By now we were fairly worn out. Looking at the east coast for prime farming land seemed like an act of despiration....a lost cause. After all, think of New England having any affordable farm land near the shore....I can't.
But we were determined to give this idea a try, so we went about mapping out the area and setting a target for our next trip down to Virginia to do exploring. We felt almost like Lewis and Clark, except we were going to visit Williamsburg as our vacationing excuse (see a theme here ?).
Luck have it, I was contacted by a real estate agent up here in Massachusetts who was putting together potential clients who might be selling commercial property, and in an off-handed way I thought I'd throw a teaser at him. Does he know of any real estate agents in eastern Virginia, with vineyard experience, that he could put us in contact with ? He didn't flinch and said he'd get back to me. Sure, I wasn't waiting for that call soon, but was I surprized when he called the next day and gave me a name of an agent located right in Williamsburg whom he said could help me.
With some cynicism I called up Mike Lyttle at Prudential and had a short talk with him, only to find out that his professional career started in Napa Valley, and that he had taken part in setting up several vineyards. Was I surprized ! He actually talked the talk, and walked the walk. I immediately called Diane and the 2 of us scheduled a trip south to talk to Mike about our needs and dreams.
We spent over an hour with Mike in his office going over what we theoretically felt were the requirements of our land and vineyard, and Mike constructively put his 2 cents in. He didn't have any parcels for us to look at just then, and I have found this to be normal procedure when we talk to people. No one seems to take us seriously at first. They let us go through the motions some more before they realize we are committed to the project. That was the case here too but what Mike did was map out a driving tour of the area so that when he did locate something that we would have a good idea as to where he was directing our attention. And that's when he sent us into "no man's land". You see, Williamsburg is a solid tourist destination, with its historical significance, Busch Gardens, and home of William & Mary College. Surrounded by old plantations and having a close proximity to Newport News and Virginia Beach, it is a major draw in the area. But Mike gave us a spot to look at that seemed worlds away. Just south of Williamsburg is Jamestown, and south of Jamestown is the James River. And south of that is Surry County, a still rural farming community with sparse housing. The only way to get across the river was via ferry, something Diane and I had never done, except for one trip in Europe. Ferry seemed like a real stretch as to what we wanted to do, or had planned. We didn't exactly jump at the idea, though when we started to do our tour we figured we might as well do it, if for no other reason than it being an adventure and that we could tell Mike we tried it and be able to say thanks but no thanks.
The ferry ride was novel. It almost seemed romantic. All in all it takes about 20 minutes to cross the river......it is fairly wide at this point. The ferry is large enough to hold well over 50 cars, so it took the waves well. The surprizing thing about it is that it is free. That's right.....I'll say it again....FREE !! Up where we live in Massachusetts it would be another way to sock the taxpayer.....easily a $5.00 charge. However, down here in Virginia they seem to have a sensible way of looking at things, and periodically they review the bridge vs. ferry debate and up to now figure the ferry is the best option available. Also Surry does not have alot of business for people to work at, and the trip to Williamsburg shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to just get to and from work. Wild idea, huh ?
Diane and I took the trip, and using a mapbook we zigged and zagged around the county to see what a true farming community looked like. Well, it looks like farming land, and lots of it. Small houses intermingled with the land, sometimes tucked way in the back by the forest line, but usually right on top of the road for easy access (most likely from the builder's point of view). All the roads seemed to meander, and most had names only the locals would remember due to their being named after civil war battles or families who had been there for generations.
One of the things we did find out though was that Virginia Beach was a mere 45 minutes to our east, as was Norfolk / Newport News. Richmond was 45 minutes or so to our west, and in less than an hour there were 3 major airports. Smithfield was just 15 minutes down the road (think Smithfield Hams) and was a small tourist attraction in itself. Taking into account the ferry ride and the fact that it seems you always had to wait to get on it (it runs a minimum of once an hour and more during rush hour, 24 hours a day) figure another 45 minutes to get into Williamsburg.
Little did we know that Mike would find the perfect property right here in Surry....a one horse town (OK, they got their first traffic light in 2008 !), and we would be the proud owners of a vineyard start-up. The fun (I mean work) was almost ready to begin !