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Success Stories

A Scenic View to Viticulture Success in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley

Barbara Bowen
Value Added
Aerial view of the Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery

While many factors go into selecting the best site for a new business, the view was at the top of the list for Nathan and Irma Bailey. The couple was leaving corporate jobs to start a vineyard and brewery, so scenic vistas were important.

“We were looking for some place in the mountains and liked the Lexington area,” said Bailey. “This view really sold us. We bought the property in 2008 and planted the first 2 1/2 acres of wine grapes in 2012.”

The home brewer took some time to get the lay of the land on his 27-acre farm in Natural Bridge before launching Great Valley Farm Brewery & Winery in 2016. He first focused on Belgian-style beers and expanded the product line three years later to include wines produced from grapes grown on the farm and in several vineyards in the Shenandoah.

Bailey met Community Development Specialist Anne Herring through their work on a nonprofit board. She suggested that he apply for a Value-Added Producer Grant from USDA Rural Development (RD) after he got the vineyard up and running.

“Nathan and I became fast friends after I was his very first customer at the soft opening,” said Herring. “As a farm girl and longtime RD employee, I knew VAPG would be a good fit once they started producing wine and help their operation and our whole area grow far beyond those great views!”

The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability (VAFAIRS), a longtime RD partner, helped the couple prepare an application for $200,000 in 2022 funding that has been used to grow his brand through expanded social media marketing and membership in the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail.

The resulting numbers are looking pretty good for Irma, who is an accountant and runs the financial side of the operation. Their customer base is steadily growing, and the Baileys are expanding direct sales to restaurants and stores as well.

The grant has also helped the couple increase staffing to support this growth. One team member is now working full-time in the tasting room and branching out into marketing, social media and events. Three additional part-time staff members are helping out as needed in the tasting room.

An online events calendar offers ample opportunities to hear live music from local bands and sample a diverse menu of food truck fare in the warmer months. Bailey says he will probably host about five fundraisers for various charities this year, donating a portion of the sales to support good causes. These activities are popular with the community, and he says it’s important to give back.

Bailey has no formal education on the beer side but did study enology and viticulture at Surry Community College in Dobson, NC. As brewmaster and winemaker, he oversees the whole operation from start to finish, bottling and labeling his products on site. He leaves the reds and whites in holding tanks or barrels until he’s ready to bottle the vintages in small lots.

“The humidity in Virginia actually causes the vines to grow a little too well,” he jokes. “We harvest between August and October and really have to cut them back prior to the next growing season.”

Bailey’s wines are making a name for the operation, earning multiple Governor’s Cup medals. He won his first gold for a Petit Verdot in 2023 and received two silver and two bronze this year. While his signature Cabernet Franc, Gruner Veltliner, Lemberger and Vidal Blanc varieties are very popular, Bailey would like to expand his offerings for wine tastings that can drive sales of bottles for guests to take home with them.

“I initially thought that most of our business would come from tourism with the Natural Bridge and Virginia Safari parks nearby,” says Bailey. “As it turns out, our sales are about 75 percent local. Those dollars still go a long way to support economic development in the area.”

Fostering new and better markets for operations like Great Valley also creates a ripple effect far beyond distressed communities like Natural Bridge. The Rockbridge region, which includes the county and the cities of Buena Vista and Lexington, previously received a Rural Economic Development Innovation Initiative grant to foster greater collaboration to support other business ventures and fund vital services for local residents.

The Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission also used a Rural Business Development Grant to help establish the Fields of Gold Agritourism Trail and a Rural Community Development Initiative Grant to launch what is now Rockbridge Outdoors.

“Agriculture and tourism are our state’s two largest economic engines, so projects like this are a natural fit in our region,” adds Herring. “The Rockbridge area has benefited from many RD projects over the years, but Fields of Gold and the Rockbridge Outdoors recreation economy initiative are two standouts that not only support businesses like Great Valley but also lead to more vibrant rural communities.”

Composite image of Nathan Bailey in the tasting room and in a storage room with wine casks
Top: An aerial view of the operation provided courtesy of Great Valley Farm Brewery and Winery.  Left: Owner Nathan Bailey confers with employee Michael McCabe on marketing activities for the busy brewery and vineyard. Right: Bailey poses with the fruits of his labor stored in casks prior to bottling (USDA photos by Barbara Bowen).
Obligation Amount:
Year(s) of Obligation:
Congressional District:
  • Virginia: District 6