By Becky Jane Newbold
Early morning fog was just lifting from the valley and harvest along the ridge was almost complete. Gatherers with a steady pace clipped a generous crop of Vidal grapes nurtured under the watchful eyes of caretakers, Susie and George. This was the first year for this team at the twelve year old anchor of middle Tennessee’s wine country, Keg Springs Winery and the crop was exceptional.
Owners Gerald and Brian Hamm, a father/son team, coached the harvesting crew on the three acre slope. Grapes were quickly loaded onto the refrigeration truck sporting the Winery at Belle Meade name, to be chilled in preparation for crushing the next day. Brian Hamm is the master winemaker for both Keg Springs Winery and the Winery at Belle Meade, a flourishing partnership and friendship for many years.
Keg Springs Winery was born on a hillside near the historic Natchez Trace in Lewis County and with Brian’s expertise, quickly became a cornerstone in what is now rock solid Tennessee wine country.
Four wineries, Amber Falls Winery & Cellars, Grinder’s Switch Winery, Keg Springs Winery and Natchez Hills Vineyard make their home along the Natchez Trace Wine Trail, each creating award winning vintage wines for every palate.
In the short time Keg Springs has been in operation, Brian has been recognized as an international award winning wine maker. His achievements include over 100 medals as well as being recognized in 2011 as the winemaker of the year in Tennessee.
“We had perfect harvest weather this year,” Becky Hamm commented. About five and one-half tons of Vidal grapes were harvested in September, yielding 850 gallons of juice, Brian reported. “Due to the effort of my dad, Gerald, the quality of the grapes was outstanding,” Brian added.
Keg Springs Winery is located at 361 Keg Springs Road, Hampshire and is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Call 931-285-0589 or visit online at kegspringswinery.com. Ask about their wine club!
Amber Falls Winery & Cellars is a family owned establishment under the leadership of Tim and Judy Zaunbrecher. Tim and Judy and the Amber Falls family host live music events throughout the warmer months, begin each year with a monthly “Gumbo Sunday” starting in late January through early spring which culminates in CajunFest, a highly successful fund raising event hailing to Tim’s Cajun roots in May.
This year’s harvest presented itself with a challenge when a wind storm threatened to destroy the crop. Quick work from the Amber Falls team coupled with volunteer support from the area saved the harvest. Support posts and trellising snapped in the wind reducing the eight feet tall vines to approximately two feet tall, Tim commented. Within hours the Chambourcin grapes were secured and within days harvested with minimal loss.
“Our grapes came in about one to two weeks earlier than they normally would but are good quality, especially the Blanc du Bois,” Vineyard
Manager Gabe Zaunbrecher reported. “We got about twice as much Crimson Cabernet as we did last year so for all those who like the Midnight Crimson wine, we will have roughly twice as much of that as last year. It was a huge hit but we sold out of it in a matter of a little over a month, if memory serves. For all the fans of the Blanc du Bois, the quality of this harvest is better than last year’s, so the wine will reflect that,” he added.
Amber Falls Winery & Cellars designs special label wines to honor historic icons including Meriwether Lewis and James K. Polk to name a few.
Located at 794 Ridgetop Road, Hampshire, one can learn more at amberfallswinery.com or by calling 931- 285-0088. Open 7 days.
Just a few miles down the road lies Natchez Hills, a boutique family and veteran-owned vineyard and winery. Natchez Hills Winery specializes in old-world, handcrafted, small-batch wines using traditional winemaking techniques to ensure the grape’s truest expression, owners Jim and Karen Odom explained.
October is always a busy month for middle Tennessee wineries. Harvest and crush in September kept everyone busy and this year was no exception for Natchez Hills. Natchez Hills is a young vineyard planted in 2008 and is just coming into it’s own in terms of mature yields. “We had a very good harvest of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Traminette this year,” Jim commented. “We hope to create some interesting and flavorful estate wines and blends from this year’s harvest. We will also bring in fruit from California and Washington state to round out our wine portfolio.”
Natchez Hills continues to create new and interesting blends such as their popular new offering called La Fusion which is a blend of estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot infused with local honey and a blend of spices.
Natchez Hills Vineyard is located at 109 Overhead Bridge Road in Hampshire. Visit online at natchezhills.com or call 931-285-2500.
Grinder’s Switch Winery currently has a seven acre vineyard that includes five different varieties of grapes. Those varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Naçionale, Chambourcin and two varieties of muscadine grapes. While every year is different, a good harvest will yield about 10-12 tons of fruit in total. Joey and Gail Chessor founded and operate the family owned winery.
“Our most popular wines by far, are our sweet wines,” Jodie Chessor explained. “This is the South after all and folks down here love a little sugar in everything (except cornbread and biscuits). Blackberry Express is our best seller across all of our platforms, but really all of our sweets are really popular. I would say that Blondy, Switch Red and Honeysuckle Rose are consistent favorites and we have to make sure to never run out of those.”
Over the past year or so, Grinder’s Switch has concentrated on broadening their dry wine selection. “The demand for those wines has increased dramatically since we opened our Nashville location at Marathon Village last April,” Jodie continued. So far this year, they have released two new dry white wines, Magnolia White (a dry Gewürztraminer) and a new Vidal Blanc.
“Tennessee has 52 wineries now and more are opening every year. It’s amazing when you think about all of the hard work that goes into making wine. It’s not an easy business. Winery owners have to be farmers, scientists, bartenders, marketing specialists, social media experts and even the janitor! There are early mornings and late nights and a lot of nail biting while watching the weather reports. But Tennessee wine has a lot to offer and it’s exciting to think about what the future holds,” Jodie concluded.