Horse-happy Keswick wasn’t happy. The fight over a proposed vineyard was pitting neighbor against neighbor with allegations of excessive traffic, pesticides, water, and worst of all in pastoral horse-farm country: aesthetics.
One complainer in a daily newspaper article referred to the metal stakes so clearly visible from Gordonsville Road as “miniature antennae.” Another likened the proposed Keswick Winery to a roller derby rink on a front lawn.
But the fight ended last Friday, not with a smashed champagne glass, but with an anticlimactic face-off before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
The ABC hearing on March 15 featured none of the fireworks that have enthralled Keswickians since the issue exploded on the front page of the Daily Progress in late February.
Thomas Baynham, the ABC administrative hearing officer— a Quincy Jones look-alike and definitely the best dressed man in attendance— huddled in a back room with Keswick Winery lawyer Garrett Smith, and the neighbors’ counsel, Theodore Korth, at the beginning of the 9am meeting.
Baynham then allowed the two attorneys to make statements, chiding Smith to get to the point as he stipulated that Keswick Winery reserves the right to plant additional acres beyond its current 53, but has no plan to go beyond 100. Based upon that stipulation, Korth withdrew the objections that had precipitated the hearing.
A month ago, some Keswick residents were howling that the winery and vineyard at the historic Edgewood estate would ruin their property values, and complained about the aesthetics of newly planted grapevines. So what happened?
“Fear and loathing,” replies Korth. “The neighbors had been hearing about a 300-acre vineyard and a restaurant. They were scared of that.”
Korth called Smith the night before the hearing to say the neighbors were backing off, perhaps the result of a letter from owner Al Schornberg’s legal and public relations team assuring Korth that neighbors’ fears were based on erroneous information.
“We were afraid it would be a wine factory rather than a wine boutique,” says Art Beltrone, leader of the neighbors’ opposition, and the Schornbergs’ next-door neighbor.
“The winery wants to make the best wine, not the most wine,” counters Smith.
In the spring of 2000, Al Schornberg, a retired technology entrepreneur, and his wife Cindy plunked down $5.1 million for 393-acre Edgewood and its 1912 mansion built for a diplomat and extensively renovated by its most recent owner, movie director Hugh Wilson. Initially, Beltrone was an enthusiastic supporter of their winery plans, writing press releases and accepting payment for his promotional efforts.
Allies of the Schornbergs think that things began to change after Beltrone offered to sell his adjacent 38-acre farm to the winery for $2.1 million— about $1 million over its appraised value, according to documents filed with the ABC by Smith.
Neighborly relations declined after the winery declined this offer, and Beltrone began frequently calling the police to complain about the noise of a generator and the Schornbergs’ Jack Russell terriers, according to Smith’s memorandum.
“Our concern was the scope of the operation,” says Beltrone after the hearing. “We do not object to a winery and vineyard.” He adds that the neighbors feared that a separate Schornberg-owned parcel several miles away, Vinland, might be planted with 200 acres of grapevines.
After the hearing, Al Schornberg, the second best-dressed man in attendance, said part of the problem was that he and his wife had a premature baby, and his wife had been confined to bed. “We weren’t able to get our story out,” says Schornberg.
Another new winery aimed at the upscale wine drinker is Patricia Kluge’s new venture, Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard. Unlike Keswick Winery, Kluge had no problems with objecting neighbors in her south-of-Simeon neighborhood. “Pat Kluge’s winery had its license issued a couple of years ago,” says ABC agent Roger Stevens.