Nelson County, Virginia
By Jennie Tal
When Shinko and Tony Corpora came to Afton Mountain, there were only 40 wineries in the commonwealth of Virginia. Now, 21 years later, there are almost 150.
The Corporas purchased what is now Afton Mountain Vineyard in 1988. The property they bought contains some of the oldest European wine grape vines in the state and consistently wins regional, national and even international awards at wine competitions.
The 12 acres of vineyards were planted in the late 1970s by David Mefford and sold about 10 years later to the Corporas. Originally Mefford, who lived in Richmond, wanted to retire to Afton Mountain and open a winery. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with cancer and that dream was never realized. The Corporas bought the property with an understanding by Mefford that they would continue to run the vineyard as a real family-oriented operation.
“It was a very difficult thing for his family and I think he saw this family, our family, coming along and saying, ‘We want to pick it up where you left off,’” remembered Shinko Corpora. “And I think the fact that we were trying to do it as a family was one of the incentives for him to take our offer.”
Now, after 20 years of growing grapes and making wine, the Corpora family is selling the 52-acre farm to Elizabeth and Tony Smith, Albemarle County natives who currently live in Suffolk.
Early this decade, the Corporas tried to sell the vineyard.
“At that time we thought, ‘Well, better to try to sell it when things are still good than when we’re too old and can’t do anything,’” said Shinko.
After 9/11, they had no luck selling, but their youngest son, Robbie, was able to help work as his father slowed down. After that, the Corpora family never again thought about selling Afton Mountain Vineyard.
That is, until the Smiths came along. Over the years, they have frequently visited Central Virginia, their home region and in recent years, the couple has become more and more interested in wine.
First they participated in a four-day seminar at UVa, then they started taking classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College and then they were hooked.
When a vineyard consultant told them that their farm near Carter’s Bridge wasn’t an ideal place to grow grapes, they started looking elsewhere. They were looking for a place to start fresh and expecting to have three to five years before they saw any wine. But that’s when they found Afton Mountain and now they’ve got three to five months.
Elizabeth and Tony officially start April 1 carrying along with them the tradition of a family-run business. Their 23-year-old son and his soon-to-be wife are moving to the area to help run the vineyard. (The Smiths’ daughter, 22, graduates from UVa in May.)
The Corporas will stay on for a few months to consult, but then they’re outta here – most likely to Tony’s home state of California, as bittersweet as it may be to say goodbye to Afton Mountain.
The Smiths’ timeline is a little shorter than they once expected, which can be daunting, but exciting.
“We started with ‘It’s a beautiful site,’” said Elizabeth Smith, explaining why they chose Afton Mountain. “But the time we’ve come to know the Corporas and what they’ve done…hearing the eople come to them and know them and what they’ve done so well… it has enhanced what we know we’re getting into.”