Grapevine & Vintner Profile, Wining & Dining

Luck, Love, and Life: Christine Vrooman Brings Her Whole Heart to Ankida Ridge Vineyards

By Nancy Bauer

Luck, Love, and Life: Christine Vrooman Brings Her Whole Heart to Ankida Ridge Vineyards

Though serendipity powered much of the fruition of Ankida Ridge Vineyards, a central Virginia winery known as much for its fiery sunset views as for its rare-for-Virginia pinot noir, spiritual connections will take it into the future, if owner Christine Vrooman has her way. And she will.

First, the serendipity.

When Christine and her husband, Virginia Beach veterinarian Dennis Vrooman, pondered how to come up with $20,000 to bring electricity to their off-the-grid mountain property in Amherst, about an hour  south of Charlottesville, the local power company knocked on their door—would they be willing to grant a right-of-way to install an emergency cell tower? Electricity would come to the mountain with the tower—no charge.

Later, when an excavator they’d hired to clear land for a new house took it upon himself to bulldoze  trees from an additional large tract – “because it seemed like it might be good for something” – he created a distressingly bare patch that forced lots of creative thinking about the best way to fill it back in—thinking that ultimately led to the Vroomans’ first vineyard.

When Dennis Vrooman’s animal hospital in Virginia Beach fell victim to the city’s road expansion plan, the generous compensation paid for the expensive planting of baby vines on a rocky slope.   

And when the couple’s son, Nathan, decided Denver wasn’t the place for him after all, and that winemaking sounded like a better way to live his life, the final piece was in place. (It didn’t hurt that soon thereafter, Nathan met Stinson Vineyards’ Rachel Stinson, future winemaker and his future wife, in wine school.)

“I can’t say I’m living the life I dreamed of, because I never dreamed of this,” says Christine Vrooman with a laugh, while talking about the path that led her to become the owner of a boutique winery. “I feel like I’m doing exactly what I want. I get to live the life I want to live. We have a little bit of income from retirement, and we have some [rental] cottage income, and I can do what I want to do.”

The Vroomans’ winery came out of the gate like a shot in 2012, gaining immediate acclaim for their pinot noir from wine writers and appreciators both inside and outside of Virginia. One wine shop in Charlottesville summed it up this way:  ”Yes, Virginia, there is good local pinot noir! Ankida Ridge is the most exciting Virginia winery in the last several years for one simple reason: they make a great Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir has been called the “heartbreak grape” because it’s famously hard to grow, especially in Virginia. Well, dry your eyes, because Ankida Ridge has done the impossible. Their Chard[onnay] and Pinot recently wowed wine critics from the New York Times and the Washington Post as well as famed British wine writer Jancis Robinson.”

From the beginning, there have been struggles and adjustments. Christine says, “We wanted to be organic and biodynamic. We did that for about a year and a half, and then started seeing little brown spots on the leaves. We found out it was black rot. We thought we’d address it by just pulling off the affected leaves. We were hauling dozens of bag loads of leaves down to the dump. Usually in the first few years of a vine’s growth [before the grapes become viable for wine], you remove the grapes, but we left some on just to see what it would taste like,  and at the end of the season they were shriveled up black berries, totally consumed by black rot.”

While the winery now sprays a synthetic fungicide “as minimally as possible,” Christine says they didn’t give up on all the other things that are so important, such as decoctions—or natural medicinal “teas” used on grapevines–and composting, and the use of animals—dogs, cats, sheep—to maintain vineyard and farm health and order.

There was never a master plan for what Christine Vrooman is doing in Amherst. She loves the creation process, and has now begun viewing the last decade as perhaps the beginning, rather than the end, of a surprising phase of her life.

“As we go along, I’m recognizing that this whole vineyard and winery was not an end in itself,” she says. “But rather a means to an end. And that end continues to evolve.”

She continues, “What I love more than anything is when people come up here–and if we didn’t have the winery that wouldn’t happen–but for people to come up here and feel touched and inspired from just being in this place, being in nature, and somehow sensing the energy that is up here. Seeing the sheep grazing and our dog Luciano running around, and sipping wine, and I want them to have a soulful experience here. Sort of a spiritual experience.”

Christine explains it as a “connectedness”. She says, “The spark of life that is in us, and that connectedness that everybody has, and in nature, it’s imbued here.”

Now the powerful woman behind Ankida Ridge Vineyards is thinking how to get more people to come up to the mountain to connect in that way.

“I’m thinking of creating artisan nature workshops during the week,” she says. “Working with area B&Bs and having people come out on a Sunday evening, and then on Monday morning we do Tai Chi and tea on the winery deck. Something to connect them to the space. Each four-day week can be different: photography, plein air painting, maybe psychology, maybe shinrin-yoku, a Japanese practice that translates to ‘forest bathing’. Pottery. The list is endless. And then everybody goes home connected to themselves, more at peace with themselves, with a sense of purpose in their lives, and then they spread that little element of joy – which is my mantra – into their little corner of the world.”

My Thirtieth Column, and A New Quest

Christine Vrooman’s story is what I love about Virginia Wine Country, and about new quests – the hope, the surprises, the deepening connection to yourself and others, and the new paths that open just as you begin to wonder is pruning all there is to life?

My thirtieth column for the Old Town Crier will be my final little love note to the OTC’s legion of loyal readers, but my connection to Virginia Wine Country continues through my website site and app (Virginia Wine in My Pocket), and my bi-annual book, Virginia Wine Travel Journal.

If because of my columns you’ve found a new little winery that made you feel welcome, a backroad that made you feel adventurous, or a new-to-you wine that made you feel warm and fuzzy, I’ll consider it time well spent.

Recently, I’ve become infatuated with the quests that women step up to in midlife, just as you think they’d start more sitting down. So my new path will be a deep dive into their stories, both on my blog, and in a new book. If you are or know a woman who loves a good quest story, please follow along.

I’ll never give up the wine trail, though, and I hope someday our paths cross out there. I’d love to hear your story, too. Cheers.

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