Ruth Saunders named Grower of the Year by the Virginia Vineyards Association

virginia wineThe Virginia Vineyards Association has named Ruth Saunders of Silver Creek Orchards in Nelson County as the organization’s 2017 Grower of the Year.

The award was presented to Saunders by Megan Seibel, Assistant Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, at the VVA’s annual winter technical meeting Feb 24.  

During the meeting, Nate Walsh of Walsh Family Wine assumed office as the new president of the Virginia Vineyards Association. He succeeds Tom Kelly, who led the VVA for the past four years.

Saunders and her husband, John have deep roots in Virginia’s agriculture industry. Their families have operated several hundred acres of farmland in Nelson County for generations. They raise cattle and are involved in the growing of apples and a variety of other crops, including wine grapes.

Having planted their first grapes in 1999, the Saunders are among the largest independent growers in Virginia with more than 75 acres of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Viognier, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Traminette, and Chambourcin. Their grapes produce award-winning wines for many wineries throughout the state.

Saunders has been involved with the VVA since she became a part of the industry. She served on the original Research and Education Committee, reviewing research grant proposals prior to their submission to the Virginia Wine Board for funding. She was also the VVA grower representative on the Wine Board for eight years and served as Director of the Virginia State Horticulture Society.

Since 2005, the Virginia Vineyards Association has honored one of its members annually with the Grower of the Year Award. The criteria are: the nominee must be an active member of the VVA with at least seven years of experience managing or operating a commercial vineyard of at least five acres; the nominee must be an active participant in the Virginia viticulture community with a track record of service to our industry; and the nominee must have the respect of his or her peers.

Walsh was one of five new board members elected by the VVA membership this winter: Ben Margulies is now association Secretary, Jessi Gatewood is serving as Treasurer and Carrington King and Skip Causey are serving as at-large board members.

Walsh has worked for wineries and vineyards in Central Virginia, Northern Virginia, and the Shenandoah Valley since 2004. Currently, he is the winegrower for Walsh Family Wine in Waterford and W2 Winegrowing. He has served as a board member of the Virginia Wineries Association and the Loudoun Wineries Association.

Margulies, cellar master at Horton Vineyards in Gordonsville, studied enology at the University of California, Davis, and has worked at several vineyards in Virginia since 2009. He previously served as chair of the VVA’s Education Committee. He succeeds Aimee Henkle of The Vineyards & Winery at Lost Creek.

Gatewood, of Charlottesville, began her vineyard training under Gabriele Rausse, a pioneer of the Virginia wine industry. After working as winemaker for Barren Ridge Vineyards, she now works in the industry as a consultant. She succeeds Kay Thompson of Amherst Vineyards.

King graduated from the University of Maryland in 2002 with a degree in Horticulture Production. While there, he worked with Dr. Joseph Fiola in the Hagerstown Research Vineyard. He manages all aspects of vineyard management and installation at King Family Vineyards in Crozet, and has grown the operation from eight acres to just under 50 acres of grapes.

Causey was among the first graduates of the vineyard and enology program at Piedmont Virginia Community College more than 10 years ago. He bought his first property in 2005, began planting the following year, and opened Potomac Point Vineyard & Winery for business in Stafford in 2007.

With the seating of the VVA’s new board members, Kelly, owner of Kelly Vineyard Services based in Front Royal, will continue to support the board as immediate past president, and Jim Benefiel, of Leesburg, owner of Benevino Vineyards, will continue as vice president.

The Virginia Vineyards Association originated in 1979 as a joint effort for information exchange and cooperation among viticulturists, wineries and Virginia Tech. For more information, go to


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