Food

What It’s Really Like to Own a Winery

Photograph of Mike and Adrienne Albers courtesy of the Albers.

Mike and Adrienne Albers were sweethearts at Langley High School. After they married, they raised their four children in McLean. Mike worked in high tech; Adrienne volunteered at the kids’ schools and raised money for charities. Almost every week, they came into DC to go to the Smithsonian or a concert or the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. They loved this area.

Mike also loved wine—he’d started collecting it in the mid-’90s. Last year, they bought DelFosse Vineyards and Winery, just south of Charlottesville. They were off on what for many harried Washingtonians is a fantasy life: trading metropolitan stress for something more placid. After they sold their house in McLean, they moved to a spot down the road from where Earl Hamner, the real-life John-Boy of The Waltons, grew up. We talked with Adrienne about what it’s been like to make that move.

What did you do to prepare for taking on a winery?

Michael spent about two years taking classes and volunteering at vineyards, doing everything from helping to plant vines to being a cellar rat. Without exception, every vineyard owner Michael approached was incredibly generous with their time, wisdom, resources, and guidance.

The classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College were a standout, taught by some of Virginia’s winemaking legends—everything from tractor repair to pruning to law.

What advice do you have for others who think about doing the same?

You need capital, and plenty of it, and you need a whole lot of enthusiasm for the process. Making fine wines is incredibly intricate and time-consuming, and you have to embrace the entire lifestyle, which includes the farming, the winemaking, and sales and marketing.

The worst mistakes we see come from people thinking their success in one career translates to this one. Well, it does and it doesn’t. There have been days when the learning curve seemed overwhelming, but it’s no fun without the challenge.

Is it what you expected?

We miss being close to our longtime friends. That’s been a little tough. But you’d be amazed how willing people are to visit you when your new home is a vineyard.

There’s no wi-fi at our house, so we had to unplug, which was unintended. At first, we missed Netflix, ESPN, and Google. We started sitting out on our porch after work. We watch what we call “vineyard TV.” When neither your iPhone nor your TV gets reception, it’s amazing what you notice. The coyotes don’t just howl—they sing, they yip, they put on a concert every night. Our reality TV is the hawk pair in the upper vineyard. They are something to behold.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Read more from our winery guide: 

This article appears in the May 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

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