Sip and Savor: The Story Behind Staunton’s Beloved Ox-Eye Vineyard


In the serene countryside of Staunton, Virginia, Ox-Eye Vineyards stands as a testament to dedication, tradition, and the art of winemaking. Founded by John and Susan Kiers in 1996, Ox-Eye Vineyards is named after the daisy-like ox-eye flower that blooms abundantly across their pastures. This charming vineyard has grown from a historic farm into a celebrated producer of distinctive wines.

John Kiers explains the origin of the vineyard’s name: “Ox-eye is an old-fashioned term for a daisy, a little field daisy. We have millions of them in the pastures in the spring. My wife came up with that name because we wanted something of the earth, something that reflected the natural beauty of the Valley.”

The Kiers’ journey began when they purchased the farm, dating back to a 1756 land grant from the King of England. “The family that owned the farm no longer farmed, but leased out the farm and the pastures had become overgrown. It took a couple of years before we could get it in good enough condition to start planting grapes,” John recalls. With a background in agriculture and a passion for winemaking sparked by his time in France, John was determined to transform the farm into a thriving vineyard.

Ox-Eye Vineyards spans about 25 acres, with vineyards situated on a slope that provides ideal growing conditions. “We looked at property in Nelson, Albemarle, Madison, Augusta, and Rockbridge. We decided the climate and soil for grapes would be better here,” John explains. The semi-arid climate and well-drained, sandy soil create an environment where the vines can thrive without excessive intervention. “We average about 31 to 32 inches of rain a year, which is beneficial for growing grapes,” John says. “When vines don’t get enough water and nutrients, they focus on the grapes. If the soil is in really good condition, they don’t ripen quite as quickly or as well.”

John’s dedication to producing high-quality grapes led him to initially sell fruit to other wineries for the first 12 years. “I had no intention of making wine when we started. We didn’t build the winery until 2009 and 2010. The genesis of why I got into it was to sell fruit and grow grapes.” The transition from selling grapes to making wine was a natural progression for John and his family. His daughter, Harriet, plays a crucial role in the vineyard’s operations. A UVA graduate with a degree in chemistry, Harriet has honed her craft through experiences in France, Oregon, and the Finger Lakes. “She pretty much runs the day-to-day operations now,” John proudly states.

Ox-Eye Vineyards is known for its Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc, with Riesling being a particular standout. “Riesling has worked out great for me, and I’ll continue to expand it,” John says. The vineyard’s elevation and cooler climate make it ideal for growing this varietal, which has faced challenges east of the Blue Ridge due to higher humidity levels.

John emphasizes a minimalist approach to winemaking, focusing on obtaining the best fruit from the vineyard and letting the natural qualities shine through. “I try to be a minimalist, try not to get in the way, try not to screw it up,” he says. This philosophy extends to the winery, where he and Harriet take great care in monitoring and adjusting the winemaking process to ensure the highest quality. “We don’t do a lot of intervention. We don’t do a lot of spraying because it’s cooler and drier here. The process is pretty much the same everywhere: pick a grape, get the juice out, ferment it, clarify it, filter it, bottle it,” John explains. This simplicity and dedication to quality are what set Ox-Eye Vineyards apart.

Despite the challenges of farming and winemaking, John finds immense satisfaction in his work. “Farming is tough. You have to learn how to deal with mortality, whether it’s a plant or an animal. But there’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction come August when you see all those ripe grapes hanging there by the thousands,” he reflects. John explains, “Our family motto has been: THIS AIN’T NO DISCO,” but looking back, he wouldn’t do anything differently. “It’s been a good way to have a family. The family that stays together, works together.” With a deep respect for tradition and a keen eye on the future, Ox-Eye Vineyards is poised to continue flourishing for generations to come.

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