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George Hodson's cup runneth over

“A rising tide lifts all boats.” It was a favorite saying of the late David King, owner of King Family Vineyards in Crozet, and it’s been adopted by George Hodson, CEO of Veritas Vineyard and Winery in neighboring Afton, as the unofficial slogan for the entire Virginia wine country that surrounds Charlottesville.

The tide has indeed been rising in the Monticello American Viticultural Area, christened “Wine Region of the Year” last year by Wine Enthusiast magazine, and Hodson, who helps lead not only his family winery but a number of viticulture advocacy organizations, said he wants to make sure everyone has a chance to ride the wave.

“It’s us versus everyone else,” Hodson told The Daily Progress. “We want each winery to produce the best wine they can, so we’re going to cooperate. We’re unified in a way that very few wine regions are, and it’s a testament to who we are, why our quality has improved so much and where we’re eventually going to go.”

Son of Veritas founders, Andrew and Patricia Hodson, George Hodson joined the family business as general manager before he was named CEO in the summer of 2012. Instead of dedicating his time and energy exclusively to Veritas, George Hodson has worked the past decade to nurture the Central Virginia wine industry as a whole. He serves as president of two industry trade groups, the Monticello Wine Trail and the Virginia Wineries Association, as well as vice chair of the Virginia Wine Board, part of the state Department of Agriculture. He also served as a member of a small task force assembled by former Gov. Ralph Northam to reopen the commonwealth’s economy after the pandemic.

Why branch out so broadly? His friends, family and colleagues say it’s because George Hodson recognizes that all wineries stand to gain from the success of the wine country.

“Something I’ve noticed about George is he’s always had the ability to understand the effect of decisions,” Ben Jordan told The Daily Progress. “He’s forward-thinking, and not just about maintaining the status quo, but seeing the direction that we need to go, and really working in support of that.”

Jordan is the co-founder of Common Wealth Crush, a Waynesboro-based operation that offers winemaking and other services in order to reduce the financial burden on independent winemakers — and one of many businesses in the industry that has benefited from Hodson’s work locally and in Richmond on behalf of Virginia wineries.

“My main impression is that he’s very much the type of leader who understands that if you can better the industry as a whole, it helps everyone,” said Jordan. “Industrywide initiatives, instead of staying and working on his business, help make the industry be in a better, healthier place that helps everyone.”

Despite his family stake in one of the region’s well-known wineries, George Hodson did not start out in the wine industry.

He was working for a pharmaceutical company in Jacksonville, Florida, for roughly a decade before he decided he was ready to travel less and work harder on something a little more meaningful to him than surgical device sales. He moved his wife and children to Virginia in 2012 and joined the family firm at Veritas.

“It was an incredible opportunity to come to an exciting industry at a very early point in this industry’s history,” he told The Daily Progress. “So I think it was really the opportunity to grow as a person and spend more time with family.”

There is more than just one Hodson child at Veritas. His older sister Emily Hodson is lead winemaker there, and his younger sister Chloe and her husband Elliott Watkins are project manager and assistant winemaker, respectively. When they aren’t at Veritas, the siblings are next door at Flying Fox Vineyard, originally established to supply grapes to Veritas but now a popular destination in its own right and co-owned by the Hodson siblings.

“I wasn’t sure it was going to be right for him as his older sister, but I have to say, he is absolutely phenomenal at what he does,” Emily Hodson told The Daily Progress. “Not only with working proactively for the Virginia wine industry, but keeping the family involved, running the business and raising his hand wherever it needs to be raised to help in any capacity in the region.”

Emily Hodson described her brother as a “100-percenter” who pays attention to the little details that aren’t on the radar of a lot of other winemakers, including herself.

One of those little details was a piece of legislation, Virginia Senate Bill 983. The bill was signed into law on March 27 of last year without pomp and circumstance but had a significant impact on the commonwealth’s wine industry.

Sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Monty Mason of Williamsburg, the bill modifies the way farm wineries are defined and issued licenses to include wine producers who may not have access to adequate vineyard land or the resources to invest in vineyard development infrastructure but still produce wine from Virginia grapes. Prior to the legislation, licenses were limited to farm wineries that fit a more traditional requirement of a farm and restricted the industry’s ability to diversify.

