MOUNT GILEAD — The long rows of grapevines that used to make up Little River Vineyards are no longer there to produce wine, but that’s not stopping the historic farm from continuing to bring in parties and tourists on a consistent basis.
Jennifer Pena, who is the office manager of the farm but works out of Charlotte, said there is still plenty of wine on hand even though Little River no longer grows or manufacturers on the property. She added that the farm is moving toward more of a venue used for weddings and similar events.
With that in mind, Little River began an undertaking in the middle of December to remodel its wine tasting room. On Saturday, the official unveiling will take place as part of an all-day celebration that will include free food and refreshments, free wine tastings, $5 raffle tickets to win a case of wine and 50 percent off all wines and accessories for the day.
The newly renovated tasting room is fully enclosed with central heating and air conditioning, features updated décor, more indoor and outdoor seating and a new 42-inch flat-screen TV.
According to the winery’s website, as an avid outdoorsman and wildlife enthusiast, John Georgius was drawn to the natural beauty and abundant wildlife of the Uwharrie region. In his mind, a recreational farm in this part of the country would be much like a small slice of heaven.
The rolling fields, the house on the hill and the white picket fence lining the entrance driveway are some of the property’s many features. In the spring of 1991, Georgius purchased the farm with 330 acres. Since that time, the surrounding area of the farm has continued to expand with subsequent acquisitions, and the property now totals roughly 1,400 acres.
A portion of the property was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in January 2008. The designated property is about 25 acres on the east side of Buffalo Creek, near its confluence with the Little River.
The Brookshire House, which serves as the principal dwelling on the farm, was erected in the early 1870s and was built according to the Greek Revival architectural style with early Victorian influences.
NO GRAPES? NO PROBLEM
Little River Vineyards has been in existence since 1999, and until recently has grown grapes on the property that would eventually be fermented, bottled up and served in a glass. Pena said the farm has gradually moved away from that and is focusing more on weddings and similar events.
“We don’t grow grapes right now, but we could in the future,” she said. “We’re focusing on the weddings. We’re still a vineyard but just not in the production mode. We still have plenty of wine though.”
Another aspect Pena would like Little River to venture into is selling more produce such as fruits and vegetables on the property.
“I’d love to do a little produce — strawberries, blackberries. People stop in the summertime, and they pick up wine for the beach,” she said. “Something we wanna do in the future is have a tomato patch, berries. By late summer we’d like to have that implemented.”
NEW TASTING ROOM
According to Pena, construction on the remodeling of the new wine-tasting room at Little River Vineyards began in December and moved quickly as the project has been finished since mid-February.
“When we put our minds to something, we move on it,” said Pena.
The reason for the remodel was management wanted to enclose the room, which in the past was screened-in. Pena said they wanted to keep the rustic look to the room while making it more modern at the same time.
“We wanted to give people a more comfortable setting,” she said. “It was screened in so you would get the bugs and the dust. So it’s more for comfort for our clients. We’re gearing more toward the venue setting so we wanted it to be enclosed. Our older version was basically just a screened-in picnic shelter. We said, ‘Let’s enclose it and make it more formal and boutique-ish but keep the rusticware so they don’t heat up in the summer and freeze in the winter.’”
With the 2016 peak days already booked and the same days for 2017 already filling up with five weddings, the tasting room serves as the point of entry for the brides and clients, Pena said. When they come in to take the tour, it can be a very important first impression in regards to motivating someone to rent the space. Pena hopes the expansion will make things take off this year.
“We want people to know they can come hang out, bring a picnic lunch, enjoy the serene setting, bring the kids, bring the dog as long as it’s on a lease,” said Pena. “We’re this hidden gem in Mount Gilead that a lot of people don’t know we’re there. We’re trying to get a buzz going for the surrounding areas.”
The grand re-opening for the Little River Vineyards and Events Center’s tasting room will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the farm, 1907 N.C. 73 West, Mount Gilead.
For more information on the event or the winery, call Little River at 704-201-6343, the tasting room at 910-995-2794 or visit www.littleriverwines.com.
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674, follow him on Twitter @mattyharrelson and listen to him at 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays on G-104.3 FM.