By Ginny Wray
After only 17 months in business, Henry County’s first craft brewery is expanding, thanks to growing demand and a state grant.
Mountain Valley Brewing in Axton announced Wednesday that it will invest $174,000 over three years and create five jobs to more than double production, sourcing more than 65 percent of its agricultural inputs from Virginia farmers. That will amount to $11,000 in hops, honey and fruit used in its 24 beer recipes, some of which are seasonal.
Currently, Mountain Valley can produce about 100 barrels of beer a year, according to Peggy Donivan, who owns the brewery with her husband, Herb Atwell. A barrel holds about 30 gallons, Donivan added.
In addition, Mountain Valley will add an event space/tasting room by enclosing an existing entertainment pavilion with roll-up doors, and it will add restrooms so it can hosts larger events, Donivan said. For instance, she added that weddings have been held at the brewery but larger facilities are needed for larger weddings.
To help fund the brewery’s expansion, Henry County was awarded a $20,000 grant from the governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund. Henry County will match the grant with local funds, according to a release from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.
The grant was announced by Northam on Wednesday and presented by Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. She also gave Atwell and Donivan a Virginia flag for their business.
“Investments like this brew new jobs, tourism opportunities and tap new markets for Virginia’s farmers, as craft breweries source products like grain, hops, fruit, herbs, and other agricultural products,” said Northam in a release. “The success of farm-based craft breweries like Mountain Valley Brewing demonstrate the key role that agriculture and tourism can have in bringing prosperity to every corner of our Commonwealth.”
“Craft beverages are serious business for the commonwealth and an important part of our agribusiness economy. Virginia’s beer industry alone has a $9 billion annual economic impact,” Ring said. “I am pleased we could partner with Henry County through the AFID Program to support this local business in a quickly growing industry.”
After establishing a hop farm in 2014, Atwell and Donivan opened Henry County’s first craft brewery in spring 2017. The resulting surge in demand from locals and visitors alike prompted the expansion announced Wednesday, according to the release.
Donovan noted that in August, Mountain Valley entertained 350 customers, and 70 percent of them were new to the business.
“We are very grateful for the support of Gov. Northam, the commonwealth of Virginia, and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.,” Atwell and Donivan said in the release. “Our local partners, local residents and fellow business owners have welcomed our farm brewery into the community and we are looking forward to giving back through this expansion. The improvements to our facility and venue will give us the opportunity to help benefit local contractors, vendors, artisans, and farmers and help to create additional jobs to support the local economy. We look forward to helping grow and work with Henry County to make a better place for all.”
Ring noted that while Mountain Valley is the first craft brewery in Henry County, it is a growing business and tourist attraction in the state. Virginia has 300 wineries and ciders, 250 craft breweries and 70 distilleries— and room for growth.
She called Mountain Valley a “true Virginia craft beer success story” that started as a hop farm and developed into a nano brewery and now a full brewery.
When Mountain Valley wanted to expand, Henry County officials reached out to the state Office of Agriculture and Forestry Development for possible help, according to Stephen Versen, manager of the office who attended Wednesday’s announcement. The result was the AFID grant.
Previous AFID grants were awarded locally to Performance Livestock and Blue Ridge Aquaculture, according to Versen and Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).
The brewery also offers entertainment most weekends, increasing its value for tourism.
“Since it opened its taproom doors, Mountain Valley Brewing has continued to grow as a tourism hotspot for Martinsville-Henry County, and we couldn’t be more proud of our community’s first brewery,” said Sarah Hodges, director of tourism for Martinsville-Henry County EDC. “With the popularity of craft beer and breweries on the rise throughout the commonwealth, Mountain Valley Brewing is helping to attract new visitation to Martinsville-Henry County and enhancing visitor experience.”
Valerie Harper, small business director for the EDC, added: “Mountain Valley is a great example of a business being invested in its community. The company is expanding with new jobs and capital investment, and they love to partner with other local businesses. It has created a wonderful venue for the public to enjoy. This a win for the business and the Henry County area.”
As a result of the grant and expansion project, Versen said in the future, visitors to Mountain Valley Brewing will find two times the amount of beer produced now, two times the amount of Virginia-grown products used in making that beer and “two times the number of people enjoying” the beer and amenities of the brewery.
In addition to operating the brewery, Donivan works full-time at Eastman. Atwell is retired from Triangle Electric and also previously worked at Berry-Elliott Real Estate.
At Berry-Elliott, Atwell worked with David Martin, now the Iriswood District representative on the Henry County Board of Supervisors. Martin spoke at Wednesday’s event and recalled how Atwell was eager to share the development and growth of the hop farm.
Martin called Atwell “truly an entrepreneurial spirit” who had the “vision to make all this happen. Thank you for a job well done,” Martin said, adding that he looks forward to seeing the brewery’s growth in Henry County.
“What has been accomplished at Mountain Valley Brewery since its April 2017 opening is remarkable,” Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said in the governor’s office’s release. “We are proud of the company’s success and we are confident more good news will come in the future.”