“We had also seen the limitations of the existing law that precluded small and new producers from entering the market,” said George Hodson. “This new legislation provides a pathway for small, independent and new producers to begin making their wine and building a brand that lowers the barrier to entry. Knowing what needed to be fixed allowed us to do this in a way that doesn’t require an emerging winemaker or winery to spend millions of dollars.”

George Hodson said he realized the critical role these smaller innovators play in diversifying and growing the industry. As president of the Virginia Wineries Association, he continues to work with association members and industry stakeholders to “keep the farm in farm winery,” a saying the group has adopted as its mission statement.

“The big thing is that we want our consumers and neighbors to know that Virginia wine is uniquely agriculture in the world of craft beverages,” he said. “Vineyards are farmland and the Virginia wine industry has put over 30,000 acres of farmland into the production and growth of the Virginia wine industry, that won’t become neighborhoods or strip malls and we think that is a good thing. This bill ensures that we will continue to be supported by the state in our efforts to grow the industry.”

While his sister Emily is more interested in the “details of the vintage” than the details of legislation in Richmond, she said she knows how meaningful his work has been for the industry and those it employs, such as herself.

“His work was above and beyond the call of duty and really did protect our agrotourism and our ability to farm and continue farming as families,” she said. “He’s been such a good strong leader as far as putting ideas in place, making sure we have a voice and making sure we’re represented correctly. It also helped grow Virginia wine and our ability to keep doing that is part of the reason why we got Wine Region of the Year.”

That recent recognition is only the beginning for George Hodson’s vision for the Monticello wine country. He wants to take advantage of the moment and the momentum to capture more national and international attention, until Virginia reaches the same status as Bordeaux, Tuscany and Napa Valley.

“Our goal is to build a wine region,” said George Hodson. “Our goal is to make the Charlottesville area, collectively, be known for what we put our passion and lives into: making great wine and growing great grapes.”

It should come as no surprise that his approach to this goal is to work from the ground up, ensuring newer vintners get their roots planted first so they can one day be as fruitful as Veritas.

George Hodson said he tries to make himself accessible to newer winegrowers, inviting them into the industry groups he leads, sharing information with them and guiding them around pitfalls, allowing them to “shortcut all of that trial and error that our family has done over the past 25 years.”

Merrie Mill Farm & Vineyard in Keswick is one of the more recent benefactors of his mentorship.

Considering how much traffic it sees today, it may be hard to believe that Guy and Elizabeth Pelly only purchased Merrie Mill and started planting vines four years ago.

“We had someone advise us when it came to planting vines and what variety, but when we started building the tasting room, we were lost,” Elizabeth Pelly told The Daily Progress. “George helped us with everything from how many bathrooms, how much parking, even what dishwasher we should use.”

The Pellys eventually started paying George Hodson for his consulting assistance, because “we were using up so much of his time,” she said. But even before money traded hands, he was providing open and honest feedback, she said, advising them on what he wished Veritas had done when its tasting room was constructed more than 20 years prior.

“Someone else might not give us all the top tips and secrets, but he just doesn’t have that mentality,” said Elizabeth Pelly. “It was never a sense that ‘I’m not going to help because I want Veritas to be better than Merrie Mill.’ He wanted to set us up for success because he cares about the success of the whole region.”

George Hodson has also helped the Pellys and winemakers like them connect to colleagues in the local industry — which was more of a challenge than one might imagine.

Initially, admission into the Monticello Wine Trail was limited to vineyards that also produce their wine on-site. However, a variety of financial and experiential barriers can prevent small, upcoming vineyards from crushing and fermenting their own grapes. Merrie Mill grows grapes at its own vineyard but sends its harvest to Veritas, where Emily Hodson transforms the fruit into wine, bottles it and then ships it back to Merrie Mill to be sold. George Hodson adjusted the wine trail’s membership requirements to include wineries with off-site winemaking. Now, 12 of the 41 Wine Trail members produce wine off-site.

“We are definitely running a lot more efficiently because of George,” said Elizabeth Pelly. “We still reach out and ask questions when we need help. He’s just wonderful.”


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