Vineyard Efforts in Pittsylvania Date Back to 1869

By Patricia B. Mitchell

According to local researcher Herman Melton, a document recorded in Deed Book 63 in the Clerk's Office at the Pittsylvania County Courthouse in Chatham shows that plantation owner James M. Conway of Spring Garden and German-born rifle manufacturer Candidus Bilharz of Chatham entered into an agreement on January 8, 1869 to plant 5,000 grapevines for wine production to be supervised by Bilharz, on an 800 acre farm known as “Cedar Hill.”

It is not known whether the contract was ever fulfilled. An 1878 map of Chatham shows a distillery operated by the Bolanz family (also German) located near Chatham's old ice plant at Chatham Hall's present-day entrance on Pruden Street. According to local tradition, the western slope of what is now the Chatham Hall campus was planted in grapes, the harvest of which was apparently used in Bolanz wines and brandies.

Pittsylvania's vintner of today, Walter Crider of Tomahawk Mill Winery, retired from the Environmental Protection Agency several years ago and returned to the gristmill built by his great-uncle James Anderson. He planted his first grapevines in March 1988, harvested his first grapes in August 1990, and released his first vintage of Chardonnay in February 1991.