Loving Cup’s Karl Hambsch named Virginia Grower of the Year

Virginia Vineyards AssociationKarl Hambsch, the first grower in the Commonwealth to obtain organic certifications for both a vineyard and a winery, has been named Grower of the Year by the Virginia Vineyards Association.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring presented the award to Hambsch last week at the VVA’s annual Winter Technical Meeting.

“With more than 300 wineries now in the Commonwealth, Virginia’s wine industry continues to grow, break new ground and plant the innovative seeds for future success,” she said. “Karl Hambsch exemplifies these traits, and his path to becoming Grower of the Year was a winding one. From history student to providing fruit for making jelly to wine maker, and ultimately to creating Virginia’s first certified organic vineyard and winery, Karl’s innovative spirit, determination, and creative thinking have contributed to his success and this well-deserved honor.”

Hambsch started what would become Loving Cup Vineyard & Winery in 2007 with a small test block of vines planted on the 150-acre family farm in North Garden where he grew up.

“The hollow has changed quite a bit in 30 years, but it is the memory of that unspoiled ‘wilderness’ that inspires us to farm better,” Hambsch said. “We bring with us a commitment to be responsible to our neighbors, our community, our watershed, and beyond.”

By its first harvest in 2012, Loving Cup had three acres of grapes under vine. Today, the vineyard has grown to five acres and includes three grape varieties: Cayuga White, Marquette, and Corot Noir.

VVA President Nate Walsh described Hambsch as a pioneer in the development of forward-thinking Virginia winegrowing.

“Karl represents the bold spirit of innovation and experimentation that is helping to push Virginia forward as a wine region,” Walsh said. “In addition to making great wine, he has also been a source of inspiration and advice for others entering the winegrowing business.”

Hambsch has been a member of the Virginia Vineyards Association since 2005 and served the association as secretary for one term. He has also been an unstinting contributor to Virginia Cooperative Extension’s “New Grower Workshops” and vineyard field meetings, said Virginia Tech Professor Tony Wolf, viticulturist and Director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

“While Karl will be the first to admit that organic grape production is extremely challenging and not for the faint-hearted, his natural curiosity and acquired knowledge of his vineyard’s ecology is a model for others to help understand the complexity of pest management, whether it’s conventional pest management or organic pest management,” Wolf added.

Hambsch majored in history at James Madison University but learned about viticulture and winemaking while working at Prince Michel Vineyard & Winery and Veritas Vineyard & Winery. Hambsch said his journey into winemaking began with a crabapple tree on the farm that had provided fruit for a friend to make jelly. When that friend was too busy one year to make jelly, Mr. Hambsch and his father, Werner, decided to use it in a different way.

“We followed an internet recipe, and made a crabapple wine that wasn’t half bad,” he said, adding that they followed up that experiment by making different types of fruit wines until they eventually moved to wine grapes, “and, we were hooked.”

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