MADISON, Va. (AP) — “Exquisite” best describes a recent Friday afternoon in Madison County spent sitting with good company, waning sunshine and handy beverages—and a stunning view of blue mountains layered on the horizon.
At Revalation Vineyards, the magnificent Hebron Valley is spread out for the grateful observer in all its glory from the rise upon which the winery sits.
“We love the natural beauty of this area,” Revalation co-owner Françoise Seillier-Moiseiwitsch told the Culpeper Star-Exponent. “We love growing grapes here. We greatly appreciate the community and its support.”
For Seillier-Moiseiwitsch and her husband, Julian Moiseiwitsch, the venture is much more than a business. It’s a philosophy and a way of life.
In all they do, they strive for sustainability in agriculture and anthropology. They help not only their grapes but the people around them to reach their potential, with an eye for building a better future.
“Françoise is incredible,” Fay Utz, president of the Literacy Council of Madison County, said of the vigneron. “I know her well; she’s on our board of directors. She is very dedicated to the community, very invested. She really cares.”
Born in Belgium, Seillier-Moiseiwitsch met Julian—who is from Northern Ireland—in London in the mid-1980s. Soon after, when Seillier-Moiseiwitsch accepted a post-doctorate position at Stanford University, Julian, a dentist, followed her to California.
As they each pursued their careers, they studied wine and the wine-making industry as a shared passion, with the idea of one day turning that interest into a labor of love.
In 2006, they took their first major step toward that goal, purchasing a horse farm in Madison County and transforming it into a vineyard on weekends, while living and working in Washington, D.C. In 2012, Seillier-Moiseiwitsch transitioned from her academic career to become a full-time vineyard manager. Julian continued his endodontic practice.
Now spanning 10 acres of vineyards, Revalation has since 2014 made a variety of award-winning wines and its signature “verjus,” an acidic, non-alcoholic juice used in gourmet cooking. The Hebron Valley vineyard builds on the neighboring eight-acre vineyard in Reva that the Moiseiwitsches had launched earlier. Revalation opened for tastings in 2018.
“Nothing about growing things is fast,” Seillier-Moiseiwitsch said. “It’s a long-term commitment. Of course, you’ll have ups and downs along the way.”
On the recent day at the vineyard, 10 percent of its sales proceeds went to the Literacy Council, a contribution Revalation makes once every month.
“Françoise is a math specialist,” Utz said in an interview last Thursday. “Through the council, she has tutored people in math for eight or nine years. Besides the monthly donations, the vineyard has helped with bigger fundraisers, though we haven’t been able to do any recently due to COVID.”
Any adult who has the courage to step forward and speak up, go to the Literacy Council and ask for help with reading or math skills, should be recognized simply for taking that step to improve themselves, Seillier-Moiseiwitsch said.
“The stories behind these people are so varied, they should not be judged,” she said. “One woman I worked with had a very difficult family situation, a single parent, and after she bought a small house, a hurricane came through and dropped a tree on it. She was struggling to make ends meet—it was very bad luck. It’s very unfair for people to blame people for the situations they find themselves in.”
At Stanford, Seillier-Moiseiwitsch chaired the university’s biostatistics department. More recently, she was department chair and director of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Georgetown University. And later, she was director of biostatistics and data management for the infectious disease clinical research program of the federal Uniformed Services University.
“She’s very, very busy, but Françoise always finds time to tutor,” Utz said. “We offer much more than just reading. There’s math, but also computer literacy. We help people pass the GED test, the equivalent of a high school degree.
“Right before the pandemic hit, we taught a very successful workshop for folks with android phones, just teaching basic functions,” she added. “How to send pictures, how to text or write an email, how to do a video call.”
Utz said the council hopes to re-start classes before long, as the pandemic continues to ease—possibly in the fall, if COVID-19 case numbers drop enough.
“But we have tutors working now, and they have been all along, with people who need help individually,” Utz said. “And we stress, it’s always free and completely confidential.”
Utz said Seillier-Moiseiwitsch has also developed a class at Madison and Culpeper County high schools to teach young people viticulture, the study of grape cultivation.
“The careers in that area in Virginia are quite promising, actually,” Utz said. “Françoise invites students out to the vineyard so they can learn on the spot. She has an intern program.”
Over the next several years, the couple plans to invest $2.3 million to build a wine-production facility, expand the winery’s tasting room and create space for special events.
Revalation—whose name pinpoints the Reva area, where the winery began, and also describes the revelatory nature of growing grapes and developing their flavors—will receive a $25,000 grant through Gov. Ralph Northam’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, as well as a $25,000 match from Madison County.
“We thank Revalation Vineyards for investing in Madison County, for helping ensure our commonwealth remains a premier destination for high-quality wine, and for continuing to inspire future winemakers,” the governor said in a statement last fall, when he announced the grant.
The expansion will pave the way for Revalation to create five more jobs, as well as purchase nearly 60 tons of Virginia-grown grapes from other growers over the next three years, Northam said.
The wine-making industry contributes $1.4 billion annually to the state’s economy. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry.
“We’re very happy to be here, and looking forward to the future,” Seillier-Moiseiwitsch said. “We invite everyone to come and see for themselves, experience the beautiful view and our Virginia wine.”
For information about the Madison County Literacy Council email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540/948-5514. Learn more about Revalation Vineyards at revalationvineyards.com.