When winemakers are passionate about their craft, they tend to know every vine, exactly when to harvest the grapes, how delicately they should be crushed, and even when to sing to it.
“I’ll sing to the grapes if I have to, the same way I saw done in Italy,” said Chuck Breit of Breit Hill Vineyard, a new winery in the planting stages located in Ronda.
“My wife and I went to Italy and stayed outside of Florence in a little bed and breakfast, and I would watch this man each day sing to his olives and grapes. I don’t know if the grapes grew better because of the singing, but I can tell you that it made me feel better watching a man so happy and peaceful. He was an interior decorator and gave up a stressful life for grapes and olives,” Breit said.
Breit would spend the next week with the serenading vineyard owner learning many of the growing secrets only shared in Italy.
Formerly in the construction business of building radio towers, Breit said he listened to the new signals coming from within his heart.
Breit said he was stuck driving in traffic in Miami years ago, and after an hour and a half of bumper-to-bumper traffic he said to his wife that they should go where grapes grow.
“Miami is a beautiful city filled with lots of art, culture, and advantages, but I couldn’t take it any longer,” said Breit. “No complaints about the love for the location, but at my age and dealing with the hustle and fast-paced daily life we just think we reached that part of life where we needed something different.
The Breits searched up and down the East Coast, and that’s when they discovered the Yadkin Valley.
“We saw a property advertised in The Tribune,” he said. “When we found this place, we fell in love with it. We purchased the land first, then the house.
“What you’re looking at is a one-year planting, and what we’re going to do is wait and watch and grow one bunch on each side and pick out all the rest,” Breit said. “Next year will be the main year.”
According to Breit, wine experts said to grow one bunch on each side of the planting.
“We had a couple of buckets last year just from the growing tube enough to get a taste,” he said. “Right now I have two acres ready, another three acres cleared, and we sit on 16 acres.”
The plan is for an all-boutique winery, though Briet does acknowledge the difficulty in it.
“Perhaps boutique is more a state of mind than a number of bottles. It’s more of an attitude than a location. Of course, this makes discovering boutique wines a bit more difficult,” said Breit. “But even if I only produce 200 bottles of wine, as long as I know they’re ours and that it’s an estate wine, then I’ll be content.”
From planting two years come August, the first process Briet did was blade the ground 18 inches deep.
He had an auger run a one-foot hole 15 inches deep crushing up all the clay with it. He treated the entire estate for Lyme, had the ground tested and sent the soil off to Raleigh for an analysis. Minor modifications were needed to ensure proper conditions.
“The hardest part right now is waiting and removing the weeds. You have to stay on it. Just a week ago we had none. Now the weeds are all over the place,” said a smiling Breit who appeared content with what he must do with weed removal.
According to Briet, the winery itself will rest in an old tobacco barn that was built in the 50s. He is also considering options on the perfect location on property to place an adequate cellar.
“I expect about 1,000 cases out of the whole thing when it’s mature,” said Breit. “For me the amount is perfect. I don’t want to get into financing. Everything that’s here, we own. It’s the perfect little sanctuary, too. Little Elkin Creek runs through our property. It’s pretty nice.”
Breit said that when he bought the property it was all trees, and they spend lots of time getting the land cleared and prepped.
“Now I have a Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot, Chambourcin, and Dornfelder,” he said. “I had to throw in the Dornfelder for my German roots, as it was a cologne they made in Germany. The wine is a nice dry red.”
Breit says this year they’ll make a trial taste, not many gallons, but enough to see what they have and to get the advice from other wineries on what they need to modify.
“The stems are starting to swell,” he said. “It’s a pretty good feeling.”
“Here in North Carolina we have a problem with Downy mildew,” said Breit, referring to any of several types of Oomycete microbes that are obligate parasites of plants. “We have to spray. I have an air blast sprayer, and I treat at least 16 times per year. It creates a mist, and I drive the tractor, and it does its job. They say one man can take care of five acres. Listen, that’s a lot of acres.”
“My wife Beth is an artist, and she taught in Miami for 25 years, and she’s very much a daily part of this winery and my life,” said Breit. “She was in the Yadkin Art Council. She had a show with them. Nothing better than having guests come for wine, buy a bottle, maybe get a nice piece of art while they’re at it.”
Breit also said that he and Beth are considering developing a tasting room in their home, a section in between the kitchen and living room that is divided by a 360 degree fireplace.
“The vineyard has a three-tier waterfall, too. It’s generally a nice retreat for people to see and visit, even if they only come here to help me sing to the grapes,” he said.
by Anthony Gonzalez, Staff Writer
Divine Llama offers wine lovers unique wine, furry friends.
