Luke and Toni Kilyk — Lawyer, Doctor, Catholic Winemakers
This “fruit of the vine and the work of human hands” is sold at several restaurants and stores in Northern Virginia
Luke and Toni Kilyk, proud owners of the Granite Heights Winery in Warrenton, Virginia, are both devout Catholics who lead very, very busy lives.
For one, Luke is a full-time intellectual property attorney. For another, Toni is a family practice physician who works two days a week for the Fauquier Free Clinic, a non-profit organization that provides health care to low-income persons who do not have medical insurance.
But for the couple, who spend just about all of their “free” time caring for their 13-acre vineyard, they feel a connection to God. As Luke explained in conversations with his pastor, Father Charles Smith at St. John the Evangelist, when at Mass and Father is praying over the gifts, which includes the words — the “fruit of the vine and the work of human hands” — those prayerful words ring true for him and he can directly relate to them.
“After all, sheep, vines and vineyards are mentioned often in the Bible,” he said. “I can relate to tending vineyards and pruning vines and living that part of the Bible. I tell people that we believe that the vines are like sheep to us; we are there to take care, nurture, and protect those vines so that God, through ‘Mother Nature,’ can do the rest to ultimately make good wine.”
To fulfill this wine dream, Luke started on an unexpected pathway. One of his law clients made wine from hobby wine kits and suggested that Luke try it. So, he tried out a wine kit, but was not satisfied with the wine quality. One thing led to another, the end result of which was that Luke decided to get very devoted to making wine himself. Then one day he saw a nearby farm up for sale, and the couple decided to save the farm and become serious about winemaking.
“We decided to buy and rescue the land that was slated for development, and convert it to a vineyard and winery,” he said, noting that the farmhouse on the property dates back to the early 1800s. “We planted the vineyard in 2009 and now we have 13 acres of vines (about 26,000 vines).” Today, most of their wine is sold in their tasting room at the winery and some of their wine is sold at several restaurants and stores in Northern Virginia.
It seems clear that the couple truly thanks God for their lives and for their successful wine business. That links back to their faith, since they were both raised in Catholic households. Born in Pennsylvania, Luke noted that he took his faith so seriously that he attended a seminary (then Brisson Seminary for the Diocese of Allentown) for three semesters, where one of his classmates was Msgr. Andrew Baker, now the rector of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. But Luke felt the calling to return to Lehigh University to obtain his degree in chemistry.
After several changes in his future plans, Luke attended the law school at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and went regularly to Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. His career led him to Warrenton and to becoming a member of St. John’s. “I fell in love with this parish,” he said. “It was a more intimate experience in this small church … and for the past four to five years, I have gone to Sunday Mass every weekend and to daily Mass on most week days. … My life is two jobs: As an attorney, I get to work by 5 a.m. and work for an hour and then go to 6:30 a.m. Mass, and then return to the law job. And then in the afternoon, I work in the vineyard and winery,” he said, adding that his faith drives him to do what he does. As Luke said, “If I can find time to get to Mass, I hope that drives others to find the time as well.”
As for his wife, Toni, she, too, grew up in a Catholic household. But her serious entry into the Church happened as an adult. She joined the military and served in Korea, and the Catholic chaplain at that Korean base inspired her to become a more fully involved Catholic. That inspiration continued when she was transferred back to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. Today, Toni also tries to get to Mass during the week.
“All this is a job,” said Luke, “but it is incredible what we have, and we enjoy what we do. The last thing that I would want to do would be to be on a cruise ship. I would not know how to sit and rest, so I will never retire.” And as Luke jokingly said, “I will die on the tractor with one of my bottles of wine that happens to be named ‘humility,’ which sums up what we are to be as Catholics.”
Note: For winery information, visit the website at www.gh.wine.