The retirement of one couple from 20 years of winemaking means a new adventure for another.
David and Marie Gibbs, owners of Virginia Mountain Vineyards located outside of Fincastle, are pulling up the vines, so to speak – but not literally. They are retiring to travel and bask in the delight of a soon-to-beborn grandchild. As of October 9, the vineyard and its events will be under new management. Jacqui Sobieski and Brian Weber, of Maryland, are purchasing the business and the 100 acres that go with it.
“We’re very excited and honored to step in and take over their legacy,” Sobieski said. This new adventure will be a “big shift” for her and her husband. She has been a technology guru for most of her working life, and Weber will be retiring from a Washington, D.C. law practice, where he has worked for 25 years. The Gibbses, meanwhile, are eager to begin their retirement after spending nearly three years trying to sell their business. The grapevines, Marie Gibbs said, are their babies and they were not going to sell the land to just any purchaser. They had to wait for the right buyer to come along.
“It’s a way of life,” Marie noted. “This was our baby.” They planted their first grapes in April 1998. Both were working fulltime jobs at the time. They planted 3,325 Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc vines.
Now they have 5,625 vines with the addition of Merlot, Traminette, and Petit Verdot grapes. The grapevines encompass nearly 10 acres of land. For their first years of operation, the Gibbses sold their premium grapes to local wineries while they perfected their own winemaking techniques. That included the purchase of quality winery equipment and other capital investments necessary to open a winery.
On June 1, 2006, Virginia Mountain Vineyards opened its doors to the public, showcasing the property’s lovely mountain views and quiet serenity. They initially offered eight wines. The following year that number increased to 11, and currently the vineyard offers 13 different wine varieties. Even as the winery grew, both continued to work full-time job – David as a forensic lab expert with the Roanoke office of the Virginia State Police and Marie as a dental hygienist. David retired in 2012 and Marie in 2014. They are originally from Connecticut.
“It took a lot of coordination and prioritization,” Marie said of working and running a winery. “You had to learn what has to be done now.” David discovered after he retired that running the winery was a full-time job in and of itself. “I bought a motorcycle,” he said with a wry grin. “I thought I’d have lots of time. I rode it twice. I’m busier than ever.” The winery grew to include a 7,500-squarefoot event center that allows for music, weddings, and group activities.
The event space is set up with tents but is also equipped with an HVAC system. A wood cottage sits at one end of the patio, offering men’s and a women’s bathrooms as well as a bride’s room. The building is temperature controlled. Their grape harvests often are made with the help of friends and neighbors. One person that has consistently supported them has been David’s mother, Yvette Gibbs of Daleville, who at the age of 90 was out harvesting grapes on the far end of the property on a humid September day. “She loves working here,” Marie said. Their wines have won awards for their flavor and the vines offer consistent tastes in the grapes thanks to the soil consistency. It is the grapes, though, not the wine, that Marie speaks of with pride and with what seems like a lot of maternal love.
“I enjoy harvesting,” she admitted. “I find it relaxing. You can talk to someone or you can be by yourself. You can put your music on and do your thing.” The deer that bound through nearby fields do not bother the plants, thanks to an ingenious design that encourages the animals to experience a little zapping from the electric fence each spring, which then keeps them away. Occasionally, raccoons and turkeys find their way inside the fenced-in vineyard, but otherwise the animals, including bears, leave the vines alone.
“The grapes still look great,” Marie said. With the pending sale, both David and Marie are looking forward to traveling to Richmond to see that new grandbaby, and perhaps to explore other wineries. They will remain involved with Virginia Mountain Vineyards as consultants for six months to a year, David said. None of the events and activities currently under way will cease under the new ownership. Sobieski and Weber are planning to increase activities at the winery and hope to add cabins for overnight stays and turn the home, which has nine bedrooms, into a bed and breakfast. The two are originally from Northern Virginia and are excited to be returning to their native state.
“We’ve wanted to do this for so long,” Sobieski said. They had been looking at vineyards for a while before finding Virginia Mountain Vineyards. “It’s such an opportunity at our age to sort of dive into something and learn new things,” she said. She is also looking forward to the physical activity associated with running the winery. “We’re leaving behind the desks and conference tables,” she said. Numerous family members will join them – Sobieski has six siblings, all of whom plan to be involved in this new wine venture in some fashion.
That includes helping make Virginia Mountain Vineyards a complete destination attraction. Longrange plans include installing a commercial kitchen and adding catering as well as other opportunities for visitors to the vineyard. “We have lots of plans,” Sobieski said. “It feels very different when it’s something that is your own.”