Winery planned near Momma's Country

Friday, September 16, 2011

An attorney practicing in Smyrna plans to open a winery just east of Momma's Country nightclub on the north side of New Columbia Highway, he said Wednesday.

The winery, Phillip George says, will be open, "hopefully by this time next year." George spoke briefly by telephone at Grinder's Switch Winery in Centerville while crushing grapes.

"No, not with our feet," George replied to an inquiry about whether a more historic method was being used, "with a hydraulic press."

Picker's Creek Winery is the proposed name for the winery in Marshall County.

Gail Chessor and her husband, Joey, are co-owners of Grinder's Switch Winery and she was available to discuss the business while George worked with her husband and daughter. They were crushing Chambourcin grapes for a dark red wine, the winery's third harvest of that variety of grape.

Wineries have become popular businesses in Tennessee as they appeal to tourists and families that enjoy another kind of farm life. Chessor said there are almost 40 wineries in the state in various stages of licensing.

A new one opened in Gatlinburg a few weeks ago. It's called Sugarland. Kix Brooks, the country music singer of the former Brooks and Dunn band, has Arrington Winery in southern Williamson County near State Route 840. Further south toward Shelbyville, Tri-Star Winery has been fermenting its own grapes as have two wineries near Hampshire in Maury County.

Nearly 18 months ago, George approached Marshall County Building Official Don Nelson about establishing a winery on more than 36 acres north of New Columbia Highway, State Route 50. The land is generally between that road, also known as Jim McCord Highway, and South Berlin Road near Welch Cemetery Road.

Wineries were not mentioned in the county zoning code, Nelson said, but they are now.

"The county commission and the planning commission were proactive to have a place for it," Nelson said of George's proposed winery. "It's something they wanted to encourage here. They thought it would bring in tourism."

Wine tours are conducted like bourbon tours in Kentucky. Similarly, heritage tourism includes luxury coach rides to various places of interest for Civil War buffs, and that economic opportunity is being developed by a public-private partnership with wayside exhibits to tell war stories at sites such as Cornersville where the rooster Jake Donelson is to be the attraction. Another display is planned on the Marshall County Courthouse lawn to provide directions to Cornersville and Nathan Bedford Forrest's boyhood home near Chapel Hill.

The Grinder's Switch Winery tasting room was opened four years ago in June, Chessor said. The business was licensed in November 2006.

"All state and federal licenses have to be in place before you can bring in any kind of juice," she said.

"The wine from the grapes we harvested last year will be released in November in time for Thanksgiving," Chessor said. The Chambourcin grapes that George was crushing Wednesday with the Chessor family produce a dark red wine that's "a kind of our own. When done right, it produces a nice dry red wine. The weather has been good for it."

Grinder's Switch Winery has an annual production of 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of wine, or approximately 15,000 bottles.

There's a friendly competition between the wineries, Chessor said, describing it like a "teasing competition like 'mine got a gold medal.'

"We're not cut throat competition," she continued. "It's a small club."

And as George was helping her family - and learning the business, too - he does so with the Chessors' willingness to return favor.

"Of course we'll help him," Chessor said. "All he has to do is call. I'm sure we will."

An example she cited was what happens if a piece of equipment breaks. A call is made: "Do you have it? Can we borrow it?"

George was asked how many employees he might have at his winery and he replied, "I don't know. We are learning this as we go."

Chessor said, "We hire temporary help when we need it, but we also rely on family and good friends."

The Marshall County Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday when the first topic for discussion is George's request for site plan review of how the Picker's Creek Winery is to be located at 1986 State Route 50. The commission meets on the second floor of the County Courthouse Annex on the southeast corner of Lewisburg's public square.

During the phone call with Chessor, she mentioned another winery that used the word keg in its title. Some might think of wine as being aged in barrels.

"Well," she replied, "you are in moonshine country here."

Grinder's Switch Winery is west of Nashville at Exit 148 on the south side of Interstate 40 about 45 minutes from Columbia. Chessor suggests motorists "just stay on Highway 50 as you drive away" from where George is planning Picker's Creek Winery.