VDACS News Releases
February 17, 2023
VVA Honors Tom Kelly as Wine Grape Grower of the Year
Contact: Robert Garsson
Tom Kelly, a longtime vineyard manager and consultant, as well as a former president of the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA), has been named wine grape Grower of the Year by the VVA. The award was presented today by Beth Walker Green, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, at the VVA’s 2023 Technical Meeting in Charlottesville.
“Congratulations to Tom Kelly on being named the VVA Grower of the Year,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr in a statement to the VVA. “Since beginning his career in 1989, he has grown as a viticulturist, provided insight to counterparts, led the VVA, and volunteered his expertise when needed.”
Secretary Lohr added: “This type of leadership and commitment has helped Virginia’s wine industry grow and thrive in the tenth-ranked wine producing state in the nation. The industry is a tremendous economic driver for the Commonwealth as it provides a $1.73 billion boost to the state’s economy and creates more than 10,000 jobs.”
Mr. Kelly, of Strasburg, Va., has been involved in viticulture for 25 years as a vineyard worker, vineyard manager and consultant, managing the planting of more than 70 acres of vines over the course of his career. He is currently vineyard manager at Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, Va., an award-winning winery growing 30 acres of wine grapes.
Mr. Kelly served on the VVA Board of Directors for ten years, including two terms as association president from 2013 to 2016. As president, he tackled a number of issues of concern to the wine industry, including finding ways to help small vineyards become more profitable.
Current VVA President Skip Causey said that when he first joined the VVA Board he was struck by the role Mr. Kelly played in helping new board members, like himself, ease into their roles.
“He has served tirelessly on the board and several of its committees,” Mr. Causey said. “He has a deep understanding of viticulture, and he knows how to help the entire industry grow and prosper. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Tom Kelly for what he has done to help the industry.”
Mr. Kelly said his “greatest reward” in volunteering for the VVA came from the people that he got to know. “We had this project and that project, and we put on some really great meetings,” he said. “Those are all things to be proud of. But what I got out of it more than anything else were the relationships with people. That’s what the VVA really meant to me – the wonderful people.” He began his viticulture career in 1989 at Sand Castle Winery in Erwinna, Pa., at a time when he “was looking for something different” to do. He came across an ad for the vineyard, which he thought “seemed different enough.”
“My new employer handed me a hoe and put me in the fields where I've been ever since,” he said. “I knew nothing about grapes or wine at the time, but I fell in love with the whole process.”
Mr. Kelly said that during his three-year stay at Sand Castle, he learned the basics of viticulture, from pruning and hilling up to canopy management and harvesting, and was introduced to winemaking.
He then entered the Virginia wine industry, working at Oasis Vineyards in Hume and then Totier Creek Vineyards (now Thatch Winery) in Charlottesville, where he spent four years as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker.
In 2004, he was named vineyard manager at Rappahannock Cellars, which then had a total of 22 acres of vines on three separate sites. With the birth of his son in 2013, Mr. Kelly left Rappahannock to form his own consulting firm, Kelly Vineyard Services. While he continues to serve clients as a consultant, he resumed his role as vineyard manager at Rappahannock in November 2019.
The Grower of the Year Award comes as the VVA marks its 40th year of service to the industry. “These forty years of sharing information, research, and best practices has helped improve the quality of Virginia grapes and Virginia wine,” Mr. Causey said. “Today, the VVA is stronger than ever, and we are continuing to serve the Commonwealth’s vineyards and their more than 5,000 acres of vines.”
The VVA has been pleased to honor one of its members with the Grower of the Year Award each year since 2005. Recipients are active participants in the Virginia viticulture community with a track record of commitment and service to the industry.
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