Revel in the Gabriel Archer Tavern, a Welcome Respite with a Storied History
The frequent greetings from Patrick Duffeler turns some heads as he walks through the Gabriel Archer Tavern on the grounds of the winery and farm he founded decades ago.
The founder of The Williamsburg Winery makes a point to make an appearance to welcome guests, not to disturb them.
Because welcome is how he wants them all to feel. It’s how he’s always wanted the community to feel.
Whether sitting inside the Gabriel Archer Tavern, the winery’s French-inspired full-service eatery, or outside on the red brick underneath a splendid wisteria canopy, know this: While savoring a bottle of wine — paired with homemade pimento cheese, Prince Edward Island steamed mussels or any of the other delights on the menu — the sounds you hear will stem from your own conversation.
The view from your window seat or patio chair will be of vineyards in varying stages of growth depending on the time of year.
The noise and the exhaust of tractor-trailers and other engines rumbling through Williamsburg on Interstate 64 is nine miles away, but it might as well be 100.
Gabriel Archer Tavern is a restorative sanctuary, ideal for reflection or catching up with friends. No one is in a rush to leave because it is so pleasant to stay.
“The Tavern has been very popular from day one,” says Belgium-born Duffeler, whose vision for a winery
in Colonial Williamsburg wasn’t shared by many back in the early ’80s. “It’s contributed to the businesses and revenues of the company and it’s created a concept. You can sit outdoors. You turn all around, and you just see green space.”
It was Duffeler’s business acumen and much of his own physical labor that transformed what he describes as “a mess” into the state’s largest winery. Credit the lush backdrop to Duffeler, too. He’s planted 62,000 trees in the approximately 400-acre Wessex Hundred Farm. A good day for Duffeler combines green space and fresh air — slowing down to tune in the sounds of nature as one of his favorite books, “The Secret Life of Trees,” recommends.
History is important to him, too, and you’ll find it everywhere at Gabriel Archer Tavern, a former tractor shed that he had a hand in constructing.
The 60x24-foot shed was built in September 1987, replacing a dilapidated barn, and was actually a multipurpose facility of sorts. In addition to housing tractors and equipment, it provided a comfortable upstairs apartment for Jeanette Smith, the winery’s first viticultural manager.
But when winery construction was in its infancy, Duffeler learned that in order to meet federal requirements for licensing, he needed a designated bonding area. The shed met those expectations and The Williamsburg Winery became officially licensed on Nov. 24, 1987.
As plans moved forward, the license was formally transferred from the shed to the winery. When Smith moved on, the shed was no longer needed, but Duffeler decided not to tear it down.
Duffeler didn’t immediately warm up to the idea of serving food on the grounds; his director of consumer activities, Drew Haynie, proposed the idea in the early ’90s.
“We should do something to elevate the enjoyment of people,” Haynie suggested. “How about doing a restaurant?”
“I don’t want to do a restaurant,” Duffeler responded.
“How about a place for small food and the opportunity for people to sit down and get a glass of wine?” Haynie asked.
“Drew, you’re on!” Duffeler said.
The tractor shed needed modification, starting with replacing the concrete floor with a wooden one made from the richest of cedar planks. Initially, Duffeler used the space to welcome close friends and serve them fresh food from the commercial kitchen. When the Gabriel Archer Tavern opened to the public in 1996, the menu featured largely tapas along with multiple wine selections.
Today its lunch and dinner menus are eclectic, though nothing outsells the turkey and brie sandwich, distinct thanks to the Lingonberry preserves and roasted garlic mayo that complement turkey. The savory and salty mix atop the crusty French bread pairs well with a Chardonnay from the winery.
From the crepe myrtles that line the winery entrance to the inaugural label, Governor’s White, every facet of the winery is purposeful, including the choice to name the tavern in honor of Gabriel Archer.
“The Williamsburg Winery, in every dimension, has to reflect the history of Virginia,” said Duffeler, who refers to Williamsburg as “the soul of America.”
Cambridge-educated Archer, one of Jamestown’s most significant early leaders, co-captained the Godspeed, the lead ship among three vessels that brought the men who founded the first permanent settlement in the English New World. The explorers considered multiple sites near the Chesapeake Bay, but fearful of pirates, looked inland to establish a colony for The Virginia Company, a private venture under a Royal Charter.
Archer envisioned locating the settlement at the mouth of a creek that was to be named Archer’s Hope — hope referred to an “opening or hollow amongst hills.” Capt. John Smith overruled the idea and placed the settlement on Jamestown Island.
But Duffeler was inspired by Archer’s preference to place the first settlement on what today is part of the farm; he named his first “reserve” wine the Gabriel Archer Reserve.
A rustic signpost that greets Tavern visitors features the Godspeed.
In 2004, the Tavern expanded the kitchen, added a vineyard room that brings the outdoors in and added
capacity for private dining.
“The Tavern became a popular place,” said Duffeler, who enjoys lunch there frequently with his wife, Francoise. She enjoys the soups and salads most while he goes for a charcuterie board.
Duffeler also added a tiled counter with tall seats, similar to an upscale bar.
Tavern décor includes a replica of a Colonial ship courtesy of a Mariners’ Museum specialist model maker. It’s a whimsical mix inside now, including pottery that features Duffeler’s designs, wooden tables and chairs and overhead lighting fixtures featuring modified wine bottles as shades. Colonial agricultural tools are on display, including an old wine press from an auction.
Outdoors, wind chimes respond to the gentle breeze. Flowerpots grow marigolds and the herbs incorporated into many of the dishes. Every dish features at least one local component.
Duffeler considers the tavern a world onto itself. It’s a place to focus on relationships rather than the screen of a cell phone. He invites you to sip, savor and soak in the inviting respite, an elegant but understated retreat that enchants longtime locals and first-time visitors alike.