Young local winery getting ‘Better With Age’
Published 11:30 am Saturday, June 6, 2015
Wayne and Linda Gay of Johnson County are now three years into their operation of the Watauga Lake Winery, and they believe things are going great.
“We have had a lot of great feedback from the community,” Wayne said. “We are kind of surprised by the feedback that we have had.”
After purchasing and renovating the historic Dry Run Elementary School in Johnson County, the two opened the Watauga Lake Winery in 2012, an operation that produces around 1000 cases of wine every year.
To produce that much wine, the winery needs a lot of grapes, and that need is being met by the massive amounts of grapes the Gays produce themselves in their own vineyard.
Before moving to Johnson County in 2002, the couple worked in the Italian import business for 22 years. During that time, they developed a taste for good wines.
“I don’t really have a good palate for tasting the complexities of wine,” Wayne said. “But I know a good wine when I taste one.”
The two felt the area surrounding Watauga Lake in Johnson County, with its rolling hills, looked much like the landscapes they saw in Italy.
“We noticed that the area looked a lot like Tuscany and Northern Italy,” Wayne said.
So, they bought a 35-acre plot of land that looks out over the blue waters of Watauga Lake. Not too long after purchasing the land, the couple built an Italian style home that sits at the top of a hill that is now covered in grapevines — 4,000 plants of 14 types of grapes. Having such a wide variety has helped the winery expanded its wine labels.
Over the past four years, the winery’s selection has grown from five labels to 16 different labels. Each label bears the name of a place in Johnson County. There is a Stone Mountain White, which is named for the mountain that separates Johnson County from North Carolina. There is also a Copper Hollow Red that takes its name from the road that may or may not have inspired the famous Steve Earle tune “Copperhead Road”.
It takes of a lot work to make a new label of wine, and while a new wine is in development, the winery will allow people to taste it in their tasting room, so they can get feedback on how the wine tastes, Wayne said.
“I know what wines I like, but everyone has a different taste,” he said. “We like to have many people taste the wine, so we know if it is good or not. We have wine club members come in and we will have a wine club panel, so we can get their reaction to it.”
The Gays got into the wine business by somewhat of an accident. In 2005, the couple planted some grapevines as landscaping, but things seemed to get out of control.
Now, years later the couple has 4,000 vines on their property. After realizing they had a lot of grapes on their hands, the two had the idea of selling the grapes to wineries, but soon realized that selling the grapes was not a lucrative business.
“Making wine was not even on the radar when we put the grapes in,” he said. “I started making wine as a hobby and enjoyed it. So I said, ‘Hey, we are making wine anyway, so we should see if we could make any money while doing it.”
With the beauty of a vineyard, come many photo opportunities, which is why the Gays also rent their vineyard as a wedding venue, as well as also offering tours of their vineyard and winery.
The winery is still a young operation, Wayne says. But like wine itself, he added, it can only get better with age.