Wally Butler planted his first vineyard in 1985. Back then, he made wine for fun. The vineyard was an experiment, to see what types of grapes would grow in Chatham County, and Wally read books to learn about wine-making. Then he just jumped right in. “These days it’s a lot easier,” he says. “With computers, you can just look up whatever you want to know.”
Wally had worked as a forester in North Carolina for decades. He bought timber and managed loggers. His full-time job didn’t stop him from planting another vineyard in 1996, and opening a winery in 2000. He worked at both jobs, forester and wine-maker, until 2008 when the economic slump nudged him out of the forestry business. Now he runs the winery with the help of a handful of neighbors. Everything is done by hand, from pruning the vines in February to hedging them all summer to picking the grapes in August and September. Even the crushing is done with hand-cranked destemmer-crushers. Grapes are picked and crushed on the same day, which makes for several long days of work in the fall. After crushing, they are put into tanks with yeast for fermentation to begin. Wally tends the tanks daily, pushing down the “cap” that forms at the top.
Wally used to age his wines in barrels, but has retired his barrels in favor of toasted French oak boards he gets from a barrel-maker in Ohio. By submerging the oak pieces in the aging wine, which is in stainless steel tanks, he can easily control the oak level. Wally says the method works just as well as using barrels; aging in barrels is just a “more romantic” way to make wine. Plus, he spends $300 on all the oak he needs for a year, while one French oak barrel would cost him $750.
Silk Hope Winery is at 700 feet, a high elevation for rural Chatham County that makes it a good place to grow grapes, including Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Norton, Vidal Blanc, and Traminette. The location allows for a late-season harvest and the highest quality fruit. The winery’s three acres of vineyards produce 500 to 600 cases of wine each year. The winery is located in a small building that looks more like a greenhouse than the typical winery; Silk Hope Winery has real down-home character. When asked what he likes best about running a winery, Wally answers, “Well, I guess it’s the benefits of drinking a lot of good wine, at a cheap price.”
Our staff chose Silk Hope Winery’s 2006 Chambourcin as a favorite in a blind taste test of forty local wines. 100% Chambourcin, this hearty red
will warm you up from the inside out. Dark earthy flavors with hints of
leather and coffee. It's got some age, so it's drinking great right now.
Perfect with roasts or grilled meats. We’re featuring it on sale in February as our “Spotlight on Local Wine” pick. Get a bottle for just $9.99, 41% off. Visit Silk Hope Winery online at silkhopewinery.com.