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Burntshirt Vineyards opens Sugarloaf tasting room

Entrance Entrance

Lemuel Oates has built a business on graphics and home decoration, and from the gateway on the road to the art on the walls at his new Burntshirt Vineyards, it shows. Oates and the designers at his factory have made an attractive tasting room in an old farmhouse in the middle of an old apple orchard that has new life as a vineyard.

Oates is the owner of Manual Woodworkers and Weavers, which makes home décor, collegiate wear and dozens of other products. He opened the new winery and tasting room on Saturday to positive reviews, despite the horrendous timing of a road paving project in his front yard.
"We just love it," said Jill Freeman, who drove up from Taylors, S.C., with her husband for the winery opening. "We're so excited about them having this winery here. It's so local. We're happy for the local people. It's a beautiful setting and a beautiful view. It's been a wonderful day."
Her husband, Johnnie, agreed.
"It's got some interesting flavors in some of the wines," he said. "We like 'em."
The Freemans were among a steady turnout of wine enthusiasts sampling the nine wines that Burntshirt now offers both at the vineyard location at A Day in the Country, the restaurant that the Oates family also owns.


Second winery to open this summer
The Sugarloaf Road winery becomes the second new winery to open in Hendersonville this summer, following by just a few weeks the opening of Alan Ward's Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards on Chestnut Gap Road.
Oates and Ward, both Edneyville High School graduates who have been friends for years, say they like the fact that more than one winery has opened. They plan to share the cost of a DOT sign on I-26 that will direct tourists to their tasting rooms.
A sign is not the only thing that Oates and Ward share.
Like Ward, Oates has a lower orchard and upper orchard. Oates' Sugarloaf vineyard covers 19 acres, at 2,200 feet. His high vineyard covers six acres atop Burntshirt Mountain in the northwestern corner of Henderson County. Its name comes from a local legend.
"This gentleman was burning his brush and the fire got out of hand," Oates said. "He took off his shirt and started beating it, and his shirt caught on fire, and ever since it was called Burntshirt Mountain."
Years later, the boys at Camp Mishemokwa paid tribute to the mountain's name.
"At the end of summer camp they had a big bonfire to celebrate and the young men would throw a shirt in the fire for good luck," Oates said.
Oates uses a winemaker in Shelby who has experience in California and creates and bottles wine for Burntshirt and other vineyards.

Blue Ridge terroir makes the difference
Burntshirt's marketing director, Kathleen Watson, has experience with one of the better-known names in North Carolina's wine industry, Richard Childress, who runs a big winery in Lexington. Production at the NASCAR team owner's winery grew from 15,000 to 30,000 cases a year in the time she worked there. Now, Watson is helping with Oates' startup.
"Here, it's just a whole different story," she said. "The French call it terroir. It's a wine word. It's a combination of the land, the soil, the weather, the altitude, and all those factors combined that give character to the wine. The terroir that we have here in the mountains with the high altitude, with the long sunny days and the cool nights, more mimics a European climate, and so as a result they're able to grow some varietals up here in the mountains exceptionally well compared to other regions."
That means better wines, she says, and the opportunity to create reds and whites of unique and interesting flavors. Burntshirt sells four whites, four reds and a rose.
The man responsible for the harvest that becomes wine is Eric Case, a Henderson County native and lifelong farmer who raised vegetables, mostly in northern Greenville County, S.C., before Oates hired him to manage the two vineyards.
"I'm still farming," he said. "It's just learning the ins and outs of the grapes. It's challenging to grow the grapes."
The fruit is sensitive to weather. Grapes like hot dry weather as they get close to harvest. "Last year was a great year," Case said. "We had hardly any rain in August." The wet summer of 2012 has been less than ideal.
The same April freeze that devastated the apple crop also damaged the grapes. "It got down to 24 degrees here," he said of the Sugarloaf vineyard. "It probably cut our yield 50 percent."
This time of year, as different varieties ripen, Case checks the brix (sugar) and the pH, communicates with the vintner in Shelby several times a day and watches the weather very closely. Last Friday, a crew picked several tons of grapes on Burntshirt Mountain. Case figured he had two more days before rain came. "Once they get ready, they're ready," he said. Rain fills the grapes with water, diluting the flavor.
Case acknowledges that sampling the retail product, a glass of wine, is a different experience than biting into a vine-ripe tomato or a munching on a crunchy cucumber to see how it came out. He's been to classes, workshops and many vineyards.
"I'm learning," he said. "I've probably tried 400 wines."