Bronze 2006

Wholesome Foods Water well worth it

Edinburg — Some of the finest bottled water in the world is drawn and packaged just west of town. 

Virginia’s Best water, which originates in an artesian well on the property of Wholesome Foods, was a bronze medallist at the 16th Annual Berkeley Springs International Water Testing Contest, widely known as the Olympics of Water.  More than 70 waters representing a dozen countries and 22 states competed for medals in four categories.

Out of 46 entries in the Non-Carbonated Bottled Water Group, Virginia’s Best tied for third place with Llanllyr SOURCE of Great Britain. A Wisconsin bottler, Great Glacier, took home the gold while Canada’s Ontario Gold Beverage, Barrie, Ontario, won the silver.

The competition was virgin territory for Wholesome Foods, which only started bottling Virginia’s Best last spring 2005.  Director of Sales Nathan Pence and his brother, Wesley, Vice President of Wholesome Foods, began researching the process about two years ago, traveling to Georgia to witness it firsthand. 

“I’m surprised we won, ” Nathan Pence says.  “But people are always telling us how good the water is, and our sales reflect that.”

The secret to great water, the brothers say, is the source.  Virginia’s Best starts more than 400 feet beneath the surface.  In fact, the water in Wholesome Foods’ well passes all government standards for bottled water before it is even drawn.

“If you want good water, you have to go and get it,” says Wesley Pence, explaining that the deeper the source, the more pure the product.  Spring Water, while popular, he says, naturally contains more contaminants because it is located closer to the surface.

Despite its purity, Virginia’s Best still undergoes three levels of filtration to remove any impurities before bottling.  The result is mineral-rich water, with calcium and trace amounts of iron and potassium necessary to good health. 

“This water has body,” Nathan Pence says.  “It doesn’t evaporate in your mouth.  It’s refreshing.”

A panel of judges at the Berkeley Springs, W.Va. competition looks, sniffs and tastes each water using guidelines like those of a wine-tasting, including appearance (it should be clear or slightly opaque for glacial waters), aroma (there should be none), taste (it should finish clean), feel (it should be light) and aftertaste (it should leave you thirsty for more).

The festival’s organizers say it’s a challenge to distinguish and rate subtle differences, especially in the bottled water category.  However, the majority of the waters that won the medals this year had also placed in the top five in previous years, according to a press release.  “It reassures us as to the accuracy of the process when a different team of judges each year consistently select the same waters as among the best,” said Jean Mozier, one of the events founders.

The two-day conference features seminars on Friday dealing with nearly all aspects of water, from bottling and marketing it as a commercial product to treating municipal wastewater to preserving water as a valuable resource.  The judging is held on Saturday, thought because of the growth of the yearly festival, a preliminary tasting is now done on Thursday, with the top 10 waters in each category advancing to the finals.  “It’s a highly competitive industry,” says Nathan Pence, especially as the public becomes more conscious about the health benefits of drinking water. 

Wholesome Foods offers Virginia's Best, which is pressed with a picture of the Massanutten Mountain (Edinburg Gap) in 8 oz.,16.9 oz., 20oz., and 1 and 5 gallon containers for home and office coolers. The Virginia's Best labeled water is available at select Whole Foods, Walmarts, local independent groceries and our own outlet store, as well as our website.

In addition, Wholesome Foods has branched into custom labeling, giving area businesses an alternative to traditional advertising and marketing.  The company can ship as little as five cases by UPS, and fifteen cases within our current delivery area (VA, DC, MD).  Because of our wholesale distribution routes, they do not charge its water customers for freight.

Wesley Pence says the bottled water segment of the business, which his father, Dean, started in 1964, is small but growing. 

“We’re being careful about it,” he says.

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