In 2014, husband and wife team, Herb Atwell and Peggy Donivan were getting tired of the hustle and bustle of the rat race in Richmond. Peggy was a safety manager for a large corporation while Herb was in IT, as well as an electrician by trade. After so many years, however, the seven-day-a-week schedule was wearing thin. It was time for a change.
Peggy landed a good job in Henry County and the couple began looking for a new home. They investigated several properties before ultimately deciding on the farm at 4220 Mountain Valley Road in Axton. At the time, they had no intention of becoming brewers. They didn’t even have any thoughts about farming. But as fate would have it, some home-brewing hobby friends in Richmond had given them some hop seeds a year before. Once in their new farm-home, the couple decided to plant the seeds to see if they’d grow. Little did they know they were planting the seeds for a future they would never have expected.
own supply of untreated, natural well water, as well as honey, fruits, grains and barley from neighboring farmers. With a combination like that, Herb and Peggy are proud to say, “When we say ‘we grow beer’ we mean it. It just can’t get any fresher than that!” As of last year, the couple are using all the hops they grow, and encourage others to grow, as well.
It wasn’t long till the farmbrewing duo began thinking about making their delicious brews available to the public. In May of 2017, their dream of having hopyard tours and cold beer brewed onsite not only became a reality, it became Mountain Valley Brewing; Southwestern Virginia’s first family-owned, farm brewery.
To prepare for that day, Herb and Peggy had joined Train Wreck Brewers: a Danville-based home-brew club. Peggy says there were a lot of talented people there, and they learned a lot. In addition to other accolades, the feedback always included remarks about how smooth their natural well-water beers always turned out. The fresh hops were also a significant factor in the success of their brews. The club offered a wealth of resources, including fellow club-member, Karl Herzberg, who now brews for Mountain Valley.
When those perky little hop seeds began to grow, the couple’s original thought was to use what they needed for their own brewing, then sell the surplus to local breweries and other home-brewing hobbyists.
Inspired by the growth of those first seeds, Herb turned to the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative where he learned a great deal about growing and harvesting. More recently, he became a Board Member of that organization.
Overlooking a beautiful valley and a neighboring, 450-acre farm, Mountain Valley Brewing was built in what used to be a 400 square foot storage building on the property. Offering a one-and-a-half barrel system, and a 50-capacity tap room, Mountain Valley Brewing celebrated its grand opening with a packed house on April 15, 2016. Peggy says it rained like crazy! But despite the weather, visitors were lined up outside the doors, happily drinking fresh craft beer in the downpour.
One thing led to another. With the success of the original plants, Herb and Peggy became more serious about growing the best hops they could, and about branching out into different varieties. Mountain Valley Hops officially became Henry County’s first hops farm in 2014, and now grows Cascade, Chinook, Zeus and Nugget hops. Herb had retired by this time so he could focus on the development Mountain Valley. He says they love to experiment with the different flavors that fresh hops bring to all types of beer.
It was quickly decided to add a deck for extra space. Not only does the deck provide additional seating, it’s the place to be for enjoying craft beer under the stars while listening to amazing live music.
In addition to growing hops, Herb and Peggy are also dedicated to growing the hop-farming industry in the region. Herb says hops are a viable crop for Southwestern Virginia. Through education, the couple hope to help other local hop farmers, just as they received advice when they were getting started.
Both Herb and Peggy love to support local music and have a particular interest in giving new artists a chance to play. Because of their size, they feature lots of solo musicians and duos. With this type of music, it keeps things low-key and soft enough so everyone can still enjoy conversation with friends.
“With the exception of seasonal brews,” say Peggy and Herb, “fresh hops are rarely found in craft beer. With our own hop farm, we can keep fresh hops year-round.”
