Word from three West Virginia farm wineries tells us change is in the air. Two announced they are hanging up the grape presses, while a new farm cidery is opening its doors. The state license year for farm wineries began on July 1.
Roane Vineyards many years of goodness
Long-time Roane County winery, Roane Vineyards, did not renew its license and has called it quits. Owner Paul Taylor has retired and is spending most of his time on the Atlantic coast.
“This is a very sad time for me personally,” Taylor, 73, wrote recently in a farewell message. “It was almost 20 years ago, that I planted my first vines.”
Taylor wrote that he is getting too old for all the hard labor and heavy lifting required to operate a farm winery. He did a yeoman’s job for many years and made some very good wines.
Roane Vineyards produced mostly a mix of French-American hybrid varieties, but also had a nice touch with Concord and vinifera grapes. They were a staple at fairs and festivals around the region and paved the way for two more wineries that grew up in Roane County.
Proceeds from the sale of winery and farming equipment went toward the purchase of a sailboat, which Taylor will have fun sailing around coastal waters. We wish him the best.
Roosting no more: wine goes, lambs remain
Watts Roost Vineyard in Lewisburg is the second farm winery ending its run. Owners Frank and Barbara Tuckwiller are now selling off their equipment and their inventory of wines. They will close the doors by this fall.
The Tuckwillers are remaining at their farm where they will devote total attention to the lamb business. For the past several years they have been raising pure-bred Cotswold sheep and marketing lamb meat and lamb products.
The lamb business has been growing, while the vineyard operation has had its share of difficulties. Two hard winters in a row damaged or killed many of their vines, a situation that led to the decision to get out of the wine business.
Watts Roost ended its run with a medal-winning flurry by picking up two golds and a bronze at the West Virginia Wine Competition in June. Its Chambourcin 2012 and Calico White both won gold medals. The Greenbrier Red was awarded a bronze.
Watts Roost produced several popular proprietary blends containing the French-American hybrid varieties it grew. It also did a good job with its red varietal wines.
is the new wine
Watts Roost may be closing, but it had a part in the opening of the state’s first cidery. Hawk Knob Cidery and Meadery leased space at the Watts Roost winery to start up its operation. The cidery will also utilize the winery tasting room for at least the next three years. Later, Hawk Knob may move to its own facility at a to-be-determined location.
The cidery is owned and operated by long-time friends Josh Bennett and Will Lewis. From years of making cider at home, they developed a passion for tradition and experimentation. Both men have horticulture degrees so we can expect big things from them in regards to fruit growing and selection. Bennett has his own apple orchard near Hillsboro, WV, but he will also sources fruit from other orchards in the region, such as Morgan Orchard, in nearby Monroe County, WV. So they can ramp up their mead production, the men are seeking additional local honey suppliers.
Hawk Knob will specialize in dry ciders and dry meads, made primarily from locally- and regionally-sourced apples and honey. Many of their products will be barrel aged. They will also have a wild fermented cider and a hopped cider. Expect inventive uses of other fruits added to some of the ciders and meads.
Their first product should be in the market by October 2105. Look for it to first appear at restaurants in the Greenbrier County area.
Farm wineries a tough business
The two winery closings goes to show that vineyard farming in West Virginia is a tough business that relatively few people are cut out for. It’s hard physical work and the weather is far less than ideal for grape growing. Producing quality wine grapes in the West Virginia mountain climate and soils is difficult at best.
Almost no owners of our small farm wineries depend solely on income from wine sales to make their livings. In order to make ends meet, most have to purchase a large percentage or their grapes/juice from growers outside the area.
Cideries, on the other hand, are much better suited to the mountain regions. Most good cider-apple varieties thrive in mountain climates. A mountain orchard tends to produce a nice tart, crisp apple.
Of course, apple trees, like all fruit trees, will have their ups and downs with production. They are susceptible to late frosts, but siting them on hilltops with good airflow helps reduce that risk. By using several orchards locations (different microclimates), cider apple producers better ensure a crop ample to meet their needs each year.