Amherst Co., VA - After more than a decade of selling grapes to the Virginia wine industry, it is time for a local man to be recognized.
Len Thompson is the 2012 Virginia Vineyards Association Grower of the Year.
Thompson first came to America to find work. After retiring from the Navy, growing grapes became a hobby. Earlier this month, Virginia's Secretary of Agriculture congratulated Thompson on his growing success.
"I grew up in Ireland," he said.
But it's not a pint of Guinness that Thompson reaches for. He prefers a fine Chardonnay.
That's one of the grapes he's been growing since 1999 in Amherst County. An endeavor that at first, took the luck of the Irish to get off the ground.
"How long did it take to get your first successful vine? Well year one you're more concerned with growing the actual vines that getting any grapes out of it."
Each of his six acres produces roughly 4 tons of grapes for Thompson each year. The grapes are sold to wineries across the Commonwealth.
"One of the biggest problems we have right now is not enough grapes. We need more people putting in grape vineyards to satisfy the industry's need to make more wine for the demand."
But it's not as easy as just planting a few rows.
"You can do everything right, and guess what? You can have a really bad year. Too early. Too late. Too much frost. Frost at the wrong time," he said.
While Thompson checks his vines for signs his grapes will feel the wrath of winter, he asks
"You know why it's real green in Ireland? Because it rains all the time. So no grapes grow in Ireland. No grapes grow in Ireland."
But it's still where the Irishman turned Virginia Grower of the Year got his green thumb. You can taste Thompson's grapes in Virginia wines. He sells most of them to three wineries: Rockbridge, Wintergreen and Tamahawk Mill.