By Brandon Martin
The apples of Henry and Patrick counties could soon be found in the form of brandy sold at Smith River Spirits, a new retail operation in Ridgeway.
A special use permit was approved for the corporation by the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals at its March 24 meeting.
The corporation was created to distill brandy in October 2019 by Kevin Nelson, Wes Mills, and Alan Black, county attorney in Patrick.
“What we are offering is a high-quality brandy,” Nelson said. “We’re not making bootleg or anything like that. Most of our products are going to places like Primland and other restaurants, bars, and establishments.”
Nelson said the new retail portion of the distillery will be a 10’x10’ area that is bonded outside of the building.
“The retail location is a Virginia ABC store. It’s a government store,” Nelson said. “It has a government number just like every other ABC store. We will only be selling three products. We’re not looking for high volume. We’re just looking for a location in the area where people come off the river.”
Nelson said his license only allows for the creation of up to 5,000 gallons a year, which encompasses all three products. The distillery offers two flavors, called Apple Black after Black.
With two distinct apple colors on the label, “the red is like an old fashioned, traditional apple brandy” made from “a combination of three apples, the main apple being a gold rush apple,” Nelson said. “The green label is Alan’s selection of apples we can get now that just make an amazing product.”
Nelson said the brandy is 85-proof.
“We make an extremely high-end alcohol,” Nelson said. “It’s very low production based on the efforts and the products. We are just taking what mother nature put into the product and converting that, then doing the distillation.”
Black described his signature brandy as “the drink that you’ve never had before” or “you had to pay big bucks to get it.”
Eventually, Nelson said distillery plans to add tastings as an on-site option. Currently, the distillery has a peddler’s license, which allows for the delivery of its product to customers.
According to Nelson, the venue won’t be a gathering place for clientele.
“Due to the product that we make, if a customer came in for a tasting, then we couldn’t serve them more than three ounces in a 24-hour period,” Nelson said. “We’re not doing a venue for live music or anything like that. It’s to drive up, purchase and exit the property.”
Along with the brandy, Nelson said 6,000 tanker loads of wine are transported across the country from Washington.
“They are real nice, finished wines,” he said. “I distill the wine and we actually age that in charred oak barrels for a year or two and possibly longer.”
Nelson said winemaking is a hobby he has shared with Black for more than 20 years. Due to the ability to buy wine cheaper than making it, Nelson said the vineyards have been “torn up” and replaced with apple orchards.
“We’ve planted two apple orchards on different properties in Patrick County, and we started two in Henry County where we will eventually be growing our own apples,” Nelson said. “Presently, we are getting apples out of Woolwine and Winchester, Va.”
A final hearing on the special use permit will be heard by the Board of Supervisors during its April meeting.
The BZA also approved a special use permit to allow Donald Wayne Davis, Jr., to operate a gunsmith service out of his home.
Davis said the Class B Home Occupation will allow him to sell and install accessories.
With the local permit, Davis now will pursue a federal firearms license.
“I’ve been in touch with the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) already and I’m prepared to submit that application as soon as this process is complete,” Davis said.
He added that his plans for the establishment will be limited.
“I have no plans to do any reloading at all,” Davis said. “It’s just general repair and modification. It would be on a small-scale basis for people I know. I won’t be advertising. There will be no signage. I’m just trying to take the lawful path forward so I can do this.”
In his application, Davis listed the services he plans to provide, including “repairs, restorations, refinishing, modifications, installation of accessories, etc., related to firearms” and the sale of equipment and accessories.
The third special use permit approved was in an amended case by Mitchell Kendall. The approval will allow Kendall to use track lights at the Mountain Valley RC track in Martinsville.
Lee Clark, director of Planning, Zoning and Inspections, said Kendall was previously granted a special use permit to operate a remote/audio controlled race track but with a condition that “no outside lights will be added at this time.” The permit included a provision that allowed for lights in the future.
Complaints were later filed that Kendall added six lights to the track on the property. He then applied on June 24, 2020 to amend the lighting condition, but the permit was denied.
The board approved the special use permit to allow for lighting over the parking lot and track only. Clark said the lighting over the parking lot was needed for safety reasons. Additionally, the track lights must be powered down at 10 p.m.