The Rapp for July 10

Gray Ghost celebrates 20 years

When Gray Ghost Vineyards opened its doors in Amissville on July 9, 1994, it was Rappahannock County’s second winery — the first being the groundbreaking Farfelu Vineyards, which has since closed. Gray Ghost celebrates its 20th anniversary with two days of special events at the winery this weekend.

Gray Ghost 20 years ago, after its first vineyard planting.
Gray Ghost 20 years ago, after its first vineyard planting. Courtesy photo

Owners Al and Cheryl Kellert, along with their daughter, Amy, and son, Al, moved to Rappahannock in December 1986; planting the first one-acre vineyard began the following spring. The original property, then known to most as the Riley Place, soon became a local curiosity, with small bamboo stakes spaced every six feet in 10-foot-wide rows.

It took about three years before the vineyards were producing quality wine grapes. Through 1992, the Kellerts sold their fruit to local wineries. In 1993, the entire crop was brought in-house to produce the first vintage to carry the Gray Ghost label.

Gray Ghost’s only wine back then won a competition medal; since then, the winery has averaged more than 100 national and international awards a year. Also in the last 20 years, Gray Ghost expanded to about 13 acres of producing vines — but has remained throughout a family operation, with daughter Amy serving as marketing director; her brother, Al, a full-time lieutenant with the Prince William Fire Department, handling vineyard and winery operations; and daughter-in-law Becca serving as administrative assistant. Even the grandchildren are involved with everything from bottling to harvest.

“Cheryl and I count our incredible blessings, especially when we realize what was initially our dream now encompasses three generations,” says Al Kellert.

The winery as it appears now.
The winery as it appears now. Courtesy photo

Gray Ghost has also limited its summer hiring to local high school and college students from the surrounding communities of Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier and Warren counties. In 20 years, the winery has employed 50-plus young people, and Gray Ghost also has been a regular sponsor of RAA Little League teams since 1990. Its annual food drives for both the Culpeper and Rappahannock food pantries net more than 1,000 pounds of donations.

The winery’s celebration this Saturday and Sunday (July 12-13) includes live music, winery and vineyard tours, Civil War reenactors, a 22-karat gold-embossed logo glass and anniversary cake. For more, contact the winery at 540-937-4869 or

Bringing the outdoors in at CCLC

For two days last week, there was magic taking place in the foyer at the Child Care and Learning Center. Before the eyes of children, staff and parents, two blank walls were turned into a magnificent nature scene of our local Rappahannock woods. The final 23-by-7.5-foot mural is the spectacular result of a collaborative artistic project led by Rappahannock-based artist Kevin Adams of Washington.

Kevin Adams and Jane Purnell add detail and light to the mural at CCLC.
Kevin Adams and Jane Purnell add detail and light to the mural at CCLC. Courtesy photo

The beneficiaries are not only the children, families and staff at CCLC, but two Rappahannock County High School art students, Amrit Tamang and Jane Purnell.

How did this come to pass?

“I approached Kevin about an idea I had to bring the outdoors inside our building as part of a building and grounds renovation plan. I wanted to highlight the outdoors and the nature aspect of our curriculum that is so fundamental to our programs here. We have such beautiful wooded outdoor play spaces, such fantastic scenery around us, and I wanted our foyer entrance to emphasize that our activities here are built around connecting children with nature,” said Rose Ann Smythe, CCLC’s executive director. “I saw a fantastic painting of Kevin’s, ‘Old Rag and the Piedmont,’ hanging in the Shenandoah National Park headquarters in Luray, and it took my breath away. I knew I must approach him and see if he could help.”

After a visit to CCLC, Adams agreed to take on the project, with a request. He asked if two high school art students could work with him on the project. “It could be a great learning experience for all, and would make it real Rappahannock collaboration,” Smythe said Adams told her.

With RCHS art teacher Joy Sours’ help, Tamang and Purnell signed on to get a hands-on two-day art lesson from a master artist. Tamang, an RCHS graduate, is headed to George Mason University in the fall to study pre-med; Jane Purnell is a rising senior whose favorite pastimes are soccer, writing and art.

On Mural Morning One, Adams arrived with his sketches of the mural he envisioned, cans of blue, white, yellow, black and red flat latex paint, and an assortment of empty coffee cans and brushes, as well as photographs of local scenes of rocks, trees, leaves and moss.

Neither of the teenagers had worked on a group project before. “I was really nervous,” said Tamang, describing his first day on the project. “I was having second thoughts about showing up at all. I was worried that maybe I would ruin it. I felt a lot better on the second day!”

“I knew there was the potential for apprehension from the two art students, so I was determined to not allow hesitancy,” said Adams. “That’s why I didn’t ask Jane or Amrit anything about their previous painting experience. I just put a brush in their hands and said, ‘Go!’ ”

The artists began with big shapes and then worked on highlights and shadows. Priming the walls with a dark grey, as artists prime their canvasses with a color, helped to add depth to the colors.

“The hardest part for me,” said Purnell, as the three stood back to look at their work at the end of day two, “was creating the light and mixing the right colors. You know, getting the colors that go with the other colors around it? I learned to pay attention to the little things, like moss on trees, and how light pops through the leaves. I just can’t believe what we made here!”

