Wine & Spirits: The Ghostly Story of Zephaniah Farm Vineyard
Deep in the heart of Virginia's Loudoun County, down a gravel road on a dairy farm that dates back three centuries is Zephaniah Farm Vineyard. And according to its owners, this historic-home-turned-winery is haunted. "I've...felt things," says Bonnie Archer cautiously, who owns the winery with her husband Bill Hatch, "it's absolutely wacky for me to say things like that... because this shouldn't be happening."
Located only about 40 miles from Washington D.C., Loudoun County is unique in that it is one of the fastest growing counties in America but also still has nearly 150,000 acres of farmland. Because of this abundance of available land, Loudoun has more wineries than any other county in the state - which, as of 2015, was fifth in wine grape production in the country.
While there are more than three dozen vineyards in Loudoun, it's Zephaniah Farm's history - and the hauntings - that make this winery wholly unique. In 1743, Lord Fairfax (an old friend of George Washington's) sold 2000 acres of land to a Quaker named George Nixon. The Nixon family occupied the land - and the 360-acre former dairy farm - for two centuries, with generations milling, farming, producing milk and living. In the late 1800s, a descendant of George Nixon's named Mattie inherited the farm. As a single young woman, Mattie only legally owned the farm until marriage, at which point - according to state law - the deed transferred to her husband. Soon, she married the British veterinarian Dr. William Casilear and the farm's deed transferred to him. A hot-tempered man who carried a pistol and allegedly had an affair with the house cook, it was clear this marriage wasn't built to last. It came to a head in July 1911 when Dr. Casilear confronted a tenant farmer of his, Joseph Cross. Accusing him of leaving a gate open, Dr. Casilear shot Cross several times. Indicted for a felony, Casilear claimed he shot him in self-defense. Since this was in the South during Jim Crow and Cross was African-American, the defense worked. The jury acquitted Casilear of the murder charges. Quickly after the verdict came down, Casilear ran off, leaving Mattie Nixon and was never heard from again. Nixon continued to live on the farm until her death in the 1930s, likely taking her final breath in one of the rooms upstairs.
On January 1st, 1950, the Hatch family moved onto the farm. From the beginning, Bill Hatch remembers things moving around in the dairy barn, weird sounds and other mysterious happenings. Everyone in the family was certain it was the ghost of the murdered tenant farmer.
66 years later, Bill Hatch and his wife Bonnie still live in the 200-year-old farmhouse. In 2002, with the dairy farming drying up, the Hatches started planting grapes (a decision made after visiting their daughter in Italy) and officially got their license to operate as a vineyard in 2007 taking home medals in the Virginia Governor's Cup.
While they both have yet to see spirits or ghosts in the house, they have stories. Bonnie, who is a recently retired public school teacher and has earned three masters degrees, says one time they were cleaning dishes when they heard loud voices having a conversation upstairs. Thinking they had accidentally locked people in after a tasting, they went to investigate. There was no one there. "You can't ever understand them," Bonnie says, "But it's two voices loudly talking." They say that employees have reported seeing apparitions sitting at the table and one carpenter refuses to go into the attic. A few years ago, a local paranormal investigation team asked to perform tests around the house. What they found actually sort of comforted the couple. Yes, there were spirits - perhaps up to 35 of them, including dead pets - concentrated in the library. Says Bonnie, "They referred it to a bus station of spirits." One of them was Mattie Nixon. Always wondering how Mattie Nixon felt about what they were doing in her home - growing grapes and making wine - the Hatch and Archer asked if she was okay with it all. According to Bill Hatch, her response was very positive, "She was delighted... that people were enjoying themselves in her home, particularly in (the library)."
It seems that a Zephaniah Farm Cabernet Franc pairs well with ghosts.