It's a bad bet to challenge Alan Ward.
Exploring wine making, he heard a speaker at a conference say it would be impossible to grow world-class wine grapes in North Carolina. Quietly determined, Ward set out to prove the speaker wrong. Five years worth of research and experimentation later, he is about to publicly unveil the result.
Ward will open his Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards winery to the public on Sunday, Aug. 5, premiering the first grower-owned tasting room in modern Henderson County.
The winery and tasting room on Chestnut Gap Road includes a walnut bar, indoor seating and an outdoor patio only a few steps from Ward's five acres of grape vines. Besides that vineyard, at 2,300 feet, Ward and another grower he is working with, Michael Jackson, cultivate another 10 acres of grapes at 3,000-foot Point Lookout in Edneyville. The elevation, lower humidity and early morning drying of the grapes on the mountain slopes makes for a better growing season than many vineyards in the more established Yadkin Valley region of North Carolina, Ward says.
"Our climate and soils are very similar to the European growing areas," Ward says. "Ninety-five percent of the grapes we grow are French vinifera and German and Austria variations."
Ward is a modern-day pioneer of wine-making in Henderson County. He has been joined by Lemuel Oates, the owner of Manual Woodworkers, who has also started a winery using locally owned grape varieties.
"We carefully selected our growing locations and with a lot of work, investment, trial and error and some good luck, we were able to produce some of the top fruit in the region," Ward said. By top fruit, he means grapes that have high Brix (a measure of sugar level), tannins and acidity to produce top-quality red and white wine.
Saint Paul winery will serve two Reisling blends, two red Cabernets and two Chardonnays, each with a sweeter and a drier version. Ward has also bottled a blackberry dessert wine and an apple Chardonnay but neither of those is ready for this season.
Saint Paul will offer space for parties and weddings and other events, tours of the winery and the vineyard and tasting of the wines.
The Chestnut Gap winery is next to the house where Ward grew up, and across the road from his grandfather's farm, where Ward worked as a kid. A portfolio manager with an MBA from Clemson, Ward says that farming is his love. Nighttime can find him aboard a tractor mowing between the rows of grapes, and weekends he usually is working to get the tasting room ready or checking on the grapes, which are harvested around the same time as apples.
"We're not a chateau Ward," he says. "We're St. Paul Mountain Farm, St. Paul's Mountain Vineyards. I go back to some of the old apple farmers that truly were innovators that came here right after the Depression with no money and really did well for their families, were able to provide and really create substantial wealth. Creating wealth is not my goal. My goal is to create the environment where my family can participate in farming, which is the most rewarding experience for me in my life."
Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards
214 Chestnut Gap Road
Wednesday, Thursday: 2 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Friday, Saturday: 1 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Sunday: 1-6 p.m.
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