Hillsborough Winery: A Virginia Wine Profile

Loudoun County in Virginia is roughly 5,300 miles from Istanbul, Turkey and frankly there are few similarities, if any. But Virginia is where the father and son team of Bora and Kerem Baki set up Hillsborough Winery and Vineyards in 2003. Bora, a native of Turkey, emigrated to the U.S. in 1979 and, since he had family in Virginia, he came here. “I had a cousin here, like every immigrant. I’m very happy I chose this area, because I hate earthquakes,” he says referring to several devastating earthquakes in Istanbul he went through.

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As an entrepreneur his various businesses have all succeeded, well, except for one he tells me. When his son, Kerem, decided he wanted to start a winery, Bora agreed. “I was getting ready to retire, get on my boat, but Kerem was taking a class at Virginia Tech about drinking wine. I thought, am I supposed to pay for this?” But Kerem had a natural aptitude for enology, so they bought the property and asked consultants what their perspective was of the land. “Several people said for growing grapes it’s not a 10, maybe a 7 or 8. But the retail aspect is 10 on 10,” Bora says. “We consider ourselves DC’s wine country,” Kerem added and the proximity means an easy day trip for anyone in the nation’s capital.

The cattle farm they bought had been abandoned for at least 15 years therefore Bora and Kerem set out to transform it into a vineyard. It took two years to get everything right and in October, 2003, the doors to Hillsborough Vineyards opened for the first time. The problem though was that Hillsborough only had a few wines to sell, so Bora brought in other wineries and sold their wines. “People were very happy to try all these different wines. People were coming back again and again.” Hoping for reciprocity with other small wineries on the East Coast, Bora was surprised to learn that the co-op mentality didn’t work. Other producers didn’t want to continue the arrangement, so when Kerem had a large enough portfolio in 2004/2005, they began pouring exclusively Hillsborough wine.

Given the Virginia weather Kerem tends to harvest his whites in September and his reds at the end of October or the beginning of November. And Virginia weather provides other challenges as well. “We spent $30,000 on irrigation and have never turned it on,” Kerem says. “This is Virginia, we have 30 to 40 inches of rain per year. The northern Virginia area, where we are, is known to have a hot pocket, it’s one of the better areas to grow in,” he feels. Another challenge in winemaking is “rolling with the punches,” as Kerem puts it, since the weather variable is so great. “The challenge here is proper canopy management to reduce excess moisture,” he advises. “The most important step in the vineyard is pruning because that dictates your growth, not just for the oncoming year but future years to come,” Kerem says. “You have to hit every step otherwise it’s like quicksand. We have so much rain and so much growth that we have to stay on top of everything.”

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.