Spring 2023 Issue

A Time for Wine

Three W&M alumni partner with friends to open Valley Road Vineyards

By Tina Eshleman

It’s no great hardship to leave city streets behind and head for the mountains. So on a sunny Saturday in February, my family and I happily piled into our car and traveled west from Richmond, Virginia, through woods and farmland to Valley Road Vineyards in Rockfish Gap, just a few miles east of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s northern entry.

There, we met Mary Miley Theobald ’74, M.A. ’80, P ’05 and Jim Theobald ’74, P ’05, who also made the trip from Richmond and graciously offered to give us a tour. They are among five couples who own the winery, including Director of Marketing Barbara Cole Joynes ’82 and her husband, CEO Stan Joynes, the pair who are on-site most days.

The winery partners bought the property, previously a peach orchard, fruit and vegetable market and home to a specialty mushroom business, in 2015. The next spring, they planted four types of grapes on the property, two white and two red: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, petit verdot and cabernet franc under the guidance of Grayson Poats, the winery’s senior vineyard consultant. They have since added merlot, chambourcin, and viognier and this year, they are including a new varietal, albariño, a white grape grown mostly in Spain and Portugal, but becoming increasingly popular among Virginia growers. In addition, they lease 20 acres at another site in Nelson County known as Mountain Glen.

Barbara Joynes says the idea for launching a winery developed when she and Stan began visiting other vineyards while spending time at their home near Wintergreen Resort and striking up conversations with the owners.

“They said the local wine industry is booming but we need more Virginia grapes,” she says. “We decided we wanted to do something to help increase the supply of vines.”

The number of Virginia wineries has jumped from six in the late 1970s to more than 300 today, and the state estimates its economic impact at $1.7 billion. Grape growing has lagged behind in the business expansion, however.

Stan Joynes and another partner, real estate developer Paul Kreckman, began looking at potential properties and brought in more partners after finding their dream location near the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Rockfish Valley — named for the fish that once swam west to the area from the Chesapeake Bay. As their plans expanded from growing grapes to making wine, they realized additional investors were needed and reached out to a small group of friends.

The winery is a second career for most of the partners. Jim Theobald and Stan Joynes (who received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia) practiced law and had referred clients to each other over the years. A prominent landuse development lawyer, Theobald is a partner and former chairman at Hirschler Fleischer; Joynes was co-founder and president at what became LeClairRyan. Theobald knew Kreckman and fellow Valley Road partner Bruce Kay, a Markel Corp. executive, from handling real estate matters.

As Jim Theobald approached retirement, both he and Mary found the idea of a winery appealing. (Additional partners are Linn Kreckman, Janet Kay, Bobby and Karen Edwards.)

Barbara Joynes became a full-time staff member of Valley Road in 2018 after 30 years of working with advertising agencies in New York and Richmond, including The Martin Agency, where she was the first female partner. Mary Miley Theobald is a journalist and author of historical mysteries and nonfiction books. (You can read her article “A Love Story: King William and Queen Mary” about William & Mary’s namesakes at magazine.wm.edu/love-story.) The two women were members of William & Mary’s Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter and have been active as alumnae of both the university and the sorority.

Stan Joynes studied oenology and viniculture in preparation for his new role as CEO at Valley Road. The Theobalds also have studied viniculture to increase their knowledge of the industry.

Valley Road achieved early success with its 2014 petit verdot — produced from grapes purchased from another grower, with help from nearby King Family Vineyards’ winemaker — that won a Virginia Governor’s Cup gold medal in 2017 and was among 12 wines selected for the Governor’s Case. Valley Road’s 2015 viognier also won a Governor’s Cup gold medal in 2018.

During our visit, Barbara and Stan Joynes were leading a vertical tasting inside the property’s renovated barn and event space, comparing different years of Valley Road Vineyards’ Meritage, a blend of two or more varietals blended in the tradition of Bordeaux wines, paired with food prepared by a chef.

The ground floor of the barn is a wine storage area, which is rapidly filling up. Valley Road typically produces 2,500 cases per year, but this year — thanks to a bigger-than-expected grape yield — the partners expect to bottle 3,000 cases. Wine production takes place in Charlottesville at a site operated by winemaker Michael Shaps. So far, most of Valley Road’s wines are sold at the winery or ordered through its website, though the partners hope to expand into local restaurants and grocery stores.

Even though February is a slow time of year at the winery, customers were gathered in the tasting room and outdoors on a patio overlooking a neighboring pond, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.

On the first weekend in April, Valley Road provided wine for the 100th anniversary celebration of William & Mary’s Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority in Williamsburg. The vineyard and winery also hosted a tour and tasting for William & Mary alumni as part of the W&M vs. UVA Football Weekend in September 2019.

In May and June, Valley Road’s weekend schedule begins to fill up with weddings —25 are scheduled for this year. Barbara Joynes’ focus is marketing the wedding business, with assistance from Janet Kay, a partner who has experience managing events.

Mary Miley Theobald, who has undergraduate and master’s degrees in history from William & Mary, explains that the winery’s name pays homage to its location along what is known as the Great Valley Road of Virginia, traveled by Scots Irish immigrant settlers from Pennsylvania. Today, State Route 151 is a scenic byway known as a craft beverage trail — home to numerous wineries, cideries, distilleries and breweries.

Theobald has served as the class reporter for the 1974 Class Notes since soon after graduating from William & Mary. As a wordsmith, she assists with the winery’s writing needs and she is responsible for some of the wine names — such as Valley Road’s Fête sparkling viognier and Joie sparkling rosé. She jokes that she and Jim have become experts in bottling: “We work the assembly line, sort of like Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory in ‘I Love Lucy’ — speed ’em up!”

Jim Theobald plays guitar and occasionally provides live musical entertainment at the winery as part of the classic rock band The Usual Suspects with fellow W&M alumni John Walk ’77, a law partner of Theobald’s at Hirschler Fleischer, and Doug Jones ’77.

After our tour, we gathered at a table in the tasting room with the Theobalds and their daughter, Margaret Theobald Pountney ’05, who was visiting with her husband and two young sons from Washington, D.C., for the weekend. Stan and Barbara Joynes also sat down to chat after their vertical tasting event.

“With plenty of indoor and outdoor space and usually some yard games in the summer, it’s an easy place for us to spend time with our boys,” Pountney says. “We like to take a glass of wine to the terrace outside, looking out over the valley below, while the boys see what’s new on the property.”

As my husband, 21-year-old daughter and her boyfriend and I compared notes about our samples, our favorites were the crisp, refreshing sauvignon blanc, the mellow viognier and the dark, fruity petit verdot.

When closing time approached, we reluctantly said goodbye and watched the sun sink behind the mountains as the sky turned a lovely shade of rosé.