Certainly, no shortage exists of Halloween-style haunted spots to experience in Virginia as the warmth of early fall dwindles, and the crispness of the latter part of autumn descends. However, the Winery at Bull Run offers a unique opportunity to explore the spookier side of the season, hauntingly blending history, ghosts, and wine on their limited run haunted vineyard tours in the fall.
The working farm vineyard, dedicated to both the preservation of the historic land as well as the production of award-winning wine, produces dozens of wines using Virginia grapes exclusively. Established in 2012 by the Hickox family, the farm in Centreville is the largest that is operating in Fairfax County, with 225 acres, but the family also owns and utilizes another 115 acres in scenic Little Washington, Virginia. The harvests of the combined vines yield dozens of reds and whites including Virginia favorites like norton, cabernet franc, and viognier and standards such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, vidal blanc, pinot gris, and rose. Blends, sweeter whites, and even a dry sparkling white also adorn their long list alongside a few fruitier options like peach, strawberry, and raspberry.
The haunted vineyard invites guests to visit the tasting room with hours that extend later than many wineries, open until 7 pm Sunday through Wednesday, 8 pm on Thursday, and 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. They also regularly run tours and tastings on their property that boasts an authentic historical setting replete with the salvaged stone foundation of the Hillwood Mansion, which was nearly lost entirely to a fire approximately 30 years ago, as well as two historic barns – one a smaller 1800’s era barn and the other a larger 1920’s style dairy barn. They also host a number of events including live music year-round on weekends (often with food trucks), wine-pairing dinners, and sip and paint classes.
However, in the spirit of the season and, perhaps more importantly, in homage to the history of the land. The Winery at Bull Run also annually hosts their wildly popular Haunted Wine Tours which explore Civil War history by lantern-light on an hour-long walking tour of their historic grounds. Engaging guides share vivid Civil War stories, often related to the supernatural, while storytellers and reenactors dramatically relay true historical accounts and interesting information about the property’s paranormal activity. Throughout the tour, seven different wines are available for sampling.
Flanked by an equestrian farm and the over 5,000 acres occupied by Manassas National Battlefield Park, the winery’s setting is idyllic not only for its view but its historical relevance. The expansive park is the site of the first major battle of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run in July of 1861, as well as the Second Battle of Bull Run in August of 1862. While both incurred a large number of casualties, the first was particularly bloody.
The winery’s site states that “Considering more than 22,000 casualties occurred on the Manassas Battlefield during the American Civil War, it should come as no surprise that tales of shadowy apparitions, orbs, and unexplained cannon fire abound.”
Indeed, for those that believe in the possibility of the paranormal, the haunted vineyard location appears perfect for both its existence and exploration. While a number of books have been published specific to the supernatural in this area, employing even the quickest internet searches related to Manassas Battlefield and Civil War ghosts returns pages of results with news stories, websites, YouTube videos, and social media threads detailing accounts and anecdotes of haunting activity in the area that engages nearly all of the senses. From seeing lights and images of distinctively uniformed soldiers to smelling gunpowder, hearing suspicious noises, and feeling unusual and unexpected temperature changes, there are numerous reports of unexplainable and eerie encounters and experiences.
Meanwhile, The Winery at Bull Run shares on their site an anecdote from one of the owner’s late-night encounters, and a photographic capture, of an apparition on the property. Haunted vineyard videos on the winery’s site show powerful evidence of orbs in the tasting room, provided through investigation by “a volunteer, non-profit research group that specializes in scientific research of unknown spiritual activity or dangerous nonhuman entity infestations,” the East Coast Hauntings Organization (ECHO). The same organization reported signs of abundant activity on the majority of the property, including the barn, the lawn, and the offices.
While the winery had long offered historical tours and tastings, it was reports of that type of haunted vineyard activity that acted as the impetus to offer haunted tours.
“When some of our staff members started reporting spooky and strange things happening to them, we thought what could be better than to add ghost stories to the history and wine,” shared Lisa Damico, Director of Marketing for The Winery at Bull Run.
Damico also shared that last year’s tours included a variety of interesting tales, from stories of Lincoln’s ghost in the White House to reports from paranormal investigators about what “goes bump in the night” at the winery.
The haunted vineyard tour spans an hour during which guests enjoy the history-rich tour from their guide while being led through the vineyard. However, it’s when the tour stops for each of the seven tastings that actors in character as Civil War soldiers, doctors, winery employees, and more begin to recount stories of the supernatural.
It’s important to note that the Haunted Wine Tour at The Winery at Bull Run is not a “reach out and grab you” experience like what may be experienced on a typical haunted house style tour. Instead, it is led by professional, trained guides with historical knowledge. The actors are also well-trained, auditioned professionals, who rehearse to provide an authentic experience.
“Last year’s cast included Civil War reenactors, Winery at Bull Run employees with acting or public speaking experience, and local theater performers – we even had several extras from House of Cards. We expect this year’s cast to have a similar background.” Damico says.
The Winery at Bull Run first offered the Haunted Wine Tours in 2016 and in short time they have gained quick popularity with last year’s tours selling out within hours of the release of tickets to the public. Reviewers of the event consistently rave about the ambiance, history, costumes, and performers with many exclamations of wanting to return to enjoy the experience again.
“In last year’s post-tour survey, 9 out of 10 guests said they would recommend the Haunted Wine Tours to a friend,” Damico said.
An added bonus, especially for those unable to garner tickets, is that while the winery would typically close earlier in the evening on Thursdays, on tour dates it will remain open to the public until 10 pm.
There are only fourteen tour dates with four tour times on each day. Tours begin on September 20 and conclude on November 9, running each Thursday and Friday at 7, 8, 9, and 10 pm. Tickets are $45 each, or $850 for a fully private tour for 16 people. Due to high demand for tickets, potential buyers must visit the winery’s website to sign up for the mailing list to receive an access code to buy tickets which will be offered for purchase to wine club members and the public on specific dates. Visit The Winery at Bull Run for details at www.wineryatbullrun.com.