Driving the curving roads of the Yadkin Valley you’ll find lush green pastures, a variety of livestock and a smattering of towns and communities.
Hidden among the rolling hills and landscape lies a little known gem … Divine Llama Vineyards.
This vineyard and tasting room lies on 77 acres on the outskirts of East Bend. While the vineyard is young and only opens to the public on Friday through Sunday, the owners are setting out to make their wines the stuff of legends.
Friendship leads to business
Divine Llama is a business venture that budded from a shared passion. Tom Hughes and Michael West were both architecture students studying at Virginia Tech and became friends in 1975.
The duo and their wives found that they all shared a passion for fine wine, and they’d spend much of their time enjoying wine socially.
In 2006 both men decided they were ready to move their families into the countryside, and when they found the land in East Bend they saw an opportunity.
“We were both separately looking for land out in the country and we found this piece of property and it had some things that I liked and it had some things that Tom and his wife liked,” West said.
The property came with a house, which Hughes was interested in. It also had enough land that another home could be built and a llama farm would thrive, which attracted West. After talking, the two realized that this could be a perfect solution for each of their needs, and the excess land proved to be bonus for Hughes who had been looking for property to develop a small vineyard.
“We decided to buy the farm together, and in the course of doing that we started talking about how we were going to split it up,” West said.
Hughes had an interest in developing a wine business and West agreed agreed to join in the venture.
While West and Hughes and their wives were all avid wine drinkers, none of them were well versed in viticulture. West and Hughes enrolled in the viticulture program at Surry Community College in Dobson to learn more about the business.
“We both felt we knew a reasonable amount about wine, but we didn’t know anything about making wine or growing grapes. But we sure liked the end product, so we educated ourselves through formal education and practical hands on work,” West said.
While the classes provided the duo with an invaluable education, Hughes credits a big portion of the learning to getting out on their land and getting to work while learning from their nearby fellow winemakers.
“We learned by going up there and taking classes, and the rest of it has been hands on, learn as you go and ask other people who are out there doing it. We’re feeling our way through it,” Hughes said.
Following the Easter freeze of 2007, Hughes and West planted their vineyard. After studying their options they opted to plant two red grapes and two whites.
“We took a chance and planted two hybrid grapes, which not many other people have planted around here,” West said. “They are the Chardonel and Traminette. They’ve turned out to be very successful for us.”
Drawing an audience
Now that the vineyards were planted and the two were well on their way to becoming the proud owners of their own line of fine wines, they needed a name and something to draw in the people.
Another one of West’s side ventures was going to quickly solve that issue for them.
“My family owns the llamas,” West said. “I knew that the llamas were people magnets from living in Winston and having so many people come by just because we had llamas. It seemed to us to be a good moniker to have on the winery to get people out here.”
West said he started a llama farm because he wanted to provide his three daughters a chance to grow up on a small farm. Llamas seemed like a good option because of their inquisitive and friendly nature.
West said the llama is kin to camels and are the cousin and most closely related to alpaca. They come from South America and are not widely found in the United States.
“They are a very intelligent and unique animal,” West said. “They are very easy to train, and I think they are beautiful. They just have a lot of personality.”
West believed that all of these qualities were going to make the animals a perfect draw for the winery.
“They’re very people oriented and inquisitive animals, so most of the time visitors will walk out to the pasture beside the tasting room and many times they will come over to the fence,” West said. “They’re curious to see who you are and smell your hair and see if you have something to feed them.”
Building a wine legacy
Once they had their unique draw to set them apart from the other wineries, they were ready to focus on preparing their property for a grand opening.
Considering both West and Hughes planned to continue their full time careers as architects, they chose not to build a winery on site. To make their wine they decided to work with Yadkin Valley Wine Company in Hamptonville for their custom crush.
“That’s where we get our grapes processed, that’s where our barrels are, and we work with the winemaker over there on the styles of wines that we’re going to make,” Hughes said.
Now all that was left was a tasting room. The property already housed an old farmhouse that was not being utilized, so they saw it as a perfect location for their tasting room.
After a full renovation and two years of preparing their wines they opened Divine Llama in spring of 2009.
Today Divine Llama Vineyards has an offering of 12 wines. West said that they are currently focused on cutting out more wines than adding, in order to create an offering of the best wine their grapes can create.
“We have 12 wines now, but our objective is to have fewer and ultimately consider making one new wine each year that’s a wine we’ve never made before,” West said, adding that one of their biggest focus is the quality of the wine.
