It would seem that popularity knows no bounds. When at one time you wouldn’t think to link Virginia with wine, now, with nearly 300 wineries and counting, it’s almost like the Commonwealth is sitting back, feet up, with a confident told-ya-so smirk. Clearly, something must be going right.
One thing’s for sure, at Beliveau Estate Winery, approximately 10 miles from downtown Blacksburg, they are indeed sitting back after a hard day’s work. And they are doing so overlooking beautiful rolling countryside, fields of lavender, hiking trails, ponds with spraying fountains and rows and rows of grapevines. They are sitting back with glasses of their own wine in hand, realizing a dream come true.
Here, it’s all about the experience.
Owners Yvan and Joyce Beliveau are avid travelers who don’t hesitate to U-turn when passing winery signage. Both originally from Vermont, they made their way to Blacksburg for degrees at Virginia Tech and decided to stay, touting the New River Valley as an ideal location for family life and retirement.
“We bought the 165-acre property in 2001 solely to put in grapes and start a winery,” Joyce Beliveau states. They renovated and expanded an existing farmhouse for a bed and breakfast. The Beliveaus opened this first in order to bring in immediate revenue. Starting a winery is, admittedly, a very expensive process.
“We planted our first six acres of grapes in 2009, and it takes four growing seasons to produce a bottle of wine with your own grapes,” notes Yvan.
In the meantime, they purchased grapes from other vineyards, a common industry leasing process. But it all still comes down to knowing and utilizing your land in the smartest and most productive way possible. Since Virginia has a very different climate than, say, Northern California, which has a predictable climate year-round, winemakers must stay on their toes.
“Because our weather can be excessively rainy one year and hot and humid the next, we end up crafting very different wine from the same plants. That’s the exciting part where art and science come in,” Yvan points out.
This notion of “art” and “science” is Yvan’s adopted role in the oenological process, the official “-ology” for the science and study of wine and winemaking. He relishes the complexity of balancing both art and science to arrive at desirable results. The science is simply the fermentation of grape juice into wine and a chemical understanding of juice characteristics. The art, requiring a bit more nuance, is all about style and creativity. It’s about the flavor, the feel and the experience of the wine. The first wine bottled from their own harvest was a Vidal Blanc, fatefully titled “Destiny.”
In its entirety, the property includes the winery, the B&B, a wedding venue, event space and a hilltop pavilion. There are now 12 acres of vines from which 60% of their wine is produced. The Beliveaus will soon close on an adjoining 85 acres that includes a house called The Lodge and an additional event venue. And lastly, you’d be remiss not to notice the lavender bushes that delightfully dot the property.
“I’ve always had a passion for lavender,” Joyce says. “In 1986, I visited lavender fields in the Provence region of France. Whenever I walk among lavender, I get a déjà vu feeling, like I’ve been there in a past life.”
Once again, like wine, lavender requires its own specific growing conditions. Lavandula, the scientific name, is in the mint family of species and likes hot, Mediterranean conditions. So in Virginia, varieties that can survive the cold must be planted. Lavender doubles in size for the first four years and continues to stay healthy at max growth.
Recognizing the niche intrigue that lavender inspires, The Beliveaus started an annual Lavender Festival in June of 2008. Now in its 10th year, the festival draws thousands of visitors from out of state and all over Virginia.
Always the last full weekend in June, the festival highlights the scent, sight and taste of lavender, all while promoting an ambiance of peace and calm that is synonymous with the plant. Estate Chef Makayla Gassler creates inspired culinary temptations like lavender pizza, lavender chicken salad, lavender ice cream and lavender lemonade. Lavender harvested young is suitable for cooking, when the oils are still soft and not too overpowering.
Lectures are offered covering medicinal usage, planting, care and cooking with lavender. There are full plants or loose lavender (by the cup) for sale. Local artisans sell related wares and a harpist plays throughout the day. And, of course, there’s wine.
“It’s all about the experience. We make a huge effort to set the mood for relaxation, so you can be mesmerized into a different world and take a break from life,” Joyce offers.
And the million-dollar question begging to be asked: What about developing a lavender-infused wine? “We are working on that, “ smiles Yvan. “But we’re still finessing the art part.”
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos courtesy of Beliveau Estate Winery
Nancy Moseley is a freelance writer from Blacksburg who regretfully declined a glass of wine while interviewing Joyce for this story.