Family feeling: The Farmhouse at Veritas Vineyards

Owners Andrew and Patricia Hodson opened Afton's Veritas Vineyards in 2002, and within a few years their daughter, winemaker Emily Pelton, was winning awards, including taking the top prize in the National Women’s Wine Competition in 2007. Earlier this year, Pelton's wines were served at a State Department luncheon with the Prime Minister of England David Cameron, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Impressive accomplishments, to be sure, but Pelton and her parents aren't done– in fact, they're branching out.

In April, the Farmhouse at Veritas Vineyards opened, a bed and breakfast in the original circa 1836 farmhouse on the property, where the family once lived. Before the end of the year, the Farmhouse was named one of the top 10 B&Bs in the country by, based on reader reviews.

"It's special here, I think, because of the vineyard around you, and the atmosphere of the lived-in farm," says Pelton.

Indeed, Pelton remembers living in the old farmhouse with her parents when the family first arrived, and, as she gives guests a tour, it's clear the rooms and hallways, the little architectural details, hold special meaning. Even a newcomer can sense the spirit that engulfs the small farmhouse, which is tastefully renovated while maintaining a feeling of home. We sit down to a farmhouse dinner with Pelton, served up by executive chef Jonathan Boroughs and chef Joel Walding, and it feels like we've been invited over to friends' house for dinner. Of course, those friends can cook. Among a number of unexpected food and wine pairings, a beef filet topped with a rhubarb cippolini and onion relish, paired with a 2011 Veritas merlot (a wet year, says Pelton, which made the reds better), hit on all cylinders with the visceral taste of a fine piece of meat combining with the tart, earthy sweetness of rhubarb, and the soft, fruitiness of the merlot.

Another highlight: a 2011 rosé served with a spinach salad with a warm bacon balsamic dressing, charred tomatoes, and marinated red onion, which, as Pelton mentions, serves as  "a nice bridge with salads."

Pelton, who once trained to be an epidemiologist, sees winemaking and food preparation in a similarly health-focused way, and her creative sense is informed by science, by how nature should be coaxed into bearing fruits that make our lives and our health better.

"I never imagined this would be my job," says Pelton, "but I study disease everyday, from vine to wine, monitoring bacteria and yeasts, and the health of the product."

What's more, all her focus on creating wines with nature's help has turned her into somewhat of a meteorological historian. 2010?  A crazy, hot year, she says, and so a vintage that only lasted about three weeks.  2009? Unseasonably cool evenings, she recalls. Every night the grapes cooled off and kept more acid– a particular challenge in Virginia.

And always the unpredictable character of the weather, which can make certain years more challenging than others.

"You find your peace with it, when it's raining every single day, but you curse the gods," says Pelton. "My dad says the 'winemaker makes the difference' during those difficult years, but it can be stressful and scary. Sometimes the winemaker can't do it."

Ultimately, the care Pelton and her staff put into the nurturing of their wines is also reflected in the experience at the Farmhouse. House staff is relaxed and friendly, and treat you like family, from the way they care for you during dinner and your stay, and the familiar friendly greeting they offer you in the morning for breakfast in the open kitchen.

Dish could get used to this.

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