Divine Llama Vineyards offers one tasting option. For $8 visitors can taste nine of the 12 wines on the official tasting list, and visitors may also get to try out a few special reserve wines.
“We have a reserve most of the time that’s not on our regular tasting list,” West said. “If we find out a group is here and a lot of them like dry red wines, then we will offer them the reserve as part of the tasting.”
Hughes says that a major focus is to make sure that they have at least one wine that will appeal to every visitor’s palette.
“Our goal is to hopefully find something that will appeal to someone’s palette,” Hughes said. “We planted four different grapes, and we’re using all of our own fruit to produce the wine. We’ve been experimenting along the way with doing different blends and just trying to find those wines that will appeal to people.”
Hughes said that the vineyard produces 1,000 cases a year, totaling 12,000 bottles a year. All of the wine is produced from grapes grown only on their property.
The vineyard has been earning some recognition since its opening.
“Our Traminette won a double gold medal at the state fair, which means it was judged the best white hybrid in the state,” Hughes said. “I think it helps us validate our feelings that we have really, really good wine. We’ve won gold medals, we’ve won silver medals, and I think that’s just another reflection of the quality of wine we produce.”
A scenic trek
While Divine Llama Vineyards does focus all its efforts on providing the best wine available in the Yadkin Valley, it does have an additional opportunity on site for the visitors.
Friends to Hughes and West run a side venture that takes those interested on llama treks across the vineyard property.
“They bring their llamas, and sometimes they use Mike’s llamas. There’s a two-mile trail that goes around through the woods,” Hughes said. “The llamas have backpacks, and they’ll carry a picnic lunch strapped on their back with tables and chairs. The guides will set that up for them in the woods as they enjoy a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine. Then they’ll hike back out.”
Those who want to see the sights available on the 77-acre farm without the company of a furry, four-legged friend are welcome to explore the property alone with a bottle of wine.
“We’ve created an environment that is peaceful and tranquil and family oriented so people can just come here and relax,” West said. “It’s not necessarily about entertainment here. We don’t do live music very often. It’s much more about nature and spending time with your friends and family.”
West said that the vineyard also hosts events and weddings at their tasting room and on their property, although they don’t widely publicize it.
“We’re all for people who want to hold an event at our vineyard, but we don’t promote it,” West said. “If someone asks us we’re more than thrilled to share all of this with others.”
A growing endeavor
Divine Llama Vineyards did not set out to become a full-time venture with a huge reach. But despite their small beginnings they are seeing some impressive growth.
West said that in 2012 their sales increased almost 40 percent from the year before and they were looking forward to another increase this year.
Staying with their small business attitude, Divine Llama Vineyards currently does not have a distributor, so anywhere that their wine is available off their property they have to deliver it themselves.
“That generally means that we mainly sell within the triad,” West said. “We sell 95 percent of what we sell here, but we’ve also got our wines in a shop that my wife owns in Bethania and those kinds of specialty places. We don’t have it in large grocery stores. We’re in small wine shops or restaurants.”
While both agree that they don’t have a desire to increase production, Hughes said that he is open to the idea of growing more.
“Our goal would be to sell the bottles that we produce,” Hughes said. “We’re not quite there yet, but once we start selling everything we make then there’s the possibility that we could increase our volume and start distributing more if we wanted to.”
Ultimately Hughes and West hope that wine lovers come out to their property and give it a chance. West said he’s especially proud when visitors like all of their wines.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve done a tasting and people have said that they like every one of our wines,” West said. “That’s the kind of comment we like to hear. We don’t have just one or two wines that are really good. We think we have a very large selection of very good wines. From what we hear from people who are visiting, they agree.”
by Lindsay Craven, Staff Writer
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at lcraven@civitasmedia.
Upcoming wine events in the area
4th Annual Budbreak Wine Festival
• May 4 from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Main Street, Downtown Mount Airy
Seventeen North Carolina wineries, food vendors, local artists, and great music will be there. Rotary proceeds will benefit numerous local and international charity organizations.
Visit historic ‘Mayberry’ while sampling some of the area’s fine wine. Join Mediocre Bad Guys as they perform at the large pavilion tent on Main Street.
WIFM Channel 2’s Eric Chilton will be the emcee for the festival.
13th Annual NC Wine Festival at Tanglewood Park
•May 25 from 12 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.
With more than 30 wineries and vineyards, it is one of the largest wine festivals in North Carolina celebrating the vast growing wine industry of the state. Enjoy the music of Walrus, Ken Knox and Company, and The Plaids while tasting from the best the area’s wineries have to offer.
