Ulysses Albritton and his 9 brothers and sisters in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi during the Great Depression


A Family Tradition … 400 Years Strong

During the 1930s, sharecroppers in the Southern United States experienced turmoil when the Great Depression set in as crops failed and landlords stripped sharecroppers of their land. Ulysses Albritton was one of 10 children in a sharecropper family in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi that lived and breathed the hardships of the Great Depression. Farming was a way of life for the Albritton family dating back to their early colonization of the United States. During the early 1600s, the Irish Albritton ancestors colonized in Virginia and began potato farming on the fertile land, starting the 400 year tradition.

The struggle for survival and class mobility found Albritton enlisting in the United States Marine Corps at age 17, where he was given something he had never had before – his own pair of shoes. After 30 years of service and fighting in WWII, Vietnam and the Korean War, Albritton retired from the Corps as a decorated soldier, settled into a New Orleans suburb with his wife and two daughters, and continued the family farming tradition in his own backyard.

If You Build It … They Will Come

In 2002, Albritton stood in the doorway facing the backyard of his daughter and son-in-law’s Virginia home, and spoke words that echoed through the house, “you should grow grapes.” This was the “if you build it, they will come” omen that themed the Field of Dreams movie that was a family favorite in the household.

Mary Beth Barbagallo considered her father’s suggestion following his death later that year, but without any viticulture knowledge, her thoughts soon faded and his idea was tucked into a pocket in the back of her mind.

Following her retirement from the U.S. Government, in 2006, Barbagallo began working in the tasting room at a Loudoun County winery for a new experience and supplemental income. It was there she was offered Viognier and Cabernet Sauvginon grape vines to take home and plant for her to try her hand at raising a small vineyard. In 2008, she and her husband, Matt, planted the vines as the words of her father returned like an echo in a cavern.

The winter of 2009 dumped a record snowfall of more than 40 inches on the small town of Purcellville and engulfed the trellises in the backyard vineyard. As spring slowly crept in and the snow began to melt, rabbit footprints began to appear and nine of the vines had disappeared as a victim to the weather and wildlife. The initial 38 vines of Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Concord grapes were reduced to 29 struggling and barren vines.

Within a few months, buds appeared on the remaining vines and began producing fruit.

The Barbagallos opened the doors to Above Ground Winery (formerly 29 Vines) in Summer 2011 with five wines and quickly outgrew the demand.   Cost benefit analysis proved that managing a vineyard and winery operation would be better suited in the Shenandoah Valley.

With the need for expansion and dedication to providing estate grown grapes, Above Ground winery moved operations to Augusta County, VA. As of October 2015, soil evaluation has been conducted by Virginia Tech and the vineyard is being prepped for spring 2016 planting of five varietals.

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