By. Neil Williamson – VWJ Editor
Not all that long ago, Leesburg was a sleepy hamlet on the way to Harper’s Ferry. This was the setting when Lew Parker founded Willowcroft Farm Winery during Ronald Regan’s first term. Mt. Gilead is located on the Catoctin Ridge, (about 6 miles south of Leesburg) Willowcroft offers panoramic, astounding, Blue Ridge Mountain views.
Despite being surrounded by what is now one of the most affluent localities in the country, Willowcroft retains its rustic charm. The historic red barn that houses the winery and tasting room dates back to before the war, the civil war. If the barn’s thick stone foundation walls could talk, we would hear tales of a more agrarian culture and the many families that made their living with cattle, hay and apples.
Today the repurposed barn is filled with tanks on one side and the laughter of winery patrons in the various scattered tasting rooms.
Winemaker (and owner) Lew Parker started the winery in 1983. “Restoration of historic structures is receiving more emphasis,” says Parker, who oversaw the renovation of the barn and outbuildings on the property. “It enhances our ability to attract customers,” he said, “Visitors look at the barn and say ‘wow’ it’s part of the fun, and it definitely enhances the marketing”.
All great wines start in the vineyard, with elevations from 600 to 750 feet, Willowcroft’s vines have excellent protection from late spring frosts. This location provides warm summer days but cool nights, perfect conditions to grow outstanding fruit. All of the vineyards are dry farmed, no irrigation. This can be tough on young vines in some years, but it also forces older vines to spread their roots deep into the silty loam soils. This combination of climatic conditions and healthy, well drained soils, allows the vines to produce aromatic, crisp whites, and vibrant, fruity reds with solid tannins.
Parker’s detailed oriented personality was a natural fit for the rigors and challenges of winemaking. His wines have received countless accolades over the last thirty years.
Not content to simply make award winning wines, Parker believes in sharing his winemaking knowledge. To that end, since 2002 Willowcroft has been offering winemaking classes.
With so much individual winemaking knowledge and experience, it would be understandable if Parker developed his wine blends on his own. But Parker recognizes the limitation of just one palate and involves much of the Willowcroft team to be a part of blending sessions. It is said this is when Parker is at his best building the consensus that allows an excellent wine blend to be created.
Working with mostly estate fruit (14 acres under vine) Willowcroft produces a number of classic varietals as well as some “road less taken” varietals including Albarino, Cabernet Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette. Each of the Willowcroft wines benefits from unique growing conditions and hand craftsmanship of a true boutique winery and a fully engaged owner/winemaker.