From fourth-generation oyster farms to award-winning distilleries, Virginia’s food and beverage trails offer a bounty for hungry travelers. Here’s how some of those businesses have benefited from being on these trails.

Movers and Makers Map
Kevin Szady, MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, Prince William County

Kevin Szady

Head Distiller, MurLarkey Distilled Spirits, Prince William County

What inspired you to begin making spirits? 
I’ve always been a whiskey guy. Back in the day, a lot of people were making beer in their garage or basement. I went another route. I tried my hand at whiskey and the rest is history.

How has being part of the Virginia Spirits Trail affected MurLarkey's business? 
MurLarkey has grown to be a local attraction. We were blessed to be named twice in Travel + Leisure’s “25 Best Distilleries in the U.S.” — No. 16 in 2018 and No. 4 in 2020. I think this popularity combined with the Virginia Spirits Trail is helping to put MurLarkey and Virginia spirits on the map. 

What are the benefits of operating in close proximity to other distilleries? 
Certainly, this offers convenience to the tourist or even locals looking to hit a few places on a day trip or weekend getaway. Kentucky and Tennessee have done a wonderful job in fostering their respective bourbon and whiskey trails. MurLarkey sees the opportunity to foster a similar scene here in Virginia.  

How important is local/regional authenticity in marketing tourist-oriented businesses like distilleries? 
Authenticity is very important. Consumers can tell if something is fake. This, of course, goes hand in hand with superior product. As with any artisan craft product, tourists (and consumers) are seeking what they can’t get in their local market. They want the experience, not just spirits. That combination is the magic of MurLarkey. 

Heather Lusk, H.M. Terry Co., Inc., Northampton County

Heather Lusk

Vice President, H.M. Terry Co., Inc., Northampton County

What are the geographical benefits of operating an oyster farm on the Eastern Shore? 
The Eastern Shore is a great place to grow shellfish. We have good water quality on both sides of the peninsula, but on the seaside in particular, which is where most of the hatcheries are located, we have pristine ocean water. We are also located in a relatively rural area with a smaller overall population than other waterfront areas in the state, which helps reduce use conflicts on the water.

How does Virginia’s merroir come through in your oysters? 
Oysters are a true reflection of their place and time of harvest. Oysters are grown in Virginia in so many parts of the state — the seaside of the Eastern Shore, and the many creeks and waterways on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay — and each growing area produces a unique flavor profile. Our oysters are traditionally grown on the seaside, which gives them a punch of brine, followed by a sweet finish.

How has being part of the Virginia Oyster Trail affected H.M. Terry's business? Has it increased coordination or collaboration with other aquaculture businesses?
Being part of the Virginia Oyster Trail has allowed us to tell our story and share the unique family history of H.M. Terry. Through the Oyster Trail, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with other growers and also pair with complementary businesses like Virginia wineries and restaurants.

 

 

George Hodson, Veritas Vineyards, Nelson County

George Hodson

CEO, Veritas Vineyards, Nelson County

What makes the Charlottesville area such a hotspot for wineries? 
The Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA), which encompasses Charlottesville, truly is a great place to grow grapes and make wine. It holds some of the best vineyards and winemakers in the entire state. Combined with the natural beauty and great food scene, it has become a destination for those who want to experience great Virginia wine adventures.

How has being part of the Monticello Wine Trail affected Veritas's business? Has it increased coordination or collaboration with other area wineries?
Unquestionably! The spirit of partnership among the members of the AVA committed to making the best possible wine across the entire AVA has pushed Veritas forward in terms of quality and cumulative recognition of quality. This is one of the best things about the AVA — the cooperation, collaboration, and information sharing that has always been what makes us so strong.

What are the benefits of operating in close proximity to other wineries? 
When there is a critical mass of wineries, it makes the planning process for visitors so much easier. Our guests enjoy the process of planning their trips and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to visit multiple locations. Having 30 wineries within a 30-minute drive of Charlottesville allows people to not spend their time traveling.

Taylor Smack, Blue Mountain Brewery, Nelson County

Taylor Smack

Owner, Blue Mountain Brewery, Nelson County

What inspired you to begin brewing beer? 
I’m getting to be one of the “old guys” in the craft beer industry — 23 years professionally this year — but originally it was a college hobby to explore different beer after exposure to really great European brews that were very rare in the United States at that time. I enrolled in brewing school in Chicago before the turn of the millennium and dropped out of corporate life as a copy editor and ad writer.

Why did you choose Nelson County as your location? 
As a Lynchburg native living in Charlottesville, I traveled through Nelson County quite often. It always struck me as a very beautiful, mountainous, rural county — the most mountainous county east of the Mississippi, I believe. It’s just intensely beautiful, and I knew it was a place I could settle down. Living here, with the rivers to run and explore, the mountains, the country roads dotted with some of the best craft beverages anywhere in the country — it’s almost so fun that I don’t want to spill the secret too much.

How has being part of the Nelson 151 trail affected Blue Mountain’s business? 
As the first brewery in Nelson County, I sweated with each new brewery and cidery that opened at first, wondering how much business the area could support before saturation. But thankfully, my partners and I were always on board with Nelson 151 and with other cooperative groups of like businesses. It made us all stronger. It absolutely made North Nelson what it is today, and we have contributed huge job opportunities, tax base, and support of local businesses we buy goods from. I’m proud to have opened here, to service the rural community and support other local producers, and bring in visitors and tax revenue. We’ve all gotten better together, while still retaining the rural nature of Nelson, which is of critical importance to all our livelihoods. 

What are the benefits of operating in close proximity to other breweries? 
Cluster effect! It’s a real thing. But, the two other major secret ingredients to Nelson’s success are the caliber of our beverage producers and the beauty of the county.

How important is local/regional authenticity in marketing tourist-oriented businesses like breweries? 
It’s everything to me, and to Blue Mountain. You’ve got to love the place you set up shop, and that had better shine in everything you do. I think most of us make it our lives — our kids grow up here, go to the schools here. It’s what they know as home because it’s what we chose as home. So you show off the beautiful corner of the world every way you can with your business, straight from the heart. That authenticity means the world to a solid rural business. 

 

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