There’s something about a piece of old wood.
It has character.
Stories embedded into every grain, every worm hole, every ring of history.
If you were to “come across a piece of wood that has stood in a barn for over 150 years, you know that this one piece of wood, from this one tree, has seen more of history than we can ever read about in books,” said Patrick Duffeler, II, President and CEO of The Williamsburg Winery. “To be able to reuse it, repurpose it, into something new is a true honor.”
Duffeler may spend his days running the ins and outs of Virginia’s largest winery, but it’s his evenings and weekends where another passion comes out to play from his workshop at his old farmhouse on the grounds of Wessex Hundred.
You see, Duffeler is as much a craftsman as he is a businessman and champion of Virginia wine.
Chances are, if you’ve been to The Williamsburg Winery’s locations on the farm, in Colonial Williamsburg, and in Virginia Beach, you’ve seen some of his craftsmanship. His woodworking craftsmanship. It all started at that old farmhouse, built in 1736 on the farm and renovated by his father in the 1980s.
Duffeler and his wife, Kristen, live there now and decided to upgrade and renovate the kitchen.
“We wanted it to stay true to its roots as a rustic farmhouse, but wanted to take the countertops in the kitchen, which were pine at the time, and install something that was harder wood and easier to maintain,” Duffeler said.
They found some white oak and Duffeler got to work.
Up until then, Duffeler had only very limited woodworking experience, and it was when he was much younger.
“My brother is an accomplished woodworker and he had helped me put together a dining room table years before,” Duffeler said.
He’d also watched his father craft beautiful pieces across the farm over the years, including the doors to Wessex Hall and the long table in the board room.
But he wanted to test his own craftsmanship and learn to create something new out of something old.
It turned out well and as a result opened a realization for him that “this was a craft that could be applied for the benefit of the winery, too,” Duffeler said.
At the time, the tasting room at Wessex Hundred housed a 16-foot bar made out of Formica laminate.
“We thought then that if we expanded the linear feet of the tasting bar, we would increase our tasting capacity and enhance the experience of our guests,” Duffeler said.
That was just the start.
“We’ve now made bar after bar – 24 or more at this point,” Duffeler said.
In the tasting room. At the pop-up bar in Colonial Williamsburg. Inside the pavilion at Wessex Hundred. Throughout the wine bar in Virginia Beach.
They’ve also made tabletops – if you’ve ever dined at the Gabriel Archer Tavern, you’ve sat at one.
“Most of the work we do, especially with the tabletops, are made out of recycled materials,” Duffeler said. “We are very proud of that because it fits with our promise and philosophy to be good stewards of the environment.”
Over the years, Duffeler and The Williamsburg Winery team have scoured lumber yards, warehouses and other sources for the perfect pieces of wood.
Sometimes it’s like a treasure hunt, Duffeler said.
“It’s extremely gratifying to find something that others would throw out and find a new use for it,” Duffeler said. “We get to extend the life of things, and at the same time not put any additional pressure on our forests.”
Plus, “like a great vintage, some of these woods just get better with time,” Duffeler said.
Duffeler, his father, father-in-law and many others have worked together to remove countless old nails and bolts and electrical conduits that some reclaimed pieces come with as part of their story and former lives.
They’ve sanded, planed, filled in holes, measured and remeasured.
They’ve cut holes for biscuits. Glued down joints. Wrestled with two pieces of wood to join them together for the perfect bar length.
They’ve worked with various types of woods, gotten to know timber companies.
The magic is realized in the end, Duffeler said.
In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like winemaking.
You start off with something questionable – reclaimed wood or grapes that survived a hardship growing season.
Or sometimes you have something raw – like freshly cut tree limbs or fresh new buds on a new vine in a new vineyard.
“And you turn it all into something you can be proud of,” Duffeler said.
Proud to drink. Or proud to drink on.