A Taste of History
In December 2005, a small group of wine enthusiasts and investors acquired the historic La Grange farm which included acres of land with a dilapidated manor house and numerous out buildings. The investors formed PWC Winery, LLC, with the goal to open a high-quality winery in Prince William County, a first for the county. The property now includes 5.6 acres of vineyards, the restored circa 1790 manor house as well as a wine production facility.
Research evidenced that La Grange is rich in history; it had been originally carved out of Robert “King” Carter’s Bull Run Tract in the 1600s and later became known as La Grange. The property’s ownership changed many times during the past four centuries, with the farm’s acreage increasing and decreasing over the years. Fortunately the three-story red brick manor house built by George Green survived.
Library of Congress records contain photographs taken in 1937 when the building was remodeled. Additional photographs show the estate in 1958 (these are on display). The English Boxwoods which surrounded the manor house in earlier years died from blight, but in their place are American boxwoods that have grown to a height of over 20 feet, forming an archway over a stone path that now leads from the manor house to the winery building.
The Winery at La Grange was formally launched in December 2005 and opened to the public on Labor Day 2006 . From the start, Prince William County officials embraced the concept as being a wonderful return to the areas winemaking roots. Several vineyards and wineries existed in the County in the 1800s and early 1900s. One of these was a vineyard and winery on a 200-acre farm called Batavia, near Haymarket, VA, founded by Franz Peters. Peters was also a partner with Christian Heineken, who owned Mill Park also near Haymarket. In 1869, The Mill Park Wine Company was founded on Heineken’s property where wine was made from locally grown grapes.
In the 1800s, another 40-acre vineyard on the nearby Annaburg Estate and owned by Robert Portner produced an award winning port-style wine. Evidence reveals that a bronze medal was awarded at the 1900 Paris Exposition for a port-style wine “Pride of Virginia Port” made from Portner’s grapes by Washington, DC winemaker Christian Xander. In the 1950s, an Italian immigrant named John Scuitto built and operated a winery from 1949 to 1958 where he produced and sold four different wines.
Research into La Grange’s past has revealed interesting folklore. Visitors often share their experiences with our ghosts. One in particular is about a piano, playing in the (formerly) abandoned and vacant house, as follows:
In early 2006 as La Grange was being renovated, one evening a neighboring family of four walked over to see the changes being made. The house was locked and the mother and father had walked around back while their two children tried to enter through the front door. As the parents shook a back door lock they heard piano music playing inside. Being a musical family, they listened and one of the parents said, “The children must have opened the front door and found a piano.” They found an unlocked side door and called out to the children as they entered the house. The music stopped! The parents searched for the children. The front door was double bolted from the inside with their children still outside, trying to open it. “We heard you playing the piano, where did you find one?” the children asked. After the four searched the manor house, they found no piano.” The winery owners subsequently discovered that Benoni Harrison willed to his nephew, B.H. Jordan (B: Oct 8, 1820 D: Jan 7, 1891), a number of items to include “the piano in the parlor.”
There are many other stories, including the recurring ghost of a young girl who inhabits one of the upstairs rooms. We also believe it is the spirit of Benoni who guided our restoration project. Benoni E. Harrison purchased the La Grange estate in 1827 and lived here until he died in 1869. Harrison is reported to have been very wealthy and during 1849 and 1850 was Prince William County’s delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. Today, Benoni’s Lounge (the stone-walled cellar of the manor house) is a favorite quiet escape for many of the winery’s visitors.
Stories about the house and its occupants abound. When you visit La Grange, you will find two fireplaces in the former dining room, repeated above in what was an upstairs bedroom; this second set being built by Benoni after this incident:
Benoni Harrison was quite a figurehead in his days, but not necessarily a large man according to various documents. His wife, Catherine Norvill Harrison was said to be of larger stature and at one social event, Benoni said something to her which she did not like; she grabbed him up and spanked him like a child in front of their guests. From that moment, Benoni refused to share a hearth with his wife and had the additional fireplaces installed.
The information on the history of La Grange was compiled by Ray Olszewski.
Ray has written “A Taste of Prince William County, Virginia Wine History” which gives a comprehensive history of wine making in Prince William County.