, and we’re finding that to be very effective.”

In part, she credited Loudoun’s business community for taking safety seriously.

“I think that that consumer confidence aspect of travel is really important, and that’s why the ‘Loudoun Is Ready’ program has been so successful,” Erickson said.

More than 700 businesses have joined that program, which was launched by the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development. And it’s not the only helping hand government—especially local government—has offered to businesses during the pandemic, such as offering grants to businesses hit by the pandemic, or allowing them to expand their seating areas outside onto sidewalks to allow for social distancing.

Restaurants and craft beverage makers in particular have also benefited from a relaxation of some of the state’s alcohol laws. Emergency changes were pushed through to allow those businesses more flexibility in terms of selling their products to go. Erickson said some of that new flexibility should stay even after the state of emergency ends.

“I know that it has been a key point of what Visit Loudoun is pushing for, and the Loudoun County Chamber is pushing for, to really keep those creative business practices available to our businesses beyond the pandemic, and put those into everyday operations,” Erickson said.

And for now, she said, stay the course—both businesses and guests. In a survey of businesses, Visit Loudoun found 60 percent had faced some sort of pushback from a guest on safety requirements, particularly wearing masks.

“These guidelines are in place to make sure that our business can thrive, and that our visitors can have a good, safe experience, so we’re going to continue to push, from Visit Loudoun’s perspective, on keeping those communication lines open with our industry,” Erickson said. “We’re going to continue to promote Loudoun County as a fantastic destination where people can feel confident to come.”

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