Despite the welcome for newcomers and locals, Peggy says Mountain Valley is gaining a reputation among out-ofstate artists as a great place to stop and play while travelling. They’ve been getting bands from as far away as Tennessee and Georgia. These phenomenally talented, travelling acts love the small venue because it offers a more intimate experience where people really pay attention. On February 9, Mountain
With a third-acre of their 10-acre farm dedicated to the 25-foot, towering plants, Herb and Peggy had all the hops they needed for their home brewing. They also had their
private parties, and weddings. They also offer tours of the brewery and the hops field.
In cooperation with a recreation company called Damn Good Equipment, Mountain Valley also has a hammock garden for warmer weather! DGE not only built the structure overlooking the gorgeous valley, but also donated several hammocks. When visiting, guests may borrow a hammock, or bring one of their own.
Inside, guests can enjoy a variety of games and special nights. Thursday night is game night, featuring a generous selection of tabletop games. There is a home-made dart board given to the couple by their Richmond friends before moving to Axton. There is even a traditional English pub game called Skittles. Built by the hand of Herb’s uncle, Peggy says this spinning top game is always intriguing!
In addition to all this regularlyscheduled fun, Mountain Valley Brewing is planning a huge St. Patrick’s Day weekend party in March. They are also planning a summer solstice, oneday, full-day music festival the weekend of June 21 in celebration of the hops.
Valley will be hosting a Neil Young tribute artist from New Jersey.
As 2019 goes on, Peggy and Herb hope to host more events, and add more venue facilities to their property. Follow them on Facebook at Mountain Valley Brewing for all the news and special events schedules! You can also subscribe to website to receive monthly updates.
But let’s not forget the amazing, fresh-grown, delicious craft brews! Because of the small system – and because Peggy and Herb love to experiment – they advise the taps are rotated daily according to availability and demand. Guests are encouraged to check the website at www. mountainvalleybrewing. com for the full list. They also encourage craft beer lovers looking for a special brew to call ahead (276-833-2171) and ask about the selections of the day. With over twenty-five brews (so far), everyone is encouraged to visit again and again to try them all!
Though Mountain Valley specializes in variety, there are a few favorites and flagships. Vulture Roost is an early invention from the couple’s hobby-home-brewing days. It’s now Mountain Valley’s signature IPA, with a moderate-tomedium body featuring a floral and apricot finish.
Though Peggy and Herb want to make sure there is lots of fun to be had, they pride themselves on being familyfriendly. They want people feel comfortable coming in. They want to make guests feel like they are relaxing at home with their families. Not like a bar.
The couple love meeting new people. Even more, they love sitting back and watching new people meet each other. It’s more like Cheers. Like a neighborhood pub where people who haven’t seen each other in a long time can reunite. They are very proud to have seen in just the past three years how much the brewery has contributed to the sense of community in the area.
Fireflies in the Valley is also a favorite from the early days. Cascade and citra hops make this pale ale a refreshing and zesty brew. And finally, there is Kookie Rooster; named for the Martinsville Brewster Walk festival at which it was featured. This brew is a toasted coconut, cream ale with a lot of lactose. Light, sweet and flavorful; it mixes great with darker beers for an awesome black and tan.
Ultimately, however, the couple hope to make Mountain Valley Brewing, as well as the entire farm, a multi-faceted events center for musical events, recreation, relaxation, camping, parties, and more! They have already opened the brewery – as well as their farmland - to team building events,
And community is very important to them. Mountain Valley hosts Pub Theology evenings during which members from different denomination churches meet to just talk. With discussions on topics like “women in theology”, these evenings help to break down barriers and bring people together.
They work with and support many local non-profits. They even joined hundreds of other breweries across the nation in making a special beer to benefit victims and firefighters affected by the California wildfires.
So much great beer! But so little space. But that’s okay… Herb and Peggy received a grant this year and will be using it to expand. Their first priorities are a bigger brewing system, additional space for the tasting area, and a stage for the performers.
Herb Atwell and Peggy Donivan have created something special and unique in the hills of Axton. A locally sourced, family-owned, hops farm and brewery. But they tell us this is just the beginning. They bought a farm, not to be farmers, but to be the directors of a ten-acre events venue with a heart of gold - golden, delicious, brewed-with-love craft beer.