Three haunted wineries with built-in Halloween spirit.
By Laura Hayes
Combine manors as old as ancestors with Virginia winemakers who have active imaginations and you get three haunted wineries. But the ghosts might not be imaginary, according to various teams of paranormal experts who have collected evidence at all three: Winery at La Grange, Zephaniah Farm Vineyard and Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery. Visit this autumn to see (or feel) for yourself.
Zephaniah Farm Vineyard
Canoodling couples should proceed with caution when wine tasting in Zephaniah Farm Vineyard’s manor house built in Leesburg in 1830. That’s because Zephaniah Farm Vineyard’s chief ghost—Mattie Nixon—stirs when she feels an engaged couple is ill suited for one another. “Mattie seems to come out when there are people who are about to get married because she didn’t have a great experience,” says owner Bill Hatch, who also describes Nixon’s ghost as benevolent. Nixon inherited the property in 1903 as a single woman who later married Dr. William Casilear, a British veterinarian who thought himself an aristocrat.
Unfortunately, Casilear proved to have a violent side when he killed a tenant farmer who accidentally let the cows loose, according to Hatch. But don’t just take his word for it. A Maryland-based medium, Laine Crosby, discovered the manor house’s library is the epicenter of activity, where 25-30 spirits, including Nixon, gather. Hatch says they brought in the medium to ask Nixon if she approves of what they’ve done with the place. “We got a very resounding answer from the tape recorders,” Hatch says. “She’s very at peace with what we’re doing.”
Valerie Hill Vineyard & Winery
The second week Shawn Steffey and his fellow co-owners took over Valerie Hill in Stephens City, they called 911 after hearing someone running on the second floor of the 208-year-old manor. They suspected a burglary, but no one was there. “We joked about it being haunted even though we did not believe in anything paranormal—but it didn’t take long to be convinced,” says Steffey. Six paranormal investigation teams have come through to capture evidence, including a research team from Old Dominion University.
The researchers identified the main ghost as Benedict Rust. “We got him to say his name on tape,” says Steffey. Rust, the son of the man who built the home, was sequestered in the attic after being declared insane, which rendered him upset enough to haunt. Given the home served as a hospital during the Civil War, Rust isn’t the only ghost. “If walls could talk,” says Steffey. The winery capitalizes on its creepiness by offering “History and Hauntings,” an evening event including wine, dinner and a candlelit tour of the house run from Halloween through early spring.
Winery at La Grange
The glass of wine sitting above the fireplace in the Winery at La Grange’s tasting room isn’t a sacrifice for a deity. Rather, it’s there to quench the thirst of the winery’s resident ghost, Benoni E. Harrison. Harrison purchased the La Grange estate in Haymarket in 1837, including the manor house built in 1790. “Benoni really likes his wine,” says marketing director Ross Forry. “Last Halloween, we moved the glass from the mantel, and the next day we lost our Internet for three weeks.”
Despite this tantrum, Ross says professional ghost hunters deemed Harrison nonthreatening. “At no time did any of us feel uncomfortable in the least,” says Jon Reynolds, founder of Bull Run Paranormal. “I would say Mr. Harrison, and anyone who might remain with him, is harmless.”
Forry attributes the haunting to Harrison’s shaky relationship with his wife: “They were always at odds—she was a big, busty German, and he was small and sickly.” The winery has an area dedicated to Harrison called “Benoni’s Lounge” below the tasting room in a dank basement.