Copper Fox Distillery expands to Williamsburg

Governor cites Rappahannock-grown company’s commitment to Virginia-grown products

Rick Wasmund’s Copper Fox Distillery, opened in 2004 in Sperryville’s River District, will build its second malting, production, aging and tasting facility in the city of Williamsburg, Va.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announces the Williamsburg distillery project; Copper Fox's Rick Wasmund is at left.Courtesy Gov. Terry McAuliffe's Office
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announces the Williamsburg distillery project; Copper Fox’s Rick Wasmund is at left.

The public announcement was made at a press conference in Williamsburg Dec. 17 by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, with Wasmund seated nearby — along with officials of the city of Williamsburg and the governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund, the latter having pledged to provide $50,000 in incentive capital to the city for what Wasmund says is a $2 million project to convert the old Lord Paget Hotel into a distillery and retail-wholesale outlet for the company’s unique apple- and cherry-wood-smoked malt spirits. The project is a partnership between the state, the city and the distillery.

The governor’s announcement also noted that Wasmund’s project would create 28 new jobs and would source 100 percent of its grain from Virginia agricultural producers.

“And in everything we were saying to the governor’s office,” Wasmund said by phone on Monday, “I think we were being conservative.”

Such optimism is borne out by the the Sperryville distillery — which, Wasmund is eager to point out, “is not moving to Williamsburg, both distilleries will operate together.” Copper Fox started a decade ago with a staff of three:  “Basically,” Wasmund said, “it was Sean [McCaskey, the Sperryvile distillery’s production manager], myself and my mom.” The distillery now has 11 full-time employees and four part-timers, Wasmund says.

“That doesn’t count me and Chelsea,” Wasmund says, referring to his wife, “and Chelsea works almost full time.” For the Sperryville distillery’s Christmas party, Wasmund said, “including Camille [the couple’s 4-year-old daughter], I think we had 18 stockings.”

Wasmund said he and his family will likely move full time to Williamsburg, where he said the company hopes to have a bottling operation going by this coming spring. He expects that he will be a constant presence at both distilleries. McCaskey will continue to manage the Sperryville facility.

Both distilleries will produce the same fruitwood-infused single-malt-whisky and rye-whisky products initially, Wasmund said, but also expects the new facility will speed up his plans to produce a bourbon-mash whisky. Most of the company’s grains come from farmer Billy Dawson’s Bay’s Best Feeds in Heathsville, Va. — which is much closer to the Williamsburg site.

“Today’s announcement is an excellent example of the important role that our diverse agricultural industry can and will play in my economic development strategic plan,” Gov. McAuliffe said at his Dec. 17 press conference at the new Copper Fox Distillery site. “The AFID incentive grant to the City of Williamsburg brings together multiple aspects of economic development in one operation — agriculture, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, tourism, community development and exports. This is just another excellent example of leveraging our greatest assets through our mission to build a new Virginia economy.”

McAuliffe characterized the new distillery, in Williamsburg’s North East Triangle, as an economic development and agritourism opportunity less than a mile from the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. It would also raise the profile of the craft distillery industry in the state, merging the interests of agriculture, tourism and community revitalization.

Detail from architectural plans for Wasmund's Copper Fox Williamsburg distillery.
Detail from architectural plans for Wasmund’s Copper Fox Williamsburg distillery.

“Copper Fox Distillery’s commitment is exciting not only for one of our most historic cities but also for Virginia producers as we continue to take advantage of the emerging craft-beer, cider, and distilled-spirit industries to enhance, improve and successfully market Virginia-grown inputs,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore, also present at the announcement. “Further, agritourism is a major driver to Copper Fox Distillery’s existing Sperryville location and we expect it even more here following this building revitalization — all demonstrating the impact agriculture can have in an urban setting.”

Wasmund said Copper Fox Distillery will invest in the site improvements, buildings and equipment needed to renovate the existing, vacant 1952 motor-court buildings into malting, production, aging and tasting facilities. In addition to producing its own malts, Copper Fox Distillery will malt barley and grains on a custom basis, both for other distillers and craft brewers, as the Virginia distilled spirits and craft-beer industries continue to grow.

“I have always considered it an honor and a privilege to be part of the spirits industry in this great commonwealth,” said Wasmund. “Our expansion to this site would not be likely without this grant from Governor McAuliffe and the amazing support from the City of Williamsburg. We look forward to having this facility up and running as soon as possible and producing fine spirits that continue our global reputation for excellence.”

Williamsburg Mayor Clyde A. Haulma noted that the city changed its zoning regulations to recognize and encourage new economic sectors that would complement the city’s hospitality and tourism base, as well as help diversify the city’s economy. “Craft distilleries were a critical component of those changes,” Haulma said. “At about the same time, the city purchased the Lord Paget property with the objective of finding a business use that would create jobs, spur redevelopment of the Capitol Landing Road commercial corridor and bring new vitality to the city’s North East Triangle. Today, these two actions come together as we welcome Copper Fox Distillery to our community.”

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) worked with the city to secure this expansion for Virginia. Copper Fox Distillery is also committing to purchasing more than 1,000 tons of Virginia grains, continuing its current purchases of 100-percent Virginia-grown products.

According to a 2013 economic impact study conducted by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, agriculture and forestry are two of Virginia’s largest private industries, with a combined economic impact of $70 billion annually. Agriculture generates more than $52 billion per year, and forestry, more than $17 billion. The industries combined also provide more than 400,000 jobs in the commonwealth.

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