A Free Union winery and bed and breakfast is now under new ownership.
Glass House Winery founders Jeff and Michelle Sanders sold their business, which they opened in 2010, in September. Jay Smith, who worked in the IT industry, moved from Richmond to Free Union after purchasing the winery.
“As I learned about their business, what they’ve done, their reputation and the quality of their wines, their chocolates to the bed and breakfast, etc., I knew that this was a different, unique winery,” Smith said. “I looked at others — to be honest, none of them interested me.”
For years, Smith thought he couldn’t drink most wines, as he would have an allergic reaction in his throat. But one day, he was encouraged to try it again.
“I ended up drinking three glasses and nothing happened, and from that day on, I was on a journey of learning and loving wines, trying them all and experimenting,” he said.
After attending his son and daughter-in-law’s wedding at another winery in Albemarle County, he was inspired to run a winery.
“I’m sitting there listening to music, I love the outdoors and agriculture, now I love wines, I’m like, ‘This seems like me on so many fronts,’” Smith said. “So I started studying, and low and behold, here’s where I ended up.”
Smith found out Glass House was privately for sale, and began talking to the Sanderses in the fall of 2019.
Jeff Sanders said he started to feel his energy dropping “to 100%, and you need to have 140% or 150% to make something like this work.”
“I actually felt like the business needed another shot of energy,” he said. “Every once and a while I think about doing it again, or new ideas … I found myself starting to say, ‘I just don’t know if I got it in me to add that on to everything else,’ and that didn’t seem like the ideal situation for the business.”
Smith said he doesn’t have any plans for major changes, and if he does want to do something new or different, he said he will solicit input from the Sanderses, wine club members and employees.
“I’m not going to build a Field of Dreams and hope they enjoy it,” he said. “No, I’m going to consult with them.”
Smith also plans to keep the other main staples of the winery — the local music, the bed and breakfast, the chocolate business and the greenhouse.
“I literally sat down one night and made myself sick with the chocolates to determine which chocolate I like the most,” Smith said. “I like them all — I gave up.”
Smith and his grown children, who live in the Charlottesville area, are all musical, and plan to play as a family at Glass House at some point.
The Sanderses will stay on for a transition period, and once that’s finished, they want to travel, when things are open, and spend more time with family.
“I enjoy coming out here to listen to music while I’m not working,” Jeff Sanders said. “It’s really nice. It’s different when you don’t have to worry about the clogged toilet.”