Virginia Vineyards Association Honors Recipients for Grower of the Year, Lifetime Achievement

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Virginia Vineyards Assocation Press Release

Bill Tonkins Named VVA Grower of the Year

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Bill Tonkins, vineyard manager at Veritas Vineyards and Winery, Afton, has been named 2018 Grower of the Year by the Virginia Vineyards Association (VVA).

Mr. Tonkins, who served a two-year term as VVA president ending in December 2012, was presented with the award at the association’s annual winter technical meeting by Bettina Ring, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“Bill’s work in increasing the Veritas acreage fivefold is a fitting parallel to the dramatic growth of the Virginia wine industry in general,” Ms. Ring said.

“An economic impact study released in 2017 showed that Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry contributes more than $1.37 billion annually to the state’s economy, an increase of 82 percent from a 2010 economic impact study,” she added. “With this exponential growth has come an equally impressive rise in the quality of Virginia wine. I congratulate Bill Tonkins for this award and the part he has played in supporting and growing the wine industry in Virginia.”

“Bill exemplifies the kind of modern grower who is helping to raise the bar for Virginia wine as a whole,” said VVA president Nate Walsh. “Wines made from Veritas grapes have been consistent medalists in the Virginia Governor’s Cup, and in 2017 those grapes were responsible for two wines included in the Governor’s Cup case – our Commonwealth’s highest award.”

Mr. Tonkins moved to Afton in 2007 with his wife, Diane, after a long and successful career in the British Army, including deployments with the U.S. Army and assignments as a contractor for the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.

He has since overseen the growth of Veritas’s vineyards from 20 acres of vines to 100 acres. 

He is a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Wine Board. Following his term as VVA president, Mr. Tonkins continued to serve on the association’s board for four years in his capacity as immediate past president.

In addition to the vineyards he manages for Veritas, Mr. Tonkins has his own vineyard of Petit Verdot, which he lovingly calls Aftonshire. He has a master’s degree in technology from the University of Manchester in England.

Chris Hill Honored with VVA Lifetime Achievement Award

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Chris Hill, a pioneer in the development of the Virginia vineyard and wine industry, was honored Feb. 23 with the Virginia Vineyards Association’s (VVA) Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mr. Hill established the 15-acre Glendower Vineyards near Scottsville in 1981 with George Jackson. In the early 1990s, he began lending assistance to friends and fellow growers with vineyard problems, and by 1995 that work had developed into a consulting business. In that capacity, he has played a significant role in the establishment and growth of several dozen vineyards around the Commonwealth.  

“Chris not only provided the support that many vineyard owners needed to get started, he supplied the skill and expertise that helped them grow high-quality wine grapes,” said VVA president Nate Walsh. “His work is one of the reasons that Virginia’s reputation as a source of great wine has grown so quickly.”

“Many would say that Chris’s effectiveness is his combination of knowledge, 30-plus years of first-hand grape growing experience, an ability to connect people from agricultural workers to vineyard and winery owners, and his unwavering pragmatism,” added Tony Wolf, professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech and technical advisor to the VVA. 

Mr. Hill is a past president of the VVA, and he served two terms on the Virginia Wine Board. In 2005, he was the first recipient of the VVA’s Grower of the Year award.

He also helped a number of aspiring viticulturists who took his classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College, which offers certificate programs in viticulture and enology. He taught at the Charlottesville-based community college for a decade, ending in 2015.

Mr. Hill was an early advocate of vertically divided vine-training systems, following the lead of Dr. Richard Smart, and has often utilized the Smart-Dyson Ballerina training system.  Looking for a low-cost way to tame the excessive vigor of his vines, Mr. Hill decided to divide the canopy vertically, allowing descending shoots to simply fall without an additional catch wire. He adapted this approach to create a “solar collector” system, which maximizes sunlight for vines on vigorous sites with an east-west orientation.

Mr. Hill said he is most proud of being part of a relatively young agricultural industry that is proving to be very successful.

“It has been very affirming and exciting to watch our industry grow. It is extremely pleasing to help others get their dreams in motion and to watch them become successful,” he said.

Mr. Hill received a BA from Duke University and served a stint in the U.S. Army as a medical technician.  He subsequently earned a BS degree in 1978 and a Master of Science degree in horticulture two years later, both from Virginia Tech. Along with his wife, Kathy Jaquette, he lives in Covesville.