- Last Updated on 08:46 AM 12/23/09
- BY The Gazette-Virginian
Meet Hunting Creek Vineyard’s winemaker and owners Dr. Milton and Sandy McPherson Sunday to celebrate the vineyard’s new winery and excellent grape harvest.
The public is invited to the noon to 6 p.m. event at the vineyard located off Addie Williams Trail.
The McPhersons also are kicking off a unique Sin Series of wines, including Temptation, Indulgence, Decadence and Repentance, names suggested by a good friend with an eye for marketing. The McPhersons also have a white wine that carries the happy name, Pure Luck.
“Our wines include Merlot, Petit Verdot, Viognier and Cab Franc/Cranberry,” added Sandy McPherson.
“All of our wines are dry with less than one quarter percent residual sugar except for the one called Repentance,” said Dr. McPherson with a laugh. “We figured the sweet one had to be Repentance, which has 3 percent residual sugar.”
The McPhersons first planted the vineyard in 2002, with “the intention of selling grapes and only making wine for ourselves,” she recalled. “We have a (working) harvest party each year for the Merlot, and this year 80 friends and family turned out.”
In 2006 and in 2007 the McPhersons sold their grapes, but the idea of a winery at the vineyard had matured, quickly turning to action.
Last year the couple applied for a license to make wine, and this year they will celebrate Hunting Creek Vineyard’s first season producing wine for sale.
To add the winery, the couple took a portion of the farm’s equipment area and turned it into a space for fermentation, aging and lab analysis, said the winemaker.
A tasting room also welcomes visitors.
“Our tasting room is a modest corner that features local artists’ work, including screens by Mark Anthony used in “Smokey Joe’s Café,” added Sandy McPherson.
When the McPhersons decided to put the Providence farm to work, they called former Halifax County Extension Agent Larry McPeters for advice.
“He said we could grow anything we wanted in Halifax County, just to make a list of 10 things and call him back,” she recalled.
“We decided we wanted to grow grapes because we enjoyed wine,” she added. “We first planted in 2002 and made our first wine in 2005, and our friends and relatives thought it was really good.”
Their family’s reaction to the wine, as well as the economics of grape production, acted as the catalyst for the winery.
“We have made 450 gallons of grapes all grown on our farm plus some Cabernet Franc we bought from Paul Greenwood,” she added.
Of the Merlot, Petit Verdot and Viognier that the McPhersons produce, the first two are red wines, and the third is white.
Vineyards demand attention throughout the production season, but before planting, growing and harvesting could begin the McPhersons had to prepare the area, erect fencing and trellises.
“One of my goals is agriculture in the form of taking care of grapevines,” explained Dr. McPherson. “Another goal is to help promote the growth of grapevines in Halifax County.”
The winemaker said other vineyard owners share the same vision, noting, “If we show the possibility of growing good grapes here, we might get others to try it.”
However, he is the first to acknowledge that producing grapes takes capital and time.
“One of the big problems is that it takes about seven years to get money out,” explained vineyard owner. At Hunting Creek Vineyard the McPhersons have planted about three acres of grapes with double rows.
Dr. McPherson estimates the cost at about $10,000 an acre to plant and nurture the grapes the way they should be.
“And it takes about four years for the first crop to produce, so you put money in for four years, and the next three years you can recoup some of the investment,” he added.
There’s also “a fair amount of expense” in getting a winery under way, with estimated expenditures reaching $100,000 for a building, tanks and processing equipment.
In addition to their own grapes, the McPhersons have purchased a ton of grapes from a friend near Chatham and also a ton of grapes from Greenwood this year.
“It gets to the point of how much volume you can manage,” he added, noting a little over six tons of grapes were processed this year.
On the plus side, the winemaker said grapes can be produced on a fairly small parcel of land. “It also seems to be good topography here,” he added. “So far we’ve been pretty lucky with our grapes, and I consider them good quality.”
The vineyard owner is very complimentary of Virginia Tech. “Tech has been spectacular help,” he said, specifically naming Tony Wolf, a professor of viticulture. He also cited the Virginia Vineyard Association’s seminars as a good resource.
With an eye to the future, Dr. McPherson would particularly like to see high school students involved in viticulture.
In addition to the McPhersons’ vineyard and winery, in Halifax County Paul Greenwood, Bill and Jane Carlton Confroy and Mike Hudson have vineyards. Boyd and Shirley Archer have a vineyard and winery at Bright Meadows, and Marshall Molliver’s vineyard/winery will be opening soon, according to Sandy McPherson.
Recently, a Southern Virginia Wine Trail has been established that embraces about nine Southside vineyards, which will be an added marketing tool for the vineyards as well as a unique tourists’ attraction. For additional information visit www.sovawinetrail.com.