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YEAR IN REVIEW: Booze becomes big business

Visitors offer a toast in the tasting room at Burntshirt Winery. Visitors offer a toast in the tasting room at Burntshirt Winery.

The biggest business news of the year could be summed up in a word that local leaders would not have associated with economic growth 30 years ago: alcohol.

Beer, wine or liquor, the adult beverage industry found an unexpected boom in once-dry Henderson County.
After Sierra Nevada announced plans to build its first East Coast brewery in Mills River in January, local people did not have to wait long for signs of work. The nation's leading craft brewery began work fast and announced a speedup in August. Company officials said in August that the brewery was accelerating its opening from November to July of 2013. Sierra Nevada plans to invest $107 million in the plant and other buildings on the 90-acre site on the French Broad River. By July, it will have hired about 60 people — "what we need to get the plant going and the beer out the door," brewery co-manager Stan Cooper told the Mills River Town Council in August. A second wave of hiring will bring on 75 to 80 full- and part-time employees to work in the restaurant, visitors center, tasting room and outdoor facilities.
In August Hendersonville financial adviser Alan Ward became the first person to open a vineyard and winery in the county in modern times, followed weeks later by Manual Woodworkers owners Lemuel and Sandra Oates.
Ward's Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards on Chestnut Gap Road features a tasting room next to a five-acre vineyard. Ward also grows 10 acres of grapes at a vineyard on Point Lookout at 3,000 feet. "Our climate and soils are very similar to the European growing areas," Ward said. "We're not a chateau Ward.... 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."
The Oateses opened their Burntshirt Winery in September on Sugarloaf Road in Dana. The tasting room in an old farmhouse is across the road from a 19-acre vineyard. Like Ward, Oates has a higher vineyard. It's atop Burntshirt Mountain in Gerton. In the fall, Oates announced plans to add a larger tasting room and event space. "Burntshirt is about to put the world on notice about North Carolina wines and Hendersonville, North Carolina," the winery's marketing director, Kathleen Watson, said during a grand opening celebration.
One other piece of news on alcohol: county voters on May 8 went all wet, meaning that restaurants can serve beer, wine and mixed drinks anywhere in the county.

Sept. 5 issue

While the housing market showed limited signs of recovery, commercial contractors saw a noticeable uptick in work in manufacturing.
"It's just really picked up," Tom Cooper of Cooper Construction Co. said in September. "Everybody keeps asking, how's business, how's business? It's nice to tell them it's picking up."
GE expanded its plant in East Flat Rock to make a new generation of streetlights that are brighter and more energy efficient. Blue Ridge Metals and Legacy Paddlesports in Fletcher have also expanded. At year's end Henderson County officials were optimistic about landing another manufacturer that would bring 106 jobs at Fletcher Business Park.
The biggest residential construction project was the huge 360-unit Ballantyne Commons apartment complex on a ridge behind the Ingles supermarket on U.S. 64 East.
A revived motor mile took shape on Spartanburg Highway where Hunter Nissan opened its new $4 million showroom and Boyd Automotive started work on a $6 million Chevrolet dealership to replace its facility at Five Points.
South Main Street looks to be the center of activity for 2013 with plans for a new CVS on the old Mr. Gatti's property and a major facelift of the Southgate Center along with additions to both the Fresh Market and Stein Mart. Developers have also proposed a new shopping center between Seventh Avenue and U.S. 64 on property that contains the closed Four Seasons Cinema and the old Ryan's steakhouse.
On the county line in Fletcher, crews have raised the steel structure of the $32 million Pardee-Mission medical building. Cooper Construction is working on the new $9 million Fletcher Town Hall.