Reviving a legacy.
Photo by Patricia Lyons
Philip Carter Winery
Two-hundred-fifty years ago, then-Virginia Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier made an official declaration: Charles Carter was “successfully cultivating a vineyard of European grapes both white and red.” For his trouble—and for cementing Virginia’s rightful place as the birthplace of the American wine industry—Carter received grant money from the Virginia legislature and a gold medal from a royal society in London applauding his innovation. Fast-forward to Memorial Day 2008: Philip Carter Strother slaps the first Philip Carter Winery labels on ready-for-sale bottles of wine.
Five months earlier, Strother had bought the vineyard with the centuries-long provenance that, one way or another, had ties to his family for most of its existence. “It’s been in the family, tracing back to the founding of Virginia,” says Strother, a 43-year-old Richmond lawyer. After that, in a nutshell, “it went out of the family and came back into the family through the Strothers in 1929.”
But back to history. By 1762, Carter had become quite the vintner, with thousands of vines between Fauquier County and the Eastern Shore. One day, in a heady moment, he packed off a dozen bottles of his wines to London’s Society of Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (now the Royal Society of the Arts) for critique. Its response was to award him its gold medal.
With just 16 acres under vine in Hume, Strother is more the gentleman farmer than his entrepreneurial ancestor. “It’s fair to say I’ve done every position,” he says from his Franklin Street law office in Richmond. “The vast majority is running the operation.” And while Carter must have turned quite a dime on his Virginia vines, Philip Carter Winery’s distribution is fairly limited, retailing primarily from the winery.
But this is Virginia, after all, so, to Strother, it’s as much about history as anything else. In 2009, he sent two cases of his wines to the RSA in London for—in a repeat of history—evaluation. Alas, there is no gold medal. But last year, the RSA responded with a distinction that even gold can’t buy: It made Strother a fellow of the RSA. And once again, history had come full circle. PCWinery.com