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Winery raises a toast to spirits of two varieties

2012_10_24WineryGhost.jpg
Valerie Hill Winery's Phil Newcome regales Kathy McQuiston-O'Dell, Harry O'Dell and Amy Eaton with ghost stories about the building.

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By Sally Voth

Visitors to the Northern Shenandoah Valley's newest winery can sample the vino, admire the pastoral setting, get a mini-history lesson and hear a ghost story or two.

Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery opened in early June, less than a year after its owners bought the 205-year-old estate at 1687 Marlboro Road outside Stephens City in Frederick County.

Phil Newcome and his wife Joyce, their son and daughter-in-law, Tyler and Tracey Necome, and Shawn and Kelly Steffey are partners in the venture.

Tall pines lining either side of the long drive hide the three-story brick home from the road.

"When we first saw this house, we had been looking for about a year-and-a-half," Phil Newcome said, standing by the Federal-style home's front porch. "We had wine almost ready to pick up right before we bought this house. When we pulled out under that canopy of pines and saw this old house, I told my wife, 'If this house is in good shape, we're done looking.'"

He found its location about three miles from both Interstate 81 and U.S. 11 fortuitous.

"It all just fell into place like it was meant to be," Newcome said.

Aside from thick red shag carpet covering up the original hardwood floors, the manor house was in good condition. Newcome credits this to having been continuously lived in as it passed through five owners in 207 years.

"It was built by a Revolutionary War captain, Peter Rust," he said.

Several hundred yards behind the home is a tall chimney, all that remains of a house lived in by a woman who became Rust's wife, according to Newcome. One of the winery's red blends is called Stone Chimney Red.

It also serves Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and a sweet white blend called Manor House White.

All of the wines have been made from Virginia grapes, just not ones grown at Valerie Hill. An acre of Norton grapes have been planted at the vineyard, and two more acres are expected to be planted next year, although Newcome said their varieties haven't yet been selected.

Newcome is a retired RV sales director, while his wife worked at a bank for 40 years.

"We just decided it would be interesting," he said of their new venture. "You're working with your family. You maybe have a chance to leave a legacy, something that you can pass on to your children and grandchildren. We just thought it would be interesting and a whole new lifestyle."

With Newcome being near 69 and his wife 64 and both of them in good health, "we can start a whole new life at that age -- kind of neat."

Opening a winery wasn't a long-nursed dream of the couple's.

"Maybe the last two or three years we would go to vineyards and do wine tastings, that kind of stuff," Newcome said. "Then, when the boys came to us with this thing, we said, 'Let's take a look at it.' One thing led to another, we found this house and purchased it. We refer to it as a tasting house rather than just a tasting room."

Open year-round, the house has several rooms for visitors to enjoy wine and light fare.

Off the foyer is a library that features a framed Civil War infantryman's jacket on the wall, an old typewriter and other items of interest. Across the foyer is a large room with a crystal chandelier and old stone fireplace.

In the small tasting room, the bar and part of the hutch are made out of barnwood. Off one side of the tasting room is a large screened-in deck; off the opposite side is a long, narrow enclosed porch.

There is outdoor patio seating near an old meat house, and through November, the winery is hosting "firepit Fridays" serving soup with the wines beside the dozen firepits out back.

The home itself was named early last century for the then-owner's mother, according to Newcome. It sits along Cedar Creek Battlefield land, he said.

So far, business is exceeding the partners' business plan, Newcome said.

"We're finding every weekend it seems like new people are coming," Mrs. Newcome said. "It's been a lot of word of mouth."

There have been three weddings, as well as some business functions, at Valerie Hill, which is Frederick County's first Class A winery -- one that grows vines, and makes and sells its own wine, according to Newcome.

On Wednesday afternoon, two couples visiting from Indiana dropped in at Valerie Hill. The Newcomes talked to the group about Virginia's growing reputation as a wine destination.

"That's why we came out on this trip, specifically for wineries," said Harry O'Dell.

All of the manor's floors, window panes, doors and trimwork are original. Blood stains on the floor lead the Newcomes to believe it was used as a hospital during the Civil War.

The atmosphere inside the winery is at once cozy and grand, intimate yet sophisticated.

Newcome recounted a story about a young man who said he and his wife had visited just about every Virginia winery -- there are more than 200 -- and pronounced Valerie Hill "my new favorite."

"He says, 'It's very unique,'" Newcome said. "'It's like you invited me into your house to have a glass of wine. It's like you're sitting in your house on this beautiful back porch having a glass of wine.'"

The couple like to share stories with their clientele, and regaled their Indiana visitors with tales of the home's other type of spirits. Newcome said they hear doors open, children laughing, footsteps upstairs.

"I'm pretty sure it's being haunted by one of [Rust's] sons, Benedict Rust," he said. "We've had all kind of things happen. The other two partners, my son had a paranormal team come in and do a thing overnight. Two weeks later they came back and played back what you could hear. I was a little skeptical at first, but after that..."

One of the paranormal investigators told them he felt someone push him, and asked the presence questions. Newcome said he could hear on the recordings a voice say the name Benedict and something about a sheriff.

According to Newcome, the story goes that Benedict was the oldest son and due to inherit the manor, but was intellectually challenged. The rest of the family didn't want him to claim the house, so they had the sheriff come and declare him insane, and Benedict was basically banished to the third floor, Newcome said.

Valerie Hill is open 11 a.m.. to 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.. to 9 p.m. on Fridays through November, 11 a.m.. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For more information call 869-9567, or visit valeriehillwinery.com.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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