Max Lloyd planted Grove Winery’s first grapes in 2002. By 2006 the fledgling winery had won its first gold medal for the 2005 Grove Estate Merlot. Previously, Max’s family had made homemade wines, and after falling in love with European-style wines, Max had planted vineyards for commercial grape growing. Max had started and owned several tech companies. “But I didn’t have the proper fear of this that I should have,” he says with a smile. “With software companies you pretty much don’t have inventory issues… you don’t have to worry about hail, droughts, rain, hurricanes. With a winery, you’re a farm, you’re a production facility, you’re a distributor here in North Carolina, you’re a marketing organization, you’re a retail outlet….” In addition to owning Grove Winery, Max is listed on the website as the “Grape Farmer.”
We visited Grove Winery on a misty May morning. The general manager, John Gladstone, met us in the tasting room, where an impressive row of wine bottles bearing gold medals lined one wall. Cheese from a local dairy and pecans from neighboring High Rock Farms sat side-by-side with Grove’s own preserved asparagus and “Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Butter.” While many of the area’s farms grow the major crops like soybeans and tobacco, a few farmers are diversifying. Several are now growing organic wheat destined for Lindley Mills, and there’s even an ostrich farm. One of these neighboring farms is Faucette Farms, the source of strawberries for Grove’s Strawberry Wine.
Max joined us for a walk through the dewy vineyard. Clusters of pea-sized green grapes hung between the thick leaves of the seven and ten-year-old vines. Vertical tubes protected baby vines, just a month old; it will be three years before the new vines produce grapes. Max planted varieties of grapes suited for the climate of the Haw River valley, which I’m surprised to learn is different than that of the Yadkin River valley. Haw River vineyards get an extra ten days of growing season that enable grapes to develop more fully; but it’s slightly too hot to grow the grapes that become Reislings, which can be grown in the Yadkin valley. And Max is thinking ahead, planting grapes from more southern parts of Europe in anticipation of hotter North Carolina summers. Max spends time each day monitoring the grapes: testing sugar and acid levels and watching the color of the seeds. When it nears time to pick them, he’ll check the weather to maximize the growing time but avoid picking after a rain. And after picking, he’ll craft the wine by controlling the weight of the wine presses (which determines how much of the tannins are squeezed out of the skins and seeds) and by choosing which yeasts to use.
A short drive along the road brings us to Faucette Farms , where Mike Faucette and his son Tyler grow everything from organic tobacco to chard to strawberries. An unfinished building with a wide front porch will someday be a store for the vegetables as well as for the cheeses, pecans, preserves, and crafts produced by the locals. By 2013, all the strawberries will be organic.
Mike’s freezers are filled with a thousand pounds of strawberries waiting to go to the winery, where 1400 pounds of strawberries have already begun the wine-making process. Freezing the berries is part of Max’s recipe, as it helps break down the cell walls naturally. The berries go in a vat with spring water, sugar, and yeast; the minimal solids quickly rise to form a foam on top of clear liquid. After six days, Max pours the strawberry wine into a large stainless steel tank where fermentation continues for about two months. The end result will be about 7000 bottles of Strawberry Wine. Max has begun using wine bottles made in Henderson, North Carolina. In addition, the labels are from Durham and the corks are from Zebulon. It doesn’t get more local than that!
Grove Winery is recognized as one of the most award-winning wineries on the East Coast. Since 2005, Max’s wines have won more than 100 medals in local and international competitions. The tasting room is open year-round, with short guided tours of the production facilities available. Self-guided vineyard tours are also available. The winery hosts private events as well as outdoor music events, festivals, the “Gears and Cheers” bike ride, and “Haw River Paddle Dinners.” It serves as a home base for outdoor excursions by bike, foot, canoe, or horseback.
Take a drive to the country to visit Grove Winery in the Haw River valley. Watch their amusing Youtube video, or watch a video of our visit to the winery . And be sure to try their Strawberry Wine,available in the summertime.