Salute! – The North Carolina Wine Celebration
•June 1 from 12 p.m. until 6 p.m. in Downtown Winston-Salem
Salute! - The North Carolina Wine Celebration has become the premier downtown festival in the state that exclusively features North Carolina wine. This event traditionally brings over 30 North Carolina wineries and will showcase their products, offering wine sampling and purchase. Last year’s festival drew over 7,500 attendees from across the state and the Southeast region, and has been selected as a “Top 20 Events in the Southeast” by the Southeast Tourism Society.
“Afternoon with the Winemaker” at Raffaldini Vineyards
•Aug. 17 from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m
Join Raffaldini’s Vineyard’s winemaker as he guides you on a tour of the winery. You will learn how Raffaldini crafts its award-winning wines, as well as go stepby- step through the winemaking process. Admission is $15 per person and includes a glass of wine. RSVP by calling 336-835-9463 or email Raffaldini at email@example.com.
•Oct. 26 at Round Peak Vineyards in Mt. Airy
Dog-friendly Halloween-themed event with music, costume contests, bonfire, corn hole tournament and much more.
by Taylor Pardue, Staff Writer
The annual Yadkin Valley Wine Festival will be held May 18 from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
The event will host about 32 wineries and plenty of food and attractions for the wine enthusiast and newcomers. The event will be held in the Elkin Municipal Park in Elkin, NC. Parking will cost $5, with all parking proceeds going to the Elkin Rescue Squad.
Tickets sell for $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. Military members can purchase tickets for $20 at the gate with a valid military identification card. Tickets can be purchased online at yvwf.org, or a form can be printed off the website and mailed in to receive tickets via the mail. They can also be purchased at Lowes Foods and Just Save in North Carolina, as well as the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce in downtown Elkin.
When visitors enter the festival they will be given an information card to fill out as part of the event’s five random drawings. Each visitor can fill out the cards with his or her name, address, and cell phone number to enter the drawings for five cases of wine to be given away, one case for each winning ticket. Each case will contain a mixture of wines from the festival’s wineries.
Four bands will perform throughout the day on the main stage. From 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. Natty Boh Duo will perform, and then Porch Dog Revival takes the stage at 12:30 p.m. until 2 p.m. Blues DeVille picks up at 2:30 until 4, and then L Shape Lot closes out the evening from 4:30 till 6. A grape stomp will also take place during the day.
Food will be as easily found as wine. Dogs on the Run, Heaven Scent, Sherri’s Crab Cakes, Snack Wagon, Steak Boys, and 3 Little Birds will all be providing food at the event. “Wine food” like cheese and hummus platters will be available, as well as hot dogs, chicken kabobs, wood-fire pizzas, barbecue, Maryland-style crab cakes, chicken finger baskets, blooming onions, and “bacon pops”. Chill on Main and Blue Ridge Ice Cream will also be selling their delicious desserts. Foods will run the gamut from cold to hot, children’s’ food to adult delicacies.
Wine-related crafts include creations by Artistic Inspirations, Bead Jeweled Designs, Catamount Specialities, Geographic Jewels and Crystals, Heritage Homestead, Paige Nance, Paparazzi Accessories, Pardue Pottery, Perfectly Posh, Slice of Heaven Bakery, Southern Chic Boutique, Soyworx, Tastefully Simple, and Walkabout Hats.
A bus route will run from the festival to local hotels and a Native American “Drums on the Yadkin” event in nearby Jonesville. Buses will come to each stop every hour and allow guests to travel from their hotels directly to the park without worrying about the hassle of gas or parking.
A growing event
Misty Matthews of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce said the event had grown every year, both in the number of visitors and in wineries attending. She said the area had limited space and was expected to max out on available acreage soon. She noted that the major benefit to those visiting was getting a taste of all the Yadkin Valley has to offer without having to travel a great distance or paying numerous tasting fees.
Two concurrent events in the area will be the Running the Vines 10K and ½ Mile Fun Run, sponsored by Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, and the Yadkin Valley Tour de Vino bike ride. Running the Vines will be held May 18 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., allowing participants to run in the morning and visit the festival in the afternoon. Registration costs $35 by May 3, and costs $35 after. Those under 18 must pay $20, while those under 12 run free in the Fun Run. Proceeds go to the Mt. Airy and Surry County Parks and Recreation services.
Tour de Vino has four trails that ride out to a variety of wineries in the area, there is something for everyone. After riding out to parts of Surry, Yadkin, Wilkes and even Alleghany counties, the ride returns to end next to the wine festival. Those who participate in the ride receive a free tasting ticket to the wine festival. All proceeds go to the Reeves Theater Restoration Project.
by Taylor Pardue, Staff Writer