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Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery

By August 10, 2023No Comments

As we start the long-awaited transition into warmer months, the pace of life will inevitably pick up. Perhaps you’re not quite ready to get back to that pace yet, or you feel like the hustle never really let up in the first place. Thankfully, near the middle of EBR’s territory, one of the region’s gems sits upon a quiet hilltop overlooking the valley. Unpretentious small batches of beer and wine meet an unbeatable view at Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery, where one can go to catch their breath, sit for a while, and take in the fruits of our region. 

Nathan and Irma Bailey, owners of Great Valley Farm, began their foray into the Virginia wine and beer scene in 2008 when they purchased the property just a couple of miles off of I-81, though, once there, you may never guess you were that close to the interstate. In 2012, they planted the first grapes in the six-acre vineyard which today provides about half of the grapes used in their wines and started selling them to other local wineries. 2016 saw the opening of the brewery side and tasting room, and in 2019, the in-house winemaking began in earnest. 

Four years later, the Baileys have earned multiple Governor’s Cup medals* for their wines and built a dedicated local following. The mood in the tasting room is always laid-back and friendly, and the quality is on full display in every glass.

We took an afternoon to sit down with Nathan, brewmaster and winemaker, and ask him a few questions about Great Valley Farm.

Edible Blue Ridge: What does it mean to be a farm brewery and winery?

Great Valley Farm: From Virginia’s definition, you have to be on a farm, zoned agricultural, and have to use some products from the farm in your beer. We don’t grow wheat and barley or hops, but we include specialty ingredients like grapes in a lot of our beers. We have one on tap the white grape saison which utilizes our grüner veltliner and vidal blanc juice during fermentation. So in the fall when we’re pressing [the grapes] we take a portion of that, make a beer with it; I always like the addition of the grape juice. [We] also have things like our lemongrass and basil saison we pick those the day of brewing and throw them in the kettle fresh so you get a super clean and fresh pop of herbal goodness. 

As far as a farm winery, we do have to grow at least 50% of our own fruit. Right now in Virginia I think they realize that growing your own wheat, grain, hops is really difficult. 

EBR: What varietals of grapes are grown on the property?

GVF: We have vidal blanc, cabernet franc, and a couple of Austrian varietals: grüner veltliner and lemberger, which is also called blaufränkisch. Cab franc and vidal [blanc] are tried and true in Virginia, you see them a lot; not so much with the grüner and lemberger, those are more experimental. We did about a quarter acre each of those and have gone on to plant another acre of grüner and one and a half of lemberger. 

EBR: How did you select those [Austrian varietals]?

GVF: We did contact a few people growing Ox-Eye grows both varieties; they were really positive about it. A few others [grow them] along the East Coast. We also looked at the climate in Austria, which is a continental climate, not like the south of France or Spain, which is totally different than here. So there’s more humidity in Austria, more similar growing conditions. 

EBR: Any other grapes on the experimental side?

GVF: We’re working on some experimental plots with new disease-resistant varieties that are bred to be resistant, specifically to powdery and downy mildew they’re actually Italian varietals.

EBR: Where else do you source your grapes?

GVF: We do a lot from Rainbow Hill Vineyard in Rockingham County, and Middleburg Vineyard in the Staunton area. Mainly those two. Sourced a little from Rockbridge Vineyards in the past. 

EBR: Have you ever felt limited in your winemaking with the varietals that you are able to grow and source in Virginia, or have you been pretty satisfied?

GVF: We’ve been pretty satisfied so far. A lot of it’s just taking what the year gives you and making the best wine you can. Sometimes you have to do different things; maybe you have to pick a little early before things go south, make a different style of wine than you would have otherwise. 2019 was an exceptional year in the vineyard, so that helped out a lot. [It was our] first time making wine commercially, so not having to deal with those problems in the vineyard that first year was really good and we made some really nice wines. 

Then in 2020 we had a double frost year, so that was challenging especially after the previous year. Fortunately our grapes bounced back and produced a very good crop even with multiple rounds of frost. 

Diversifying, trying to keep other sources, helps out a lot too. Because we may have a frost here but 30 miles north in Staunton they may escape by a degree or two, or vice versa. 

We haven’t bought any grapes from outside [Virginia] we like the terroir here. The Shenandoah Valley is an American Viticultural Area. 

EBR: What can you tell us about the beer side of the operation?

GVF: We make a variety of styles; I do like Belgian-style beers, so at any one time you’ll see at least 2-3 that are somewhat Belgian-style.

EBR: Where do you source your grain?

GVF: We do try to source a lot from Virginia and North Carolina, so Riverbend Malt is a big supplier for us; we’re also starting to use Murphy & Rude over in Charlottesville. We really like those two sources for our grain. 

EBR: What specialty beers do you have scheduled for this year? 

GVF: We’ve got a barrel-aged dark saison that we used cab franc grapes in. We added those for secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces. [We first] made that beer back in 2017 and it was really really good, barreled it for 15 months and it was very popular. [We] used red wine barrels that had done their duty down in the winery. It’s one of my favorites.

EBR: What do you enjoy most about the area?

GVF: It’s just a real friendly community. Obviously, coming from Charlotte, we wanted to get out of the hustle bustle of the city and the traffic. This has been a perfect spot for us.

Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery is open Wednesday through Sunday starting at 12 each day. Please consider supporting them and other locally-owned Rockbridge County small businesses the next time you are looking for a quick trip! 

78 miles from Charlottesville

45 miles from Roanoke 

68 miles from Harrisonburg

37 miles from Lynchburg

60 Great Valley Lane, Natural Bridge, VA 24578


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