Year One in the Rearview
As Ferris Bueller once famously said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it." What he failed to mention – and couldn't possibly know because he was in high school and under the legal drinking age – was that life on the vineyard moves faster than a 1961 Ferrari 250GT California at top speed. So as year one becomes history, we decided to heed philosopher Ferris's advice to stop, look around, appreciate the ride, then twist and shout our way into the future!
Highlights & Head-Scratchers
It feels like things went from zero to sixty almost as soon as we first opened the vineyard doors last February. Within a few short months, we'd had our first wedding, our first big festival event in Fire, Flour & Fork, and, of course, our first vintages of wine.
Somewhere along the way we managed to pick up a few awards to display above the mantel. Our wines won five Governor’s Cup medals. Virginia Living magazine named us a Top Wedding Vendor of 2017 (silver). Garden & Gun said we offered up the Best Burger and View combo in the South. We scored a Richmond Bride cover and feature article, a top 2017 Large Wedding Vendor Award from Borrowed & Blue, and heaps of other metals, trophies and participation ribbons stowed away somewhere in the attic. Yet despite having a year that far exceeded all expectations, there were the inevitable bumps in the road to keep us on our toes.
“Year one was incredibly challenging, but everything just seemed to work out,” says Tayloe Dameron, Upper Shirley's owner and proprietor. “I had no idea how difficult it would be to start a winery, events venue, and restaurant all at once. But every time things felt like they might get out of control, something fortuitous happened. The right leader came along, a big event booked, the weather changed.”
Speaking of weather, an unexpectedly dry September almost meant our first vintages never happened. “There was a three-week dry spell just before our very first harvest,” continues Tayloe. “We thought we were going to lose a majority of the grapes – that’s a disaster for a new winery; I’m getting anxiety just thinking about it. But the week before harvest, in comes the rain. It poured every other day for a week. We didn't get the production we'd hoped for, but the quality of the grapes was unbelievable!”
The community surrounding Upper Shirley flocked to the banks of the James to take a peak at that curious new winery, but it was largely Chef Carlisle’s legendary culinary creations and the zen-like organization of our General Manager, Kaitlin Everett, that kept the crowds coming back. Glowing reviews in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Style, and Garden & Gun fueled the fire. Word spread. And soon our venue was overflowing every weekend.
“Awesome people make a difference," says Chef Carlisle. “And I’ve met a lot of awesome people this year, from our kitchen staff to our patrons to the vendors – White Stone Oysters, Victory Farms, Rudy’s Produce, to name a few. Virginia's food culture is growing like crazy right now! I’m just proud to be a part of it and help contribute.”
Events Director Miranda Bricker agrees. “Relationships matter. We were introduced to so many amazing vendors, photographers, and publications this year that helped our exposure in a way that's really unquantifiable. I went from having a wedding tour maybe once or twice a week when I first started to having double bookings almost every day now. It’s crazy! We’ve already hit our wedding goal for 2017.”
To finish this out, let's Twist and shout
It’s impossible to encapsulate what this first year has meant to us in a blog post. So we'll do ya one better – not only are we tipping our top hats with our sincerest thanks to all the patrons and vendors who’ve supported us, but we'll also be hosting a HUGE CELEBRATION!
Oh yes. We're hosting our very own Year One Birthday Bash on February 25th from 6 - 10pm. But we won't be celebrating ourselves. We'll be celebrating you, the people who raised us! And to help supplement the celebrating, we'll be providing hand-crafted food, White Stone Oysters, award-winning wine, specialty beer, and live music from the Jangling Reinharts!
So come Feb. 25, let's all stop, look around, reflect on our lives as the future becomes the present and the present becomes the past, then party like it's the youngest we're ever gonna be – because when you think about it, it is. (Tickets sold out much quicker than expected – thanks so much for the love! – but we've got MANY more celebrations coming down the pipe this year. Stay tuned for updates.)