Text by Kelsey Foster | Photos by Nathan Cooke
Giles County has a long, somewhat divisive relationship with alcohol. Because mixed-alcohol beverages are illegal in the county, one local legislator passed a law permitting any business above a certain elevation to sell them, which allowed Mountain Lake Lodge to circumvent the law. The Town of Pearisburg also passed a law allowing mixed drinks to be sold. Recently, the county has seen a rise in winery and brewery interest, which mirrors statewide and national trends as well. Virginia is home to 124 craft breweries, up from just 40 in 2011, and it was recently announced that Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Ore., has chosen Roanoke for its East Coast location.
Local wineries have also experienced growth. In 2006, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Farm Winery Act to allow local wineries to sell their wine if a certain percentage of the grapes used were grown and processed on their property. Both JBR Vineyards & Winery and Giles Mountain Vineyard and Winery operate under this designation.
JBR Vineyards & Winery
Jessee Ring was born and raised in Narrows and lived in Pennsylvania and California for many years with his wife while working as an engineer. While in California, Ring started wanting to reconnect with his roots and so he and his wife, Debby, purchased property back home in Giles County.
“I got the idea of buying a piece of land with no particular idea about what to do with it,” Ring states. For them, wine was already a hobby. He and Debby frequently attended antique wine auctions in California, so they decided to plant a trial vineyard in 2006. Three years later, they replanted and expanded the vineyard, focusing on Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes.
In 2013, after touring famous wine regions such as Bordeaux, France, the Rings decided to turn their hobby into a business and become a licensed Virginia Farm Winery, selling their Riesling and a Giles County and Pulaski County Pinot Noir, named for the locations of the grapes produced from their main vineyard and a smaller vineyard beside their home in Radford.
Jessee and Debby are two years into a three-year plan to double their winery acreage and construct a dedicated building in Giles County for wine tastings and events.
Giles Mountain Vineyard and Winery
In February 2005, Tom and Diane Mullis, both retired teachers, decided to plant a vineyard on their Giles County property. They formed a limited liability corporation (LLC) called Giles Vineyard and Winery and sold their first grape yield to Beliveau Estate Winery in Blacksburg in 2011. The Mullises attended winemaking meetings through Virginia Tech and 4-H Extensions where they met Lori Robertson. She convinced them to start producing their own wine. So, with Robertson as vineyard manager and Maarten van Gelder as winemaker, the foursome formed a partnership called Giles Mountain Vineyard and Winery under the Virginia Farm Winery designation.
Their first wine was a 2014 vintage. “It sold out right away when we had our Harvest Festival last year,” says Diane. This year, the winery is increasing production to 3,500 bottles of their seven wine varieties.
The partners also emphasize their community-oriented approach. “Everyone pitches in and helps,” explains Robertson, whose husband and parents all assist with the bottling and labeling process. They also recently became Green Certified by Virginia Green. “We have a good integrated pest management plan because we’re trying to reduce our chemical input and carbon footprint,” she adds.
The winery has plans to build a designated tasting room, though their emphasis remains on an outdoor experience and local appeal. “Right now, we’d just like to keep it a small boutique winery,” Diane adds.
Right Turn, Clyde Brewing Company
Corey Thompson and Jon Kidd grew up in the area and opened their brewery in November of 2015 in an old BB&T Bank building in downtown Narrows. “We started to make beer six years ago and won some awards,” says Kidd. “We visited a lot of breweries and took pieces of what they had that we like, and we’ve come up with a system that works really well for us.”
They have a 2.5-barrel system and hope to eventually produce nine beer varieties at a time. Right Turn, Clyde will be partnering with Giles Mountain Vineyard and Winery to make a beer with the winery’s oak chips. For now, they brew exclusively on Sundays as they both have full-time jobs. Thompson works for Blue Ridge Heating & Air, and Kidd is an English teacher at Giles High School.
“The county has been very supportive,” Kidd explains. The mayor and other local officials have visited to check out the operation. Kidd and Thompson hope to be a manufacturing facility with a tasting room but face obstacles with the state’s restriction on brewery self-distribution. They have sent letters and e-mails to local congressman to get them to pick up their cause, and so far, they are receiving positive feedback.
Kelsey Foster is a freelance writer, blogger and California transplant to the New River Valley who writes a clever food and lifestyle blog, aslolife.com, with tips on food, fashion and home decor.