By: David Walter
May 25th marked the grand opening for the Watauga Lake Winerys first official summer in operation. To celebrate, the winery held its first open-house gala. It first opened its doors in the historic Johnson County Big Dry Run schoolhouse in November of 2012. Since its inception last year, owners Wayne and Linda Gay have been busy working on a variety of wines which they showed off during Saturdays event. The grapes are locally grown at nearby Villa Nove Vineyards, which is also owned and operated by the Gays.
The winery-hosted gathering took place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and was free and open to the public. It featured two bands, a barbecue fundraiser sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, and of course, wine tasting. Tastings were $3 and included a take-home wine glass to commemorate the occasion. The wine selection was comprised of a handful of white wines, several reds, a blush, and a light blended frozen wine. Bob Johnson, who volunteers at the winery with his wife Cindy, said the most popular wines of the day were Villa Nove, Forge Mountain, Iron Mountain Sunset, and Copperhead Hollow Red. My favorites are Villa Nove and the Copperhead Hollow, said Bob, as he poured a visitor a sample. Theyre gaining in popularity all the time.
The Elk River White, which is made from Seyval Blanc, was a dry yet lightly tart and crisp wine. Perfect for the weather that afternoon, it made a great companion to the Forge Mountain Mist. The blended wine made from Niagara and Traminette grapes had graceful undertones of grapefruits and peach with a fruity nose.
The featured bands of the afternoon included a bluegrass group called Creek Junction, and a rock and roll band, Blue Suede Soul, who played songs from the 1950s to 1970s. Creek Junction is from Western North Carolina. On guitar, bass, banjo, and mandolin, they strummed away as the first act. Two of the crowd-pleasing songs included Hot Corn Cold Corn and Crazy Train. Blue Suede Soul often plays around the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia area, but they have even played for special events at the Walter Reed Hospital and in South Carolina as the opening act for the Lt. Dan Band.
Providing food at the event was Robert Back, member of the local Knights of Columbus. The group is based out of St. Anthonys church in Mountain City, but is connected to the No. 10743 group in Elizabethton, TN. The winery wanted a nonprofit to support the community, and we strictly help the local community, said Back. The proceeds from the barbecue lunch will be used to help a variety of citizens, and specifically those in Johnson County.
The event was bustling with a couple hundred people attending throughout the day. Even with all the activity, owner Linda Gay had an opportunity to interview with The Tomahawk. This was our grand opening to the public. It was our desire to let everyone in Johnson County know we are here, and what we are all about, said Linda.
She further expressed that the event was not all about the wine. We also thought that it was a good opportunity for those who do not drink wine to at least come out to look at their old school, she said. Because so many people out here went to school here, we thought we would like to share it with them. One participant of the event mentioned how he had moved away for years and was excited about returning to the historic schoolhouse. It turned out that the tasting room had been his classroom at a time where his class had been comprised of only three students.
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