Peggy Raley-Ward and Nassau Valley Vineyards were recognized recently as Southern Delaware Tourism presented its annual award for contributions to tourism in Sussex County.
Accepting highest honors for her work promoting tourism in Sussex County, Peggy Raley-Ward, owner of Nassau Valley Vineyards, said it's been an uphill but worthwhile battle since she opened the winery in 1993.
"I left and lived all over the world, and I came back because I love Sussex County," Raley-Ward said. “I guess the old adage is true, when you get the sand in your shoes, it doesn’t go away. It’s been a long fight.”
Nassau Valley Vineyards is Delaware’s first and only farm-vineyard, meaning grapes are grown, made into wine and sold on the premises. Now emerging as a popular venue for destination weddings, the winery has evolved to a multifaceted business complex, housing several facilities for events and producing chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.
In the early 1990s, before she was opened Nassau Valley Vineyards, Raley-Ward first had to lobby legislators and draft legislation allowing a winery in Delaware. Until 2007, Nassau Valley was the only vineyard in the state.
“Peggy and her work in the wine business has certainly helped promote, not only tourism in general, but also in growing our culinary tourism initiatives,” said Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. “She’s done a great job for a long time, and is very deserving of this recognition.”
In addition to honoring the work of Nassau Valley Vineyards in promoting unusual events to attract visitors, at its Dec. 14 luncheon, Southern Delaware Tourism also welcomed longtime Delaware archivist Russ McCabe and showed a new video promoting the rich history of Sussex County and endorsing heritage tours as another tourism draw to the area.
“The bottom line, folks, is that what we have, the assets we have, provide real economic opportunity,” McCabe said.
A longtime advocate of historical tourism in the First State, McCabe worked at Delaware State Public Archives for 31 years and was part of the team that established the Delaware History Trail, an effort that prompts visitors to tour 36 historical sites across the state.
“The story of Sussex County particularly was absolutely fascinating,” McCabe said. “What we have, our stories, in the long run, have value. People are dying to hear these stories.”
McCabe narrated a nearly 10-minute tourism video that debuted at the awards luncheon, chronicling many of the historical sights of Sussex County, before the assembly welcomed Neil Shoemaker, the entrepreneur behind Harlem Heritage Tours.
Shoemaker told his own story of leaving a career in banking to run Harlem Heritage Tours, a business he stumbled upon after chatting with a group of visitors in his hometown of Harlem in New York City. He said he realized the tourists wanted a local’s perspective, local stories and a local tour and has been running a business providing these services since 1998.
“That’s what people wanted, they wanted to hear the stories from the people in the community,” Shoemaker said. “You have something special. You have sights, you have the heritage, and that’s what people want.”