First winery in Franklin County, Virginia comes to fruition

Jared Soares The Roanoke Times
Article by Janelle Rucker of the Roanoke Times:

For 12 years, H.T. and Rhonda Page enjoyed making wine for themselves and friends in the basement of their home.

On Saturday, after almost two years running their small business, the couple served up their fruit wines at their Brooks Mill Winery and in Westlake.

“I’m not a wine connoisseur or anything, but it’s good,” Smith Mountain Lake resident Martha Montgomery said after she bought a bottle of blueberry table wine. “It’s nice to have this here.”

In 2008, the Pages decided to turn their hobby into a business and became Franklin County’s first winery. Last year, the couple produced more than 3,500 bottles of wine including their award-winning blueberry and blackberry table wines.

Wine production is a growing industry in the state, said Annette Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office. Boyd estimates that 12 to 15 new wineries pop up around the state every year.

And for Franklin County — whose natives are proud of its history with homemade whiskey — homemade wine is making an appearance as a viable — and legal — industry.

Other than Brooks Mill Winery, plans for another winery are developing in the Callaway area, said Debra Weir, Franklin County tourism and special events manager.

Webster C. Hall Vineyards off Dillons Mill Road is in the process of applying for its farm winery license. Developers for the project could not be reached for comment.

Established wineries have been in operation for decades around Franklin County. Bedford County has five wineries, all a part of the Bedford Wine Trail. A few can be found in Roanoke and Floyd counties as well, according to the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office.

“A lot are popping up in Northern Virginia and in Southern Virginia, in old tobacco country,” Boyd said.

Franklin County farmers have provided grapes for surrounding wineries, Weir said.

“We don’t have tons of wineries, but we do sell grapes,” she said. “We just haven’t gotten into the winery business.”

Wineries that specialize in fruit wines are rare in the state, said Rhonda Page, so it’s a focus that they’ll stick to. Growing grapes is not something they’ll do.

“That’s a full-time job,” she said, and both she and her husband work during the day.

Rhonda Page works part time at the Member One credit union office in Rocky Mount, and her husband is a golf course superintendent for The Willard Companies.

Brooks Mill Winery sits back off the road to which it owes its name. A small flag encouraging passers-by to “Wine a bit, you’ll feel better” marks the entrance to the driveway. At the end of the drive sits the Pages’ house, a garage built to house the tasting and production rooms, and acres of fruit trees.

Blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears and plums are spread across 5 acres, Rhonda Page said.

“It’s a good bargain,” said David Simmons of Roanoke when he stopped by Saturday to pick up a few bottles of sweet blackberry wine.

It’s the affordability of the wine, ranging from $10 to $13 a bottle, that has kept business going through the tough economic times, H.T. Page said.

While the couple said they have their hands full with the size of the current operation, if business continues to grow, there is the option to retire and cut down the pine trees surrounding the driveway to make way for more fruit plants and trees.

Producing and selling wines fits nicely with the agricultural character of the mostly rural county, Weir said.

The county is known for its textile and manufacturing industries as much as for its moonshine history, and county officials are looking for new industries and tourism opportunities.

Brooks Mill Winery will be a part of ‘Round the Mountain, a new artisan trail that Weir’s office is developing in the county. Along with Homestead Creamery and area artists with studios in their homes, the county is trying to “tie in our local artists and our agriculture, which is so unique to our area,” Weir said.

Franklin and parts of Bedford, Carroll and Patrick counties have a climate and topography beneficial for vineyards and wineries, said Tony Wolf, director and professor of viticulture at Virginia Tech.

Producing the best grapes and fruit for wines is essential to the success of any winemaking operation, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension office offers short courses and other resources for those interested in starting a winery, Wolf said.

Collaborating with other agencies, wineries and local events is something the Pages value.

“If we all work together, the better the wine, and it builds the area’s reputation. Everyone benefits,” H.T. Page said. While researching his new business venture, Page said he received advice from other wineries, including Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery in Nelson County, which he considered the inspiration for his own operation.

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3 Comments

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  1. This was a really nice article. Fruit wines are under appreciated these days as it seems the wine world revovles around grapes. People who are unfamiliar with fruit wine assume they will all be sweet. They don’t have to be sweet but those can be really good, too. There are so many possibilities when it comes to making fruit wine. Here at Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, I like to say there is something for everybody. Congratulations to Brooks Mill Winery for being the first winery in Franklin County. I know they have a bright future ahead of them in the wine industry.

    Kimberly Allen Pugh
    Wine/Mead Maker
    Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery

  2. Thanks Kimberly for the comment. I 110% agree with you. Fruit wines are very versatile and come in every wine style imaginable. I look forward to trying your wines one of these days.

  3. This was a really nice article. Fruit wines are under appreciated these days as it seems the wine world revovles around grapes. People who are unfamiliar with fruit wine assume they will all be sweet. They don’t have to be sweet but those can be really good, too. There are so many possibilities when it comes to making fruit wine. Here at Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, I like to say there is something for everybody. Congratulations to Brooks Mill Winery for being the first winery in Franklin County. I know they have a bright future ahead of them in the wine industry.
    +1

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