In 1983, two years after Bill’s initial interest, the Heidigs planted more than 2,000 Seyval Blanc and 250 Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Three weeks later, on an extremely hot weekend, they planted 1,000 Chardonnay vines.
Bill and Ann soon learned first-hand how much care grape vines require. Each vine has to be trained to grow straight up a stake. As only a single shoot can be allowed to grow, laterals must be pruned constantly, and the vine’s initial fruit clusters have to be removed as they form. When the vines finally reached the first wire of the trellis, the Heidigs celebrated trading the painstaking work low to the ground for painstaking work they could do standing up.
The first commercial sale came after the 1984 harvest when the Heidigs sold one-half ton of Seyval Blanc grapes to a Virginia winery. With the vines’ cooperation the yields rose steadily while Bill and Ann continued to expand the vineyard. In 1984 and 1985, they planted additional Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and in 1988, after the memories of planting and nurturing had faded, they planted 1,000 Merlot vines. By 1988, over 28 tons of grapes from over 10 acres were being picked for delivery to several Virginia wineries—that were turning their grapes into award-winning wines. The Heidigs decided the time was ripe to make Lake Anna Winery a reality.
The winery is housed in an old barn located on the Heidig farm. Built for dairy cows in the 1940s, adapting this structure for a winery proved to be a real challenge. The original floor was not strong enough to support the weight of the tanks, the ceiling was too low to accommodate the height of the tanks, and the roof leaked. The renovation began in earnest when the old cement floor was broken up and removed and replaced with reinforced concrete. The roof traded the old tin for new shingles, and four holes were cut into the loft floor to accommodate the taller fermenting tanks.
Remodeling the interior was the next task. To cut costs, the Heidigs did as much of the work as they could, stretching the forbearance of family and friends to the limit. Two neighbors, Elmo Proffitt and Charley Gentry, were of tremendous help. They spent many weekends constructing the large front door, framing all the doors and windows, and serving as advisors, telling Bill and Ann that certain jobs were not as easy as they thought, and then showing them the right way to do it. In the spring of 1990 the winery was completed.
The Next Phase
Upon the dawning of a new millenium, Bill, who ran the vineyard and had been sharing the winemaking duties with Ann, decided it was time to turn back the chronological progression of the winery. He felt they could either scale back to just growing grapes and selling them primarily to other wineries as in the 80s, or see if any of the four children had any interest in taking over the business. Two sons, Jeff and Eric were thrilled with the idea, and Bill recognized that for them to come on board, a commitment to expand the facility would need to be made. So in 2000, a major undertaking started with the concurrent building of a new, open, multi-use tasting room, a climate-controlled case-goods warehouse and a new tank room/crush pad that would more than double the present production area capacity. After a year of construction, work was finished, and the new tasting room opened in the spring of 2001.
About the same time, the well-respected winemaking consultant, Brad McCarthy, had been hired to oversee cellar operations and in the spring of 2001 suggested that the hiring of a winemaker would give Ann and Bill time to pursue their own interests and allow them to step back a bit from the day-to-day operations. In May of 2001, Graham Bell was brought on board and in late 2002, the winery business was sold to the two brothers. Bill continues to manage the vineyard, with Jeff and Eric owning and operating the winery business.
The goal for future expansion is to further expand production to 8-10,000 cases per year in order to be able to have Jeff involved full-time. In 2002, production grew to 4,000 cases, and 2003 production reached 5,500 cases.
The Heidig family’s time and effort over the years have made lake Anna Winery a reality, ready to produce the finest wines that only excellent grapes, the right growing conditions, and a caring vintner can offer.