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New winery in Afton aspires to become grand wine trail destination
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New winery in Afton aspires to become grand wine trail destination

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With COVID regulations having been lifted within the past month, many in the Shenandoah Valley have begun to enjoy something resembling a return to normalcy.

For some, enjoying said return to normalcy with a celebratory glass of wine or a good beer or two is nothing new, but one location serving the wine and beer is.

Hazy Mountain Vineyards and Brewery in Afton recently celebrated its grand opening on June 17 with a slew of new guests looking to enjoy a glass of Valley-produced wine while taking in the extraordinary views of the surrounding mountainscape.

General Manager Sarah McGinnis was one of hundreds enjoying the business’ first days, but for a time, didn’t know when it would finally open due to the pandemic.

“We didn’t want to set a date and pivot with it,” McGinnis said. “We had rough dates in mind with a goal to get open this spring and summer.”

Luke Trainum, the winemaker and head of Hazy Mountain’s brewing program, can also attest that dates for the vineyards’ grand opening didn’t change much, but some of the business models did.

Business models had to be adjusted numerous times because of COVID regulations.

At first, plans were created to have the business open with COVID regulations in-place, but Virginia’s regulations were lifted just weeks prior to the business’ first day.

“We were trying to be proactive and plan for COVID,” McGinnis said. “Things are now getting better, which is awesome, but [it] wasn’t part of our plan.”

One thing that was part of the plan? Seating space.

Hazy Mountains features plenty of it for residents and other Virginians who still want to practice safe distancing while also enjoying their time at the winery.

“I think we’ve created so much space here so [that] no one feels clustered or rushed,” Trainum said.

McGinnis continued by distinguishing the service areas of Hazy Mountain into three categories.

First is the campus’ covered patio, which will feature under-floor heating and controlled temperatures in the winter. Second is the mountain view terrace patio, which will be completely outdoors year-round while featuring spectacular views of the surrounding area. Finally, Hazy Mountain also has plenty of indoor dining, which also features bar seating and low-top tables.

Regardless of where customers are sitting, McGinnis ensures they’re going to have a view of the surrounding mountains.

The views have even already attracted Americans from out-of-state.

Zachary Mather, a tasting room team member, just moved to the Shenandoah Valley from Phoenix, Arizona, three months ago.

When he saw the mountains, it was love at first sight.

“I was just, like, ‘I [have] to work here,’” Mather said. “I have to be able to drive that drive every day and just come up that hill and see all of it.”

The main building, itself, also adds to the experience.

According to Mather, many customers told him that the winery and surrounding landscape is like something ripped “straight out of California Wine Country.”

“The architecture was inspired by Tuscany, Napa and the Sonoma areas,” McGinnis said. “We think that’s a really unique architectural design for this area.”

Designing the architecture is something several employees are also quite familiar with.

Employees such as Wine Cellar Hand Bryan Fernandez, Vineyard Laborer & Technician Nathaniel Brawley-Magee and Vineyard Supervisor Noe Garcia have more than five years of collective employment with Hazy Mountain. While the mountain view was always there from day one, it took a lot of work to get the campus prepared for construction.

Trainum recalls the countless hours of Fernandez and Garcia pouring concrete and putting in stone just to help physically build the building. He also remembers Brawley-Magee braving harsh rain to help set up chairs and mop.

For this reason, several employees hold a special sense of pride in calling Hazy Mountain theirs.

“This was all just woods at one point,” Trainum said. “Everyone’s got more than just the position they’re in. Everybody that’s been here, I think, has a sense of ownership of it.”

The sprawling mountainside campus boasts dedicated employees, but at the end of the day, what is a vineyard without grapes?

For Shenandoah Valley enthusiasts, Hazy Mountain has them covered.

The grapes for Hazy Mountain’s wine are grown in two separate vineyards throughout the Valley.

In the small community of Swoope, just west outside of Staunton, 50 acres of grapes have been growing since 2016 at Little North Mountain Vineyard and is just the first production vineyard site for the winery.

The second is the 35-acre vineyard that’s on the property of the new campus at Hazy Mountain, itself.

There, guests will see the seemingly endless grape vines that were first planted two years ago in 2019 while enjoying their stay at the new campus.

Combined, a total 85 acres of vineyards in the Valley provides Trainum with a local bounty of eighteen different varieties of grapes to create each wine served on-location.

For the winemaker, all of the locality in his product is something he’s proud of.

“We’re excited to represent the Valley with our wines.”

Like the vineyards, the business is still growing, too.

Hazy Mountain is currently open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., but McGinnis says that in July, the winery is looking to incorporate later hours on Thursdays until 8 p.m.

Although there are no special promotional events planned, McGinnis said there might soon be live music indoors.

Additionally, an event building is still under development on the property which will be rented it out for outdoor events beginning in the late summer and fall.

A five-bedroom rental house on the property will be available soon for reservations for weddings, reunions and other special events, while the winery also has a mobile bottling line that’s being outfitted for the production business.

Hazy Mountain is even one of the newest additions to the Monticello Wine Trail.

“I think our plan for Hazy Mountain is really to have a destination spot,” McGinnis said. “We want folks to come out here and to find a great place to enjoy their afternoon. We’re trying to make it a comfortable spot.”

While this is all planned for the future, McGinnis, Trainum and the rest of the staff are enjoying the business in its early stages.

“We were in full celebration mode,” said McGinnis, adding that the business hosted nearly 700 people in its opening weekend. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from folks.”

Like the sky that sets over the vineyards there, the future seems bright for one of the Valley’s newest businesses.

“I’m just very happy for the guests to experience different wines,” Garcia said. “I think that’s the cherry on top.”

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