A Passion for History and Vinting Brings Mason Alumni Together at Bull Run
By Michele McDonald
The bite-marked bullets found on the grounds of their new winery near the Bull Run battlefield told Jon and Kim Hickox a Civil War tale from a time when “to bite the bullet” meant more than taking on a tough task.
The Winery at Bull Run–owned by two George Mason University history alumni–was once the site of a Civil War field hospital.
“What led to that discovery was something as minor as a little bitten bullet,” says Jon Hickox, who credits Mason history professors Joseph Harsh and the late Robert Hawkes for teaching him to pay attention to the small discoveries he found while building the winery. “Professors Hawkes and Harsh would be proud that I listened to them.”
History majors Jon and Kim (Lambrecht) Hickox met during their senior year at George Mason. Both finished in 1998—she studied Asian history, while he was interested in the Civil War.
Located about 20 minutes from the Fairfax Campus, the winery opened last summer and boasts five Mason alumni, three Mason student interns, and one Mason student employee. In addition to the Hickoxs, the alumni on hand one afternoon in March included George Wilson, Eddie Fam, and Natasha Hamad. Current Mason social work graduate student Kim Schaer was pouring wine behind the bar.
Jon Hickox started his own business, Colonial Remodeling, in 1996 while still a student at Mason and would knock on doors to pitch his company’s services. Going to school with other like-minded Mason students inspired him to reach for more. He credits his Mason education for building his confidence and teaching him the skills to become an entrepreneur.
Kim Hickox says Mason gave her the push she needed to prepare for life outside of college—she works for a defense contractor. “[College] made me open to new things,” she says. “I was quiet and shy. Mason pushes you.”
The combination of buying a piece of history and a good business opportunity came together in 2008 when they spotted the rough, cedar-snarled 21-acre parcel for sale. “This is my window,” Jon Hickox says.
They took a deep breath and paid $875,000 for the parcel. “The place looked nothing like it looks now,” he says of when they bought it. They worked on their dream slowly over four years, investing about $2.5 million and opening in summer 2012.
The winery is adjacent to the Manassas Battlefield National Park. The first Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, was so close to Washington, D.C., that people brought picnic lunches to watch the North and South fight. It’s where Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson earned his moniker.
The winery buildings are geared to recapture that era and are made from reclaimed wood plus new materials. Complete with a long bar, pictures on the wall of the former home and residents, and display cases filled with Civil War finds, the winery offers a respite from the battlefields, which are easily on view from the upper deck.
It’s part of creating a memorable and personal experience so people return, Jon Hickox says. “It’s a business concept . . . that I learned at Mason.”
A winery wouldn’t be much without wine and even the grape is part of Virginia’s history. Dubbed the Norton, this native fruit is hardy enough to withstand the Virginia climate, but has captured attention for producing a quality wine.
The winery planted two and a half acres of the Norton grape in 2011—it takes about five years for the vines to mature, says Wilson, the winery’s vigneron, who’s in charge of the vineyards and grounds. The Hickox family is looking to add another 20 acres of vineyards in Rappahannock County.
When Jon Hickox needed an events manager, he turned to Fam, his former college roommate who majored in marketing. Fam also heads Impact Marketing and Events and is joined by Mason tourism and events management graduate Natasha Hamad. The busy venue has hosted more than 50 events in less than a year.
Fam, who hails from a military family and has lived all over the world, says Mason’s diversity brought him to the university.
“It was the first place where I saw ethnic diversity–and I loved it,” Fam says. “Finally, for the first time, I felt like I was home. It was more than just a place where I went to school; it was a turning point.”
Fam learned how to run a successful event while attending Mason. “Probably the best day I ever had was Mason Day when we had the Roots playing,” he says.
Three Mason students are currently interning with Fam, and he says he’s always looking for more.
Hamad learned she loved event planning while at Mason. Like many freshmen, Hamad didn’t know what she wanted to major in until Mason gave her some practical experience in event planning.
“You can be a good student all day but can you do it in the real world?” Hamad asks. Mason helped her answer that question.
Since Wilson finished his English degree in 1969, his pursuits have taken him all over the world. He spent some 25 years as a professional horseman before becoming a vigneron for the past two decades. He says his liberal arts education made him ready for anything.
“I think that the most important thing that I took [away] from Mason was continuing to learn to become a team player,” Wilson says. “The secret of success at this particular enterprise has been that we have a great team.”
Mason basketball fans may recognize Wilson, who was on the basketball team in the late 1960s, for his appearances at the past five homecoming games. He also played baseball and rugby for what was then George Mason College.
“My favorite part of going to Mason was to accumulate friends and experiences that have opened doors all over the world,” Wilson says. “My best friends went to Mason and are still my friends.”
Standing on his winery’s upper deck, Jon Hickox can deftly describe the Civil War battles that played out on the fields before him. He and Kim are adding their personal history to this plot of land. The winery’s most popular wine is named after their young daughter Delaney, and they’ll soon need to name another wine in the winery’s growing selection because Kim is pregnant with their second child.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.