Resident Feature by Jennifer McArtor | Photos by Rob Garland Photographers

Eastwood Farm and Winery with Megan Velie

Q: Tell us a little bit about your family. Who makes up your family?
A: My mother, two sisters, and I moved to Charlottesville in 1999 when my mother started law school at the University of Virginia. My sisters and I attended St. Anne’s Belfield school before leaving for college and ultimately returning to build Eastwood Farm and Winery. We are still working on recruiting my sister, Abigail, who is currently a Captain in the U.S. Army, attending law school in the Judge Advocate General program.

My mother is a commodities lawyer, widely recognized for her work helping large agricultural companies develop innovative structure to enable them to grow and adapt to a changing world, including by developing biodigesters and other new technologies intended to combat and adapt to climate change. She was recognized as a 2021 Trailblazer by the National Law Journal for her work designing products to support innovation unsustainable agriculture and renewable energy. In 2016, she purchased the original 1800’s farm of Thomas Jefferson’s builder, John Dunkum, with the vision of opening a winery on the property. Having spent her career working at the national level, she felt a strong calling to pivot to a more local focus. She looks forward to putting her experience to work in furthering Virginia’s agricultural interests.

My mother and Jeremy Christian met after law school at a songwriter’s night at The Local and have been together ever since. Jeremy is known by many for the many years he has spent in the local beverage scene in Charlottesville as well as for his custom motorcycle business. As a co-founder at Eastwood and all-around problem solver, he is also one of Eastwood’s winemakers in addition to serving as farm manager.

My sister, Hannah, is known around town for her natural, farm-based skin care line, You’re in Luck Farm. Being a locavore, and dedicated to social justice and community development, she also started and ran an urban farm in Baltimore while in college. She now runs the farm-to-table program at Eastwood in addition to the tasting room operations.

My cousin, Colleen, joined the team first helping part-time with festivals. However, it didn’t take us long to rope her in full-time. With a background in hospitality management, Colleen has become a critical member of the team.

After college, I worked for many years on the business side of the art world as assistant director of a prominent gallery in NYC. Having also studied developmental psychology at Columbia University, with a focus on resilience and American Dream research, I have always been drawn to grass roots entrepreneurial stories and decided to take the leap myself in joining the family business. Now I am leveraging my business experience to run operations for the winery, coordinating local partnerships, and overseeing marketing and private events at Eastwood. I am looking forward to using the Eastwood platform to share some of the incredible stories of the many local community members who followed their dreams.

As a family-run business, I would be remiss not to mention my niece, Hannah’s 5-year old daughter, Josephine, who has assisted with apple and pear harvests from the very beginning (the first year, strapped to her mom’s back as a newborn).

Q: Tell us about starting your own winery. What led you here?
A: Growing up, wine wasn’t really a part of my family life. It was more common for everyone to have a glass of milk or water at dinner. As I went through high school at St. Anne’s Belfield, my world opened up a bit more. My mother was always looking for family activities for us, which sometimes meant packing a picnic and going to listen to music at Jefferson Vineyards or Carter Mountain. Slowly, I began to learn that I lived in an incredible wine region.

In college, I spent a semester living with a family in Italy and saw the way wine and food were incorporated into life there. I immediately fell in love and was utterly captivated by the freshest olive oil, how different a meal was when local and farm fresh ingredients were used or when things like pasta were made from scratch. House red wines in Tuscany were phenomenal and were poured from a barrel into a carafe and set on your table in many restaurants. I wanted this to be my whole world.

After my college graduation, my mother and I spent a week at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California, a sister school to the famed CIA in New York, where my father worked as a chef and instructor. In Napa, we rose each day very early, donning our aprons, grabbing produce and herbs from the kitchen gardens before spending hours preparing lunch with the rest of our classmates. Our afternoons typically focused on wine and I learned more than I ever thought was possible about tasting, smells, and viticulture. The veil around wine was removed by a kind and thoughtful teacher who was patient with my questions.

We started dreaming about opening a winery on that California trip, but we were both just starting our own careers (my mother graduated from law school when I was in 7th grade) and we didn’t have the knowledge or resources at that time. It wasn’t until years later that the opportunity finally presented itself when my family purchased a 77-acre farm in Charlottesville. By then, my mother had worked for years as a commodity lawyer advising large agricultural companies. Now was our chance to put that experience to work locally in an industry we love.

For me it meant leaving my job in New York City to pursue a moonshot idea, but I was raised to believe we can do anything we set our minds to. There are still challenges every day, but I find I get the greatest energy from working toward a goal that I believe in. That makes it a pleasure to tackle the day’s tasks — and there are many when you start any new business! We are still at the very beginning of this journey, but you have to start somewhere. A wise man once said, do what you can in a day and one day you will have written the book. We try to remember to take it one day at a time and enjoy the journey. That is what got us started on this path in the first place.

Q: Tell us about your wines. Which ones are your favorites and why?
A: Our Charlottesville property is on the West side of Carters Mountain Ridge, where apples and pears have flourished for centuries. In addition to our traditional wines, we have embraced Virginia’s apple heritage with our White Blend, made entirely from apples and pears. Notes of honey, fig, and vanilla are pronounced on the nose and palette. It is deliciously smooth and drinkable. The White Blend has been a consistent Virginia Governor’s Cup medalist since our first harvest in 2018. We also make a very popular Apple Pear Prohibition Cider, which is available on tap at the winery. We also have ten acres of vineyards growing Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon in Albemarle and Nelson counties. One of our most popular wines is our Viognier. Our 2020 Viognier is currently available at Eastwood along with a few local shops in Charlottesville and Richmond. It pairs perfectly with Caromont Farm’s goat cheese and everything that is in season right now – tomatoes, corn, squash, and other vegetables from your garden or the local farmer’s market, plus it is great with anything on the grill including chicken and fish, hot dogs and burgers. Notes of citrus, apricot, and honeysuckle are delightfully pronounced in this dry, white Virginia wine. Serve chilled!

Q: What does it mean to you all to be a part of the Charlottesville business community?
A: We were all drawn to this lifestyle, in part, as a way to work closely with local growers, makers, artists and musicians. In addition to regularly hosting musicians and First Friday art exhibitions, we offer everything from local cheese from Caromont Farm to coffee from JBird Supply. We also partner with Lynette of Family Pies & Ties who uses our fresh fruits in her wonderful pie creations for Eastwood. My sister, Hannah, was fortunate to take part in a 16-week entrepreneur workshop sponsored by Charlottesville’s Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) a number of years ago and that group of entrepreneurs continues to support each other in many ways. We also love working with Charlottesville’s many non-profits and have a policy of waiving our venue fee for them to use our property for galas and volunteer events.

Q: What’s your favorite part of living and working on the south side?
A: We have lived in different neighborhoods and areas of Charlottesville since 1999, almost always on the south side. Our favorite part about living around here is being incredibly close to town, but completely immersed in the natural beauty of the Charlottesville countryside. We are only 5 miles from Downtown Charlottesville along Carters Mountain Ridge.

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for new entrepreneurs?
A: Do that thing that makes you want to jump out of bed every day. Don’t wait until all the stars are aligned. Sometimes you have to start before you think you are ready. You will always have to adapt along the way.

 

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