I’ve decided that between opinion pieces for this blog that I will write various series of articles on topics that interest me. Over the past few years, I have been travelling down to Northern Virginia to explore the vineyards and wineries that have been cropping up like weeds. My next few pieces will be about my recent treks into the Virginia wine country and the people I have met along the way. Today, I wandered down Route 50, eventually finding myself in Middleburg.
In the year 1787, the township now called Middleburg was founded by Leven Powell. Powell is described in a local brochure as an American Revolutionary War Lieutenant Colonel and a Virginia statesman. He purchased the land at $2.50 per acre in 1763 from a fellow Virginian, Joseph Chinn, a first cousin of George Washington. It had been called “Chinn’s Crossroads”, and was later called Powell Town. However, when Leven Powell declined to have the town named after him (Powelltown?, Powellville?), the place was called Middleburgh, and years later, simply Middleburg. The town is located midway between the port of Alexandria and Winchester, Virginia, on the Ashby Gap trading route (now called U.S. Route 50).
Middleburg has been known as a popular location for the equestrian community of Washington, DC for decades. It is where affluent horse people own second homes, stable their horses, and spend long weekends. Now, it is becoming known for much more.
Over the past two decades, Loudoun County has attracted and nurtured a rapidly growing wine and wine grape industry. Forty-four of the Commonwealth’s 261 wineries are now located in Loudoun County. Several of the 44 Loudoun County wineries are in or around the Middleburg area.
With all of that “new” revenue coming into the area, I was wondering what effect it is having on other local businesses. So, as I walked around downtown Middleburg today, I decided that I would solicit some opinions from the shop owners. It was at that moment that I found myself in front of Julien’s Café
Julien’s Café and Market is a cozy, French restaurant on the corner of West Washington Street and South Madison Street. It was 5 minutes after 11am when I walked through the door; they were just opening for business. I really wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t want to be rude. So, I ordered a cup of coffee. Just my luck, it was fresh and delicious. After a little small talk with the wait staff, I asked if the owner was around. A minute later, a woman with long auburn hair, jeans, and a brilliant white chef’s apron emerged from the back. She smiled widely and walked briskly in my direction.
Bounding up from my barstool (I been sipping my java there rather than occupy a table), I extended my business-card-laden hand saying, “Oh… Um. Hi, I’m Howard Fletcher. That card says I’m in real estate, and I am. But, today, I’m a journalist… blogger, um, journalist doing a story about how the wine industry has affected your business!” (Have you ever wished that you could grab words out of mid-air and force them back into your mouth?)
She paused and smiled. Then, she introduced herself to me in the thickest French accent that I have ever heard come out of someone who wasn’t named Edith Piaf or Peter Sellers.
“Bonjour! My name is Françoise. Ow caan I elp you?”
I’m sure I blinked and swallowed.
After slowing down and complimenting her establishment, I nonchalantly repeated my blurt. I mentioned that I am going to write a series of articles about the Northern Virginia wine country, and I wanted to start with Middleburg businesses. I asked her if the wineries and the visitors they attract have had a positive effect on her business.
Françoise went on to tell me that she and her husband used to own 4 restaurants. Along with the Middleburg café, they owned a place in Leesburg, Centerville, and The Plains. They sold the two in Leesburg and Centreville, and they are currently leasing the building in The Plains to a Mexican restaurant. They have been running Julien’s for 7 years. She said that although they know that some of their patrons have been visiting the wineries, “especially the ones who have obviously been drinking,” that their business has been “steady ever since they opened their doors.”
She went on to say that the increase in wine tourism has helped Middleburg in general. “But, honestly, most of our business comes from local townspeople and Washingtonians who own horses or homes down here. Our business from the winery tourists is up and down.”
I had a good time during my hour in Julien’s Café. It had started to fill up with the lunch crowd. So, I decided that it was time for me to do some more research. After paying for my coffee, I bid adieu to Françoise and the wait staff and stepped out of the door.
What would be my next stop? To my right, I spotted a shingle in the middle of the next block that read Middleburg Real Estate. Ok. That was easy.
Next: “Howard, it’s not so much the wine; it’s the craft beer…”
If you are ever in Middleburg and would like to meet Françoise and get a great cup of coffee go to: www.julienscafe.com