Friday, June 06, 2008

Oakencroft founder to retire after 25 years

By Brian McNeill
Daily Progress (Charlottesville, VA)
Published: June 5, 2008

A pioneer of Virginia’s wine industry announced Wednesday that she is retiring after 25 years and closing her Albemarle County winery.

Felicia W. Rogan, owner and founder of Oakencroft Vineyard and Winery, is selling her 250-acre farm off Garth Road, including its 15 acres of vineyards.

“It’s been a dream come true for me,” Rogan said. “I’ll miss every aspect of it.”

Rogan declined to identify the farm’s buyers, who are have placed the property under contract. However, Rogan said that she does not believe the new owners are interested in keeping the winery running.

Rogan opted not to disclose her age (she calls it an “unlisted number”) but said the time had come to shutter her business, which is the oldest operating winery in Albemarle County and is the closest to Charlottesville.

When Rogan opened Oakencroft, it was one of only five wineries in Virginia. Today, the state has more than 100 wineries and is ranked fifth among America’s grape growing states.

“I’ve always thought that we could become the Napa Valley of the East,” Rogan said.

Rogan — who former Virginia Gov. George L. Baliles once called the “matriarch of the modern-day wine industry — helped found the Jeffersonian Grape Growers Society and served on countless wine promoting boards and commissions at the state and local levels. Her efforts helped lay the groundwork for the Virginia wine industry to grow into what it has become today, said Ann Heidig, president of the Virginia Wineries Association.

“Felicia has been a force in the Virginia wine industry,” she said. “Her presence will be sorely missed.”

Wednesday afternoon at Oakencroft, a blackboard informed visitors about the winery’s waning days. It read: “Attention wine lovers, as the owner is retiring, Oakencroft Winery will close permanently on December 31, 2008. Please tell your friends that will be the last date to buy a part of Virginia’s wine history. Thanks so much for your patronage. Cheers!”

Oakencroft’s wines have steadily improved over the years, said Robert Harllee, owner of the Market Street Wine Shops. In last year’s Virginia Governor’s Cup Wine Competition, the winery’s 2005 Encore won a gold medal, its 2006 seyval blanc won a silver, and its 2006 viognier earned a bronze.

“They’re definitely going out on a high note,” Harllee said.

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