Modern Country: Middleburg

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Roadside sign in The Plains.

When we think of residents inside the Beltway going to live full time in the country, Middleburg, Virginia, comes immediately to mind. The historic village, which calls itself “The Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital,” combines charm with sophistication.

“Middleburg is a beautiful, special town offering a very special kind of town living,” said Chris Malone, a real estate broker in The Plains, just south of Middleburg.

Midway between Alexandria and Winchester, with a population under 700, Middleburg is small-town Virginia at its best. Malone, who grew up in the area, has noticed an increasing interest among city dwellers in a modern country lifestyle, distinct from town living. This trend is playing out not only in Middleburg but in the surrounding countryside, where the attractions — restaurants, markets, cafes and wineries — are multiplying.

Living in Open Country
Many of the new country residents “want to live in friendly, open country,” said Malone as he soaked up the sun on the white porch of his office, smack dab in the center of The Plains, a town of some dozen or so businesses. “They want to have horses, cows and privacy.”

By open country, Malone means living on farms and rolling green pastureland, where all the neighbors’ properties are accessible to hikers and equestrians. “Most properties have such open access written into their deeds,” Malone explained. There is a strong community aversion to condo and small-size housing developments in Fauquier County, he said.

“I’m seeing more and more people who, before, came to buy a second home and now want a full-time residence on a farm of 100 acres, 50 acres, sometimes smaller,” Malone said. “The new country residents often are seeking houses with some history. They want homes to be traditional looking on the outside, but modern on the inside, with up-to-date baths and kitchens. They don’t have time to restore a large historic home, but they often add on to a smaller traditional house — especially with office space, as many work at home.” 

Farm to Table
There is a second element in the modern country lifestyle developing in and around Middleburg in the last few years: the “farm-to-table” movement.

One of the centers of the farm-to-table movement in the Middleburg area is Gentle Harvest, which Ayrshire Farm opened in April in a former bank in Marshall. In keeping with the Civil War history that infuses the area, outside the entrance of the new business stands a historical marker for Mosby’s Raiders, who disbanded at this spot in April of 1865.

Gentle Harvest is a spacious and airy organic grocery store, butcher shop, wine cellar (in the old bank vault) and gift boutique attached to a combination café, self-serve luncheonette, soda fountain and English pub. Almost all the food offered is organic and locally grown, butchered and prepared. Open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, it has a lounge with big leather chairs, a children’s section with pint-size computers upstairs and, downstairs, a special section with healthy children’s snacks and water in boxes (instead of plastic).  

In the evening, the cozy Hunter’s Head Tavern fills with local residents, according to Cynthia Bennett, an enthusiastic Gentle Harvest staffer. “People come to enjoy the locally brewed beers and pub food prepared on site, such as organic shepherd’s pies. Afterwards, they can pick up their organic groceries when they depart.”

Next door is the Red Truck Rural Bakery, where the walls are covered with testimonials from famous and not-so-famous patrons, much like the walls of a congressional office. “Get me some Red Truck sweet potato pie,” reads one from Oprah Winfrey. “It’s no state secret that I like pie,” wrote former President Barack Obama.

Other farm-to-table eateries along Marshall’s main street include the Whole Ox, a sophisticated butcher shop during the day and a cozy bar and bits-and-bites restaurant in the evening; Field & Main, Star and Neal Wavra’s upscale dining experience with seasonal entrées; and an adjacent Chicago-style hot-sandwich walk-up shop, Riccordino’s.

Three new cafes and restaurants have opened in The Plains as well. But one, the Front Porch Market & Grill, across the street from Malone’s porch-front office, “has really changed life in The Plains,” he said. “Every day it is filled with locals coming for everything from coffee to a white-tablecloth dinner.” On the other corner sits the Happy Creek Coffee & Tea, a bicycle store sharing space with a coffee shop, complete with old wooden tables and millennials busy on their laptops.

Down the road in Middleburg, the town continues to boast new restaurants, including Thaiverse, a Thai eatery near the popular Red Fox Inn, and the soon-to-open King Street Oyster Bar, which will occupy the former Home Farm Store.

Wineries
The ultimate farm-to-table experience in the Middleburg countryside, however, has got to be the growing number of vineyards and wineries that have sprouted up over the past decade. Now numbering well over two dozen, the ever-expanding vineyards with their consequent wine-tasting lounges and tour buses were at first greeted with some skepticism by local farmers and other country folk.

“But wineries have come into their own now,” Malone said. “It wasn’t so much the vineyards but the restaurants, entertainment and traffic that concerned the community. But everyone wants to see the area remain rural, so it was a trade-off. Everyone agrees that ‘better the wineries than housing developments.’ And the wine is getting better and better, too.”

One such winery that went through the process from brand-new business in 2008 to established rural neighbor is Barrel Oaks Winery in Delaplane, owned by Brian and Sharon Roeder. Brian planted the vineyards from scratch and in 2013 harvested and produced two different wines from his grapes. Now the winery bottles 19 different vintages. This spring, a brewery was opened, producing a variety of beers, some made from the farm’s own hops. 

“But we didn’t want to just sell wine,” Brian writes. “We wanted to create a place of community.” He and his wife are avid dog lovers and the winery, BOW for short, accommodates well-behaved dogs on leashes throughout the property. Children are welcomed as well — with some provisos. “Unaccompanied children will be given expresso coffee and a kitten,” warns a tongue-in-cheek sign at the entrance, encouraging parents to keep their kids, as well as their dogs, in view.

BOW typifies the rural, family-oriented ethos of the Middleburg area, where sophisticated urbanites are choosing to move to enjoy a modern country lifestyle.

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