The finished 23-by-7.5-foot mural, with handmade kid-sized benches, adorns the CCLC foyer.
The finished 23-by-7.5-foot mural, with handmade kid-sized benches, adorns the CCLC foyer. Courtesy photo

Kevin had his two young artists sign the mural as well and thanked them both. “I know that when I was young and coming along, I had a couple of older artists that really helped me, and I wanted to give back and share that experience. Thank you for letting me do that,” he later wrote to Smythe.

Complementing the mural in the foyer are two seven-foot handmade child-size benches, created from local wood by volunteer artisans Barney O’Meara and Lowell Dodge.

“These last two days have been an amazing experience for all, as we witnessed the development of a piece of art from a blank wall to the layering of light and color to produce what you see here,” said Smythe. “I have always told families when they come to visit that it is not only the little people that learn here. The big people learn every day as well. We all want to thank Kevin Adams for a living two-day art lesson that we will never forget.”

Laurel Mills Store reopens

The Laurel Mills Store in Castleton reopened its doors last month after a four-month hiatus between owners.

Pete and Brenda MacMurray revitalized and reopened the historic Laurel Mills Store last month in Castleton.
Pete and Brenda MacMurray revitalized and reopened the historic Laurel Mills Store last month in Castleton. Courtesy photo

New owners Pete and Brenda MacMurray are familiar with the region, having renovated and reinvigorated the Orlean Market in Fauquier County in 2008. After operating a B&B and gift shop in New Bern, N.C., for the last three years, the serial entrepreneurs say they’re pleased to be back in the Virginia Piedmont.

Pete McMurray is a creative businessman with a host of successful companies on his resume, including development of one of the first e-commerce businesses in the country, PC Flowers. Created in 1989, the business sold flowers nationwide via the embryonic Internet.

Later, he shifted gears, purchasing and operating a major marina near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His wife, Brenda, operated a grocery store in Manassas in the 1990s.

The energetic couple has breathed life back into the historical village store that was built in 1877, where an old mill next to the store once manufactured confederate uniforms during the Civil War. The MacMurrays restored the pine flooring and exposed the original brick walls to showcase goods typically found in a small grocery store.

By the end of this month, wine — both Virginia and international — and several craft and popular beers will be featured along with fresh sandwiches, soups and salads.

“I am thrilled to death to have the store back in operation,” says former longtime store co-owner Mary Frances Fannon.

“All the kids from Castleton Festival come in,” says Pete MacMurray. “They are really, really nice kids; musicians, singers, costume designers and more. Who would have thought we’d have an internationally acclaimed music festival in Rappahannock County? We have people from all over the world come in the store now.”

That includes local residents, many who have enjoyed successful careers elsewhere and seek the beauty and quiet of Rappahannock County as counterpoint to their busy lives.

One such legendary cohort is the Sunday Morning Front Porch Group — which has been meeting for years at the store for coffee, pastries and banter (even while the store itself was between owners and otherwise closed). If you were to stumble onto this crowd, you’d be chatting with consultants, political figures, high-priced lawyers, former CEOs and judges, among the diverse backgrounds.

“The Laurel Mills Store has changed but it hasn’t,” says longtime Front Porcher Richard Viguerie. “You’ll find the same warm smile and friendly greeting from Brenda and Pete that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years from Mary Frances Fannon, then Marion Sharp.”

The newly reopened Laurel Mills Store.
The newly reopened Laurel Mills Store. Courtesy photo

Viguerie explains that as one walks onto the front porch and up to the heavy wooden door, it looks like the mom-and-pop store he’s known for decades. “But when you step inside, wow. You feel as if you’ve been transported to a charming boutique shop in Greenwich Village.

“Brenda and Pete have clearly made a long-term commitment to our part of beautiful Rappahannock County. I, and the other front porch regulars, welcome and thank them.”

The Laurel Mills Store is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week in the summer (8 to 5 on Sundays).

But locals know that if an item is needed during off hours they can “simply knock on the front door and we’ll let them in, since we live on the second floor,” says a smiling Pete MacMurray.

— John Hagerty

Internet down? Tree climbers up.

Who climbs trees after thunderstorms? Piedmont Broadband’s Rich Shoemaker says PBB “wore out two tree climbers” starting last Thursday (July 3), after heavy lightning storms in the region took out a large chunk of the wireless broadband company’s network (which is spread throughout much of Rappahannock and into Fauquier and Madison counties). The tree climbers were helping replace the eight radio units Shoemaker says were lost to lightning strikes and related power surges.

Not all PBB’s radios are mounted in trees; many work fine on rooftops or poles, but line-of-sight signal requirements sometimes necessitate an installation in the nearest tall oak or poplar.

“We hate these thunderstorms,” Shoemaker emailed on Monday. He said crews have been out every day since last Thursday, “and will be out . . . until we return all of our clients back up.

“Our biggest problem this time was the southern end of the network — Woodville, Hawlin and Etlan areas,” Shoemaker said. “Not only did we have outages with our units, we had an area-wide power outage on July 4th midmorning at the Castleton, Battle Mountain and Rixeyville sites.

“We have greatly improved the grounding and surge protection and have invested heavily in this area, and I believe it has been paying off, and we’re looking for even better ways to protect the equipment. However, a direct strike is what has happened this last time.”

He added: “We encourage our clients as well as all others to increase your surge protection and unplug as much as you can during these events.”

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