Making the wine di-vine: Abingdon couple strives for the right balance in growing their grapes and their winery

ALVARADO, Va. — Loren and Elizabeth Gardner arrived in Alvarado only a month ago. And, already, they’re making plans for parties — and growing grapes.

The Gardners — he’s 37, she’s 39 — have come to this remote riverside community in Washington County from Point Reyes Station, California.

So here’s the obvious: How did they get here?

Well, it almost takes a map to explain that.

You see, their best friends in California decided to move home — to Virginia.

“And we were poking around for property,” Elizabeth recalled.

At first, they looked at a ranch in the greater Abingdon area. But it didn’t quite fit their dreams.

Then, as they were driving away, Elizabeth looked out the window of her Realtor’s car and saw the Abingdon Vineyard and Winery.

“I saw the creek and this gorgeous building, and I said, ‘What’s that?’ And the Realtor said, ‘Oh, that’s the winery. It’s for sale.’”

At that moment, Loren “lit up,” as his wife put it.

For decades, Loren Gardner wanted to be a winemaker. He even studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of California’s Davis campus.

But he picked practicality instead, by working with his father in a construction business.

Even so, he held fast to that winemaking dream. And so did Elizabeth.

“We both wanted a property where we could live and work and spend a lifetime,” Elizabeth Gardner said. “We wanted to create a life and a lifestyle.”

And it was not just for them.

They wanted that, too, for their daughter, 10-month-old Ava Jean.

“I wanted my baby girl to grow up on a farm or a ranch and go swim in a creek or swim in a river,” said Loren Gardner. “Farming and ranching was the idea. So, when we found this and made it work, it’s just a dream come true.”

The Gardners officially purchased the Abingdon Vineyard and Winery on July 31 and have since rechristened the property as “Abingdon Vineyards.”

Today, Loren gets quite technical when he talks grapes and wine-making, fermentation and aging.

And Elizabeth?

Well, she’s the social director and marketing guru of what’s to come.

“We have a deep appreciation for the land and food and fine drinks and community,” Elizabeth said. “For me, it’s all about community and showcasing what’s great about this area.”

Upcoming plans include hosting The Tavern’s annual Oktoberfest at the winery while also staging seven-course dinners with wine-pairing options.

All this likely comes quite naturally for this couple.

Back in California, the Gardners threw parties — with crawfish boils, hog roasts, fish fries and campfires.

“It’s just what we always loved to do,” Elizabeth said. “And, on a larger scale was the dream. And we literally stumbled upon it.”

It was essentially love at first sight when the Gardners discovered this winery, founded in 2001 by Bob Carlson and his wife, Janet Nordin.

“We walked in the door, and Loren got carried away with Bob [Carlson], the owner, and Kevin [Sutherland], the winemaker,” Elizabeth said. “They disappeared for hours.”

Today, Carlson and Nordin still live next door.

And, at least for now, the winery maintains a booth at the Abingdon Farmers Market, where, earlier this year, you would have found Carlson in all kinds of weather, waiting for customers — at age 85.

Then, in March, with snow on the ground, the Gardners came calling.

“I never thought this was going to be a possibility in my life to be able to do this,” Loren Gardner said. “It never would have been a possibility in Napa.”

The reason? The price of land and corporate control of the wine industry in California’s famous Napa Valley would have prohibited Loren’s dream, the Gardners said.

But now?

Well, the purchase of this winery did require special financing from the former owners. “And it’s still a stretch for us,” Elizabeth said.

But the Gardners pour forth fundraising ideas and serve seemingly eternal optimism.

“And we’re going to blend our first wine within the next couple of weeks,” Loren Gardner announced. “In about a month and a half, we’ll see wine bottles with our labels on it.”

Gardner smiled as he borrowed a famous advertising line, “We will sell no wine before its time.”

“After it’s blended and then bottled,” he added, “I’d like to see it sit in the bottle for a couple of months and settle before we release it to the public.”

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jtennis@bristolnews.com | 276-791-0709 | @BHC_Tennis

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