This feature on Wine Reserve at Waterford is part the #LoudounPossible Success Story series compiled in celebration of Loudoun Small Business Week 2022. For more information on the week’s festivities, plus other engaging stories of sustainable business growth, please visit LoudounSmallBiz.org.
An Unexpected Path to Entrepreneurship
Cori and Jonathan Phillips didn’t have a background in farming or winemaking, but they were drawn to the humanity that happens over a glass of wine.
“We found our travels always seemed to revolve around finding local libations and connecting with new people,” Cori said. “Individuals who operate establishments like farm wineries know the land and people, and choose their location for a reason.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we spent more doing what we love?’ It was the shared love of hosting the intimate culture of small wineries that really motivated us.”
That passion led the trail attorney and management consultant to dive head-first into the winery business – not that they were unprepared.
When the couple first started looking for suitable properties in 2011, Cori took a job in a tasting room to ensure she enjoyed the other side of the bar as well. Jon took viticulture classes at Virginia Tech and connected with Doug Fabbioli, widely considered to be the godfather of Loudoun’s farm winery industry.
“I had a background in event planning and had an MBA to contribute to the knowledge of business operations,” Cori explained. “It all came together, not at all how we planned: we were looking for land to plant a vineyard, to then make wine, to then open a tasting room.”
Instead, Loudoun Valley Vineyards came on the market and the Phillipses recognized an opportunity to fast-track those plans. The property was ideally located on Rt. 9 but was not without drawbacks. Many of the grape vines needed to be replanted and the 1980s tasting room was due for an update.
“It is one of the oldest wineries in Loudoun County. It flipped the script,” she said. “We purchased the property in late 2015 as an operating winery that needed some TLC.
“We closed down the winery and spent the year fixing it up on the weekends and days off from our other jobs. We opened to the public as The Wine Reserve at Waterford in January 2017.”
Competition and COVID-19
In closing, rebranding and reopening one of Loudoun’s original wineries, the Phillipses were entering a crowded market as the new kids on the block. Loudoun was then home to 40 wineries and has since grown to more than 50.
Further complicating their efforts, grape vines need several years before they produce wine-quality grapes. In the interim, The Wine Reserve at Waterford showcased other small wineries from across Virginia and around the world.
Visitors, fellow Loudoun winemakers, and the community at-large welcomed them with open arms.
“What I love about Loudoun is that there’s enough maturity and a supportive community to help you along your way as a new business – yet there is so much space to be creative and forge your own path,” Cori said. “The Loudoun winery industry reminds us constantly that we are in a very special place and validates our decision to jump into this endeavor.
“We would not be here if not for the leaders and innovators who came before us, who were willing to give us a helping hand along the way. They are humble and generous. We are grateful to them and intend to pay it forward.”
That collaborative spirit was crucial to surviving the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily forced closure of tasting rooms and other indoor settings. In the blink of an eye, the customer interaction – the reason they got into the business in the first place – was taken away from them.
“It forced us to rethink how we connect with our customers and the community,” Cori admitted. “There were setbacks and challenges during this period, but it also drove us to be more creative…expanding our thinking on what’s possible.”
Doubling Down in Loudoun
In addition to the winery, both Cori and Jon still work full-time in their day jobs and raise two young children.
“Ultimately, I hope to be able to devote all of my time to the winery operations, at least when not enjoying our family,” Cori said. “Because of our work-life-work balance, we are currently only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.”
But even when it’s closed, the Wine Reserve at Waterford is growing. It recently received a $50,000 Loudoun County Business Reinvestment and Recovery Grant, with funding allocated by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors from the American Recovery Plan Act.
“We were thrilled to receive the grant from Loudoun Economic Development,” Cori explained. “We saw untapped potential and an opportunity to connect with our biggest supporters, not only in the tasting room but also outside of it. To do that, we needed to increase production and grow more grapes.
“Thanks to this grant, we recently broke ground on a new vineyard. Visitors can see the work underway and watch our progress over time. The funding goes to the local workers and businesses we work with, so it’s money that is reinvested into Loudoun’s economy.”
After five years in the business, and almost none of it going according to their original plan, the Phillipses are happy to be Loudoun business owners.
“We are so very thankful for the amazing staff we have – they feel like an extension of our family,” Cori said. “We are thankful for the many faces of the Loudoun community that assist us, from the vineyard to the barrel room and production, to the loving personalities that greet everyone who walks in our doors.”
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