BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. – What started as a family farm back in 1918, has since turned into a wine and apple empire tucked in the mountains of Bedford County.
“Alcohol and apples have been running through our veins for a long time,” said 82-year-old Danny Johnson, the owner of Peaks of Otter Winery and Johnson’s Orchard.
Danny and his wife of 62 years, Nancy Johnson, took over the farm in the 1960s after his father’s health began to decline, and from there, the couple hit the ground running.
After a six-year battle to get a liquor license, the couple opened up Peaks of Otter Winery in 1995, and Danny thanks his wife for that.
“She has some great ideas,” he said. “Whatever she says, I do.”
Sure enough, he kept to his word. And once again, Danny has Nancy to thank for coming up with the idea for the Horse & Hound Wine Festival.
Imagine this: Sipping some wine in the sunny Bedford County mountains while watching a horse show and a dog costume competition, knowing that you’re doing this all for a good cause. And that’s only scratching the surface.
Nancy originally created the festival to help raise funds for local animal shelters by bringing them in as the stars of the event and donating a chunk of the proceeds back to them.
Last year would have been their 16th festival; however, like many others across the Commonwealth, COVID-19 hit them pretty hard.
Employees were furloughed due to low business. Bringing their wine on the road to promote at other festivals across Virginia was taken away. No guests were allowed inside the winery.
They went from hosting a festival that would bring many across Southwest and Central Virginia, to having nothing at all.
Most of their revenue was gone.
“It was a really hard time for us — for the family,” Danny said.
With loosened restrictions in Virginia and new CDC guidance to follow as the coronavirus pandemic dwindles down, Danny saw a glimmer of hope for them to make a return to the festival scene. But of course, things needed to be changed.
The beginning of the preparation storm began in November as the team was deciding the bare bones of the festival: sponsors, vendors, a date, etc. However, it wasn’t until April, when COVID-19 guidelines in Virginia were starting to loosen, did they really began to ramp up what they needed to do.
However, Danny said it’s hard to plan the festival, which is set for July 10, with guidelines changing up on them fairly often.
“[The pandemic] is nothing like anything we’ve seen before... It gave us a new perspective,” he said. “Things we did before, we can’t really do now.”
In comes his grandson, Jordan Johnson. He came up with the idea of Doggie Dollars, a new concept the team is trying out for 2021 in hopes of keeping up with COVID-19 restrictions.
The wine tasting tickets guests were issued before are out, and now guests are going to receive 10 Doggie Dollars. Each Doggie Dollar is good for one of two things: $2 off any purchase at the wineries or $1 off a $10 purchase at any festival vendor.
Danny said doing this will hopefully eliminate large crowds gathered at the wine and vendor booths and have everyone more spread out than in previous years.
Also, another big change: Each wine tasting is $2 each compared to an unlimited wine tasting feature that was included in the general assembly ticket in previous years. The winery hopes this change will affect how intoxicated people get to keep the crowds safe.
When it comes to sanitary issues in serving wine to folks, the festival is issuing out one festival glass to each guest that will be used at each wine tasting booth. Each guest will have to set their glass down, wait for the server to pour a drink for them without the bottle touching the rim of the glass, and pick it up once the server is done and moved away in order to eliminate contact.
Danny said they will continue following the CDC’s new guidance with this event, and he’ll see where officials are in July in terms of the pandemic to see if anything else needs to change.
“I’m excited to see how our new program we’re trying to do at the festival works out,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but we’re getting it done.”
When asked about his hopes for the festival, Danny said he’d like to see other festivals follow their new changes this year.
“I think it’ll help the wineries, and I think it’ll help the people too. That’s what we’d like to see happen.”
The festival will be held on Saturday, July 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m at Johnson’s Orchard.