Most people join the Navy to see the world. Lt. Cmdr. Lester “Farva” Melanson, III, not only saw the world, but also developed a love for its best wine that turned into an exciting business endeavor.
Melanson and his wife, Erin, created Xella winery and vineyard, near Leonardtown, in 2008. The name is an acronym of the first letter of he and wife and children’s names (Xenia, Erin, Lester III, Lester IV, and Amara).
“Nothing could embody this endeavor more than including our whole family in the name!” Melanson said.
Melanson, who currently works at NAS Pax River, got the wine bug in 2004 when he went on his first military deployment.
“I had some department heads that were really into wine, so during port visits to places like Italy, Portugal and Malta they introduced me to the wine world,” he said.
In 2008, his wife took him to a “make your own wine” experience, and the hobby was born. They have traveled the world together tasting and learning about wine and wine making.
“Generally, we like real small mom and pop wineries where the winemaker is the one pouring the wine and you can really pick their brain about their business and operation,” Melanson said. “We have had great times everywhere from Vancouver Island, Canada to Paso Robles, California to Bordeaux, France talking to small producers. That being said, my two favorite places have been the Champagne region of France (Epernay and Reims) and Alsace.”
Melanson, who holds a master’s in oenology (winemaking) and viticulture from UC Davis, California said they have a phased approach for the business. Currently, they are producing 250-300 cases a year, sourced from Maryland, Virginia, California, and South America while their own vineyard becomes established. They sell it at the Shepherd’s Old Field (SOF) Market in Leonardtown on Saturdays as well as on their website and at several local establishments (Leonardtown Cigars, Bru Beergarden, Board and Brush, and Social Coffeehouse/Speakeasy).
“While we are doing that, we are expanding our own vineyard; our oldest vines are three years old and it takes four to six years for vines to mature enough to make wine out of the fruit,” he explained. “We doubled the size of the vineyard this year and hope to continue to expand. We don’t have a tasting room on our property yet, but we have the building that we are starting to remodel, which will be the tasting room, and we built a new barn, which will be the future production facility.”
He said someday they would love to run the winery full time.
“Our goal is to make the best wine we can with the best fruit available,” Melanson said. “Our philosophy is to work hard and play hard. Wine to us is a compilation of everything we love in life: history, art, science, and nature.”
Xella offers a mix of dry, semi-sweet, and dessert reds, white, and rosé wines. Check out their website: www.xellawine.com or follow them on Facebook or IG @xellawine.
By Kristine Wilcox, Sr. Communications/Multimedia Specialist with AVIAN