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Spirit: Grapes have brought a new kind of business to Rowan

Lending a hand

JON C. LAKEY / SALISBURY POST Davis Almond places a bucket of grapes in the utility vehicle driven by Tommy Baudoin. Morgan Ridge Vineyards gets some help from friends in bring in the end of the grape harvest in Gold Hill, N.C.

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Wine has become a part of Rowan County’s economy, as it has all over the state, with more than 100 wineries and even more vineyards.

Growing grapes, producing wine and opening a tasting room brings in locals as well as tourists, creating a destination that also attracts other businesses.

Raising muscadines or European grapes is a way for smaller family farms to diversify, says William “Biff” Yost of Cauble Creek Vineyard at 700 Cauble Farm Road, off NC 150.

In the case of Cauble Creek, which is surrounded by other crops, the muscadine vines have allowed the farm to produce a specialty crop that brings visitors from all over the state, country and even the world.

For Amie Baudoin, who, with her husband, Tommy, owns Morgan Ridge Vineyards and Brewhouse at 486 John Morgan Road in Gold Hill and Morgan Ridge Railwalk Brewery and Eatery at 421 N. Lee St. in Salisbury, grapes are a part of the entertainment business.

“We see it as an opportunity to bring people together,” Amie Baudoin says of their vineyard and brewery. “We look at it as something we enjoy and want to let others do the same thing.”

Amie and Tommy were told Amie’s family’s land in the Gold Hill area was not suitable for growing vinifera, or European grapes. The soil would work for muscadines, but not the harder-to-grow varieties they wanted to plant.

But both of them believed it would work. Their vineyard on a hill is touched by the sun for most of the day, and the hill improves drainage down the slope. They first planted grapes in 2004 and have produced wines for years.

Yost says the variation in soils, elevation and microclimates allows favorable growth of a number of variieties of grapes that are distinguished in taste and aroma, and do well both in the fresh market and wine markets. He grows several different varieties of muscadines. He also grows soybeans, wheat, corn and hay and has a small fishing pond on his land.

“We were ambitious enough and like challenges and we knew it would reward us in the end,” Amie Baudoin says of their decision to plant a vineyard and open a winery.

“We were trying to keep up with the economy, the trends, what consumers will spend money on, what is the up and coming draw. We hope the wine industry stays steady along with the craft beer industry, and make sure we are giving them some of the things to come.”

Both Yost and the Baudoins have benefitted from increased visitors from all over.

Yost thinks that public awareness of vineyards and wineries has helped, as well as the state agricultural and tourism departments.

Agritourism, as it’s called, is becoming a larger part of the economy, and as the wine industry grows, so do visitors. Both the Baudoins and the Yosts agree that one winery is good in an area, but two or more are better.

“It gives people a place to visit,” Amie Baudoin says. People can plan a trip to visit Morgan Ridge, Cauble Creek and Old Stone Winery on U.S. 52 near Granite Quarry.

Yost says promoting your brand pays off when customers appreciate what is raised and produced locally. More customers mean better sales and profits.

The tasting rooms and properties of the wineries also bring in diverse customers. As Yost puts it, “Every tasting room in the state is like an unopened bottle of wine, an unknown adventure or vacation where one may explore new products while being both excited and relaxed at the same time.”

While Morgan Ridge has already become a wedding venue with a pavilion for receptions or concerts, a gazebo by their pond and changing rooms for the bride and groom, Yost at Cauble Creek has plans to expand.

He is a cautious businessman, and now sees greater opportunities developing in aspects of his business. “Our immediate plans will be to increase our retail business hours (currently just weekends) and incorporate a broader range of N.C. produced dry wines while provided more exciting venues for weddings, receptions, special reserved tasting events, birthday parties, family reunions and corporate meetings.”

“We want to grow our business for people to fellowship together,” Amie Baudoin says. “We want people to think of our places for beer and wine, and for special events, entertainment, reunions.”

Once they established the vineyard, they saw that people needed a place to gather. “We’re in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of everywhere, we just had to get them here. … Once you’re here, you can enjoy lunch, the pond, all that. We give people a reason to hang out for a few hours.”

Chef Jason Nain makes high quality, locally-sourced food at the vineyard and collaborates on the food at the pub-like brewery.

Amie Baudoin grew up on a farm and was used to people coming to the door, interested in their products. From that point, she wanted to share her love for the land and the lifestyle. “I didn’t want to keep it to myself, I wanted to share it and bring people together.”

“Seeing people enjoy themselves is my reward” for the hard work of maintaining the vineyard, the winery, Railwalk brewery and eatery and a second tasting room in the village of Gold Hill.

“We consider our customers a part of our family and in turn, we hope that they consider us their family,” Yost says.

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