What agriculture use means for farmers and Loudoun
Renshaw, the owner of 8 Chains North Winery off Route 9 in Waterford, is a tall strong-looking man who considers himself more of a farmer who makes wine than a winemaker who happens to farm.
He immediately knew he wanted the land because of his more than a decade of experience growing grapes. It was a feeling he got, that could only come from having walked countless vineyards and having seen rows of grapes destroyed by frost.
When he discusses the 150-acre plot of land he bought, Renshaw uses words like domed and airy. He explains the space the way you would expect a sommelier at a fine dining establishment to describe a fine Malbec or Cab Franc.
How he built the business is anything but elegant though: 70-hour work weeks doing what he calls "young-man's work" and using the few natural advantages he had in front of him.
The business just started to turn a profit this past year and he took a week-long vacation, his first in a decade.
Some of the advantages included putting his grape-growing land under agriculture use.
"Loudoun County adopted the Land Use Assessment Program in 1973. The program provides for the deferral of real estate taxes on real estate that qualifies for agricultural, horticultural, forestry and open-space uses," said Bob Wertz, commissioner of revenue, in an email.
Usually for crops like corn or soy beans, there must be a five-year crop history built up.
There is a special provision, however, allowing land for grape-growing to immediately be considered under agricultural use if it has five acres of grapes planted prior to being accepted into the program and a land use application is submitted to the commissioner of revenue's office.
The reason is because it can take up to five years to achieve full production of usable grapes.
For a farmer like Renshaw and countless other prospective winery owners, agricultural use allows them to build a business that is slow going at first into something that can last.
An important thing to consider, though, before disregarding land use as a tax dodge, is the possible effect simply not developing could have on the economy.
Agriculture and forestry use means fewer homes constructed and less of a tax burden from the homes and all of the costly supporting infrastructure that comes with new residents.
Creating large swaths of property zoned for agriculture or forestry also means the county, which seems to pride itself on that innate meaning of what it feels like to be a Loudouner, can perserve the rural-urban western-eastern dynamic.
It's something Renshaw also realizes, something you can't do an economic impact study on.