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Mitzi Batterson: VA Wine Woman

Congratulations to Mitzi Batterson on her recent appointment to the Virginia Wine Board. Mitzi is also president of the Virginia Wineries Association, Secretary of the Virginia Wine Council, manager of James River Cellars and is raising two “future vintners!” This interview was provided by James River Cellars:

Tell me about your recent appointment to the Virginia Wine Board by Todd Haymore.

Virginia winery James River Cellars Mitzi Batterson

Mitzi Batterson of James River Cellars and her two "future vintners."

I am excited. This is a new learning adventure to see how things work. I was appointed by the Governor after receiving a phone call from Secretary Todd Haymore. It was the afternoon before the next board meeting. It was a very quick turnaround on getting sworn in. It’s an honor and I’m really looking forward to learning a different aspect of the wine industry.

How many meetings will you attend a year?

They officially meet each quarter. If something comes up in between, it may require a special session. Meetings are held in person either in Charlottesville or Richmond. We are moving forward on grant proposals April 16 and 17.

How did you become involved in the wine industry?

Virginia winery James River Cellars

James and Mitzi Batterson and their Governor's Cup trophy.

This is a hobby and family passion that got a little out of control. When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, my future husband (James Batterson), father (Ray Lazarchic) and I spent a lot of time visiting wineries around Charlottesville. We particularly fell in love with a Gewurztraminer from Afton Mountain Vineyards. I did not realize I was following two career paths at the time. We spent a lot of time at Horton Vineyards.

My father’s background is horticulture and landscaping. He already owned property at a farm. During the summer of 1997, my father spent time helping at Lake Anna Winery. In 1998, we planted Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay in Montpelier, which is where our farm is located. We now have 10 grape varieties spread out over 20 acres.

What role did James take on in the winery? How do you make it work as a husband/wife team?

Our first harvest was in August 2000. We had Chardonnay, Chardonel, and Gewurztraminer. We had to purchase red fruit.  We hired a wine consultant, Brad McCarthy. At the time, he was the winemaker at White Hall Vineyards. Brad would do a walkthrough and inspection monthly. We also had unlimited phone calls. It’s very important the first year when you test a wine, and you need to determine the next step. As we progressed, James ended up being the person who made all of our wines.

Tell me about your role as a mother? How do you manage everything with two young boys?

At the point when my father decided to retire, I was 7 months pregnant with my oldest son, Noah. I took over management of the winery. My expected April Fool’s baby was born February 15. So it was a quick learning process for me. I took over operation of the winery, yet I was still teaching at Randolph Macon College and I had a preemie baby. It was like jumping into the fire.

We converted the basement of the tasting room into a daycare. One of the owners of the Landscaping Company had a nanny. We shared the nanny. Being able to have your children at work in a safe and nurturing environment made it so much easier. It’s tough being a mom and working as much as you do. But finding the balance is important. My kids can run into my office and bring me flowers. Jake is now 4 and Noah is 7. Noah can draw you a picture of how wine is made. He will even include the punch down process. So my son at 7 knows more about the winemaking process then when we started the winery.

What do you do to relax outside of work?

We enjoy good food and wine! We spend a lot of time watching the boys play. We grill with the neighbors. Jake and Noah love to fish with their dad on the Rappahannock and Pamunkey Rivers. James grew up at his parents place on the Rappahannock.

What is your involvement here at James River Cellars with the SPCA?

We have several events a year where we include the SPCA Tail Wag’N on site. We charge a minimal pet entrance fee, which goes 100% to the SPCA. They bring dogs and kittens for adoption. We encourage other people to bring their pets. We are very much a family winery. This is a way to get the rest of the family out. My kids love to interact with the animals that come here. James River Cellars has a winery cat named Charlie. He was an SPCA adoption that my father took in. Charlie is about 11 years old now and the guests love him. His happy meal is cheese so watch your picnic basket closely.

Where do you see Virginia’s wine industry headed?

Virginia is very unique in its beauty. We have grapes all over the state from beaches to mountains. Virginia’s wine industry has so much potential. There are a lot of activities, which the Virginia Wine Association and other state entities are working on. We are focused on producing a good quality wine and getting people to the wineries. My biggest concern over the upcoming years is the shortage of grapes. We’ve had great marketing and great attention, but with the growth in the wineries, we need to see more grapes. We have always been 100% Virginia fruit. It is already starting to be a challenge to find enough Virginia grown gapes. So I really hope people start planting grapes.

James River Cellars, 11008 Washington Hwy – Glen Allen (Hanover County), Virginia 23059