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Visitors to Chrysalis Vineyards and the Little River Bakehouse in northern Virginia, both housed on a property known as The Ag District, have no shortage of artisan delights to enjoy. From farmstead cheeses to flatbreads to, of course, the wine, it is a picturesque and welcoming gathering center set against the backdrop of the Bull Run Mountains.
But for its proprietor, Jennifer McCloud, The Ag District is more than just a culinary experience. Her investment in the land ─ originally about 200 acres in 1998 that has since expanded to more than 400 acres ─ is about agricultural restoration and utilizing the land to provide valued-added products to her customers.
“I think there is a real yearning in the market right now to be able to see where your food is coming from,” McCloud said. “When a customer asks where their meal came from and you can point and say ‘right over there,’ it’s very powerful.”
A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” as well as a personal enjoyer and collector of wine, McCloud purchased the first 200 acres of The Ag District after tasting the red variety Norton grape and learning it was native to Virginia. She set out to restore this grape and has since cultivated the largest planting of the Norton grape in the world. In the Ag District Center that houses the Chrysalis Vineyards tasting room, up to 1,000 visitors experience this native grape on a given weekend. In 2019, more than 30,000 customers – including the vineyard’s VIP program members – enjoyed tastings.
True to her entrepreneurial instincts and her desire to utilize the land to its full potential, McCloud began expanding beyond the vineyard. She purchased the additional 200 acres to double the size of the farm and since then added a dairy operation and the Locksley Farmstead Cheese Co., which produces eight varieties of cheese. The district also includes The Little River Bakehouse, a full-kitchen restaurant below the tasting room where guests can enjoy fresh-baked sandwiches and pizzas, made from ingredients that are almost all produced on the farm.
“A lot of my decisions to expand are driven by my own personal passions and what I want to do,” McCloud said. “The cheese and bread operation were initiated by the utilization of the land. I wanted to produce something that was an additional attractor to the farm, and what goes better with wine than cheese and bread?”
McCloud’s interest in making her own bread utilizing wheat from a local mill led her to explore ovens which would optimize the baking process. She found the Four Grand-Mere brand and The Bread Stone Ovens Company, where she purchased the 1400 Wood and Gas Fired Rotating Floor Pizza Oven. The Little River Bakehouse uses the oven for flatbreads, sandwiches and baguettes, among other offerings. The oven is another example of serving customers directly from the farm.
“People can definitely connect to hearing that their bread is coming from our own wood-fired oven, and we are always working to make breads better and make our food products as good as we possibly can,” McCloud said.
As McCloud reflects on the growth of the Ag District over the years, she is now focused on ensuring as many people as possible can experience what she and her team have built.
“It’s been a lot of hard work building out the creamery, the dairy operation and the bakehouse over the last couple of years,” she said. “Now 2020 is about telling our story, raising awareness of the farm and having more visitors enjoy the fruits